Project status
UK and mainland Europe
Project collaborators
Tony Sainsbury, ZSL

Dr Tony Sainsbury

Senior Lecturer Wild Animal Health

Protecting red kites

Red kites are regularly killed from shooting and anti-coagulant rodenticide poisoning, despite their successful reintroduction programme in the UK. Between the 18th and 20th century numbers plummeted to a handful of breeding pairs bringing the species to the brink of extinction in Britain. But a reintroduction programme established by the RSPB and the Nature Conservancy Council has been so successful that there are now estimated to be over 5000 breeding pairs in England.   

We are protecting red kites to ensure their numbers never crash again.   

Red kite health checks

  • Our impact

    •    Provision of continued expert health surveillance for the red kite
    •    Supporting red kite reintroduction projects. 

  • Supporting conservation projects with wildlife health checks
    Get support for a conservation project

Protecting red kites

Health surveillance is critical to understand the challenges they face. Our scientists carry out post-mortem examinations on red kite carcasses to reveal disease threats, to make conservation smarter and better. Radiographs can indicate the presence of gunshot and display bony damage, tissue samples can prove poisoning following analysis, while bacteriology and virology give us a greater understanding of threats to health.  

This scientific analysis tells us the story of the animal, which we use to understand and overcome the threats they still face.

Understanding unexplained red kite deaths in England

We’re making this impact with the support from Natural England and in collaboration with wildlife groups such as the RSPB and Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme, the DRAHS team lead on health surveillance of red kites in England. 

Red kite flying low over farmland
Red kite flying - identifying fork tail clearly visible

Monitoring red kite health

The DRAHS team is currently supporting a red kite conservation programme developed by the Central European Society for Raptor Protection (CESRP), which is currently active across 26 European countries, with the goal to protect red kites and other raptor species by reducing human caused mortality. As part of this project, plans were developed to translocate 90 red kites from England to Spain over a three year period. Working with the RSPB, Natural England, the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Acción por el Mundo Salvaje (AMUS) in Spain, DRAHS helped to successfully translocate 30 red kite chicks in June 2022 through developing a Disease Risk Management protocol and undertaking clinical examinations of the birds prior to transport.

All kites were successfully released, and plans are underway for next year. 

Protecting wildlife health

  • Straw coloured bat hanging beneath a large leaf
    Leading research on viruses found in bats

    Understanding bats and disease

    Bats make up 22% of all mammals, and their unique immune response which enables them to remain healthy despite carrying viruses that would cause serious disease in people and other mammals.

  • Dormouse on a weighing scale at London Zoo, sitting in a plastic container.
    Reintroducing the hazel dormouse to British countryside

    Hazel dormouse

    By working together with our conservation partners, we've managed to successfully reintroduce over 1,000 dormice

  • sand lizard examination in gloves
    A closer look at sand lizard translocations

    Analysing disease risks during sand lizard translocations

    The sand lizard has disappeared over much of its former range in the UK. Habitat loss and fragmentation are cited as the main factors in the species decline.

  • Chequered Skipper butterfly on a leaf
    A previously extinct species in England

    Bringing back the Chequered skipper butterfly to English woodlands

    Post-release monitoring of the conservation work has provided evidence that the newly established populations are thriving once again in English woodlands.

  • Sperm whale in the Wash
    Understanding strandings

    UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP)

    The Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) coordinates the investigation of all cetaceans, marine turtles and basking sharks that strand around the UK coastline. 

  • Mountain chicken frog sitting on forest floor
    Protecting frogs from a deadly fungus

    Mountain chicken frog conservation

    Creating routes to recovery through cutting-edge scientific research and breeding at London Zoo.

  • Wildlife health
Providing essential wildlife health checks

Our DRAHS team provides essential wildlife health checks for conservation projects.