Red kite Milvus milvus, in flight, UK

The road to recovery

Most UK bird of prey populations have recovered significantly during the last century. Several factors have contributed to this improvement.

Recovering numbers

During the 20th Century, legal protection was introduced for all birds of prey - a significant development for their conservation.

Landowners and conservationists directly protected some nests of the rarer species such as ospreys, to ensure they were not interfered with by egg-collectors.

Reintroduction projects were needed to help species such as the red kite and white-tailed eagle recover. The red kite had been reduced to a tiny remnant population in Wales prior to the start of reintroduction projects, while the white-tailed eagle was returned having previously been driven to extinction in the UK.

Legal protection

In 1954, all birds of prey were given full legal protection (except for the sparrowhawk, which has only been protected since 1963). This protection has been strengthened by further legislation, notably the Birds Directive, that is implemented in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, and the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004.

There can be little doubt that strong, properly enforced legal protection will continue to be vital to the conservation of the UK's birds of prey.