Red kite refuge

The Upper Tywi Valley around Rhandirmwyn, Carmarthenshire was the last refuge for red kites in Britain after they were exterminated in the rest of the island. At their lowest point in the 1930s and early 1940s, possibly no more than ten pairs survived and for many years all Welsh red kites descended from a single female. Since the 1960s, the population has expanded throughout Wales and through reintroduction programmes across Britain.

Part of this site (Allt Rhyd-y-groes) is on the mountainside opposite a farm known as Troedrhiwruddwen and it is said that during the early part of the last century the farmer Mr William Jones was able to view a kite’s nest from his home. Without realising it, he was probably one of the most privileged men in the country as at that time this was the only area where they nested. Here

Conversely, kites are relatively rare today in the Upper Tywi Valley as part of the area is covered in pine forests planted in the 1940s.

James Macdonald Lockhart visited the Upper Tywi Valley in his wonderful Raptor: A Journey Through Birds. He compares how the red kites held on in this last refuge with how Welsh squatters in the early nineteenth century were pushed into this same area of marginal lands, and elsewhere in Wales.

Despite its remoteness, its largely un-keepered woods and hills, the Upper Tywi was never a safe refuge for kites. It was just where they ended up after they had been driven out from everywhere else. But the bird’s status there was always precarious. Egg collectors, the limited gene pool, the climate of those rain-drenched, infertile hills: there were so many ways for the kites to fail in Wales. And for decades the few remaining birds lived a miserable banishment, their toehold on the land constantly pulled from under them. Even some of those responsible for safeguarding the few nests were corruptible and eggs were frequently stolen to order. When the Welsh kite population did finally begin to increase in the 1960s it was not because more birds were being born, rather that fewer adult kites were dying.

Britain’s commonest bird of prey reduced in the blink of an eye to a rump, to just a handful of birds. The kite’s undoing facilitated – accelerated – by that tolerance of human beings and human spaces. A large, slow bird swimming leisurely overhead made the easiest of targets; its propensity for carrion made it just as easy to trap or poison. We preferred (we still prefer in some cases) our birds of prey to be banished to the margins. We drove them to the furthest reaches, to the outliers of these islands, like the last lone sea eagle living out her days on Shetland. The Upper Tywi was the red kite’s Shetland, its Oronsay.

Red kite carving

Capel Gwynfe  (Carmarthenshire) has installed a magnificent wooden carving of red kites by Simon Hedger as a symbol of the village, illustrating how the kite is taken as a symbol of pride today in Wales.

National Botanic Garden of Wales

The National Botanic Garden of Wales is located near Llanarthney in the Towy Valley, Carmarthenshire. It seeks “to develop a viable world-class national botanic garden dedicated to the research and conservation of biodiversity and its sustainable utilisation, to lifelong learning and to the enjoyment of the visitor.