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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 July, 2003, 05:08 GMT 06:08 UK
Red kites return to the skies
Red Kite
Red kites are a distinctive russet-red colour
One of the UK's rarest birds of prey could make a comeback to the north east of England after a 130 year absence.

Plans to reintroduce red kites to Gateshead were announced on Thursday.

The birds - which have a five-foot wingspan - were a familiar sight scavenging in the streets of medieval Britain.

But they were exterminated by gamekeepers in the 19th century and have never returned to the North East.

Gateshead Council wants to reintroduce the wild birds to the Derwent Valley, across the A1 motorway from the Metrocentre, and hopes they will become a major tourist attraction.

It is hoped the first group of up to 30 red kites could be soaring in North East skies as early as next summer.

Red kites are beautiful and majestic birds and popular with the public
Patrick Thompson, RSPB

Gateshead councillor Michael McNestry said: "We have seen what ospreys have done to boost the Lake District's economy and I'm confident that this project can do something similar for Gateshead.

"I hope that, in the near future, the sight of red kites soaring over the River Derwent will become a familiar one to visitors and local people."

During the past 15 years, young red kites have been moved from healthy breeding populations in Wales and released into the wild in suitable areas of England and Scotland.

The plan is supported by English Nature and the RSPB on behalf of a partnership that includes Gateshead Council, Northumbrian Water, The National Trust and Forest Enterprise.

First steps

Gateshead Council has pledged 50,000 per year to the project and Northumbrian Water 15,000 for each of the first two years.

The proposal is for the project to run for five years, with releases of kites taking place each year.

John Barrett of English Nature, said: "We are absolutely delighted to be taking the first steps towards restoring this magnificent bird to its rightful place in the North East countryside."

Patrick Thompson of the RSPB added: "Red kites are beautiful and majestic birds and popular with the public.

"Evidence from other re-introduction areas suggests that local communities, tourism and the regional economy have all benefited from the return of the red kite."



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