Two bird reserves were set up to protect the nesting sites of the Red Kite. They are still in existence namely Dinas and the lesser known but probably more important Gwenffrwd. 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.
This is a wonderful success story of a bird that was down to what appears to be one breeding hen bird to a healthy number that is seen at the present time. There is no doubt that without the help of Kite Committee, later called The Welsh Kite Trust and the RSPB and some dogged perseverance of some individuals then this bird would have become extinct. Other European red kites have now been introduced into other parts of Britain and are successfully breeding.
Today you will see the occasional kite flying above Rhandirmwyn. To me this is its true home and it warms my heart to think that it is possibly descended from the kites I saw when growing up as a child there in the 1950’s.
I am probably biased but I often see kites in many areas of Wales and I always marvel at the sight of them, I have seen as many as twelve together but to see the occasional one above Rhandirmwyn is worth all the sightings anywhere else.
The story of the Red Kite has been written over and over again and is now a part of Welsh History. It is the national bird of Wales and is the emblem of various businesses as well as Powys County Council. If you go to Llanwrtyd Wells, (Powys) and Gwynfe (Carmarthenshire) you will see beautiful carvings of the Red Kite. In Rhandirmwyn you will see, yes you’ve guessed it absolutely nothing. Yet the upper Tywi valley around Rhandirmwyn was for the early part of the last century the only place in Britain where this beautiful bird existed. Many local people helped in its care and eventually along with expert ornithologists and organisations such as the RSPB gradually its numbers increased and it is now breeding successfully in many parts of Wales. It took nearly a century for this to happen so as you can see it has been a long battle, but one sighting of this beautiful bird of prey will make you realise it was all so worthwhile.
I sometimes see kites flying low over the village, in particular the lower end near the church but my favourite viewing spot is on the hill above Bwlch-y-ffin farm, which is near Llyn Brianne Reservoir. I often see kites there just gliding by. In his book, ‘The Kite’s Tale’, Roger Lovegrove refers to visiting Rhandirmwyn for the first time in 1957 and seeing his first kite whilst conversing with Ted James outside his home. Well his home was Bwlch-y-ffin farm and contrary to Mr Lovegrove’s comments, ’The kite too has gone from around here’, I can safely say, ‘ Not so. They are still here and gracing the skies as beautifully as ever.’
I would add that this book is well worth reading and gives a wonderful insight into the kite’s survival. ISBN 0-903138-37-9
Sadly these thieves knew as much as the ornithologists and helped by one or two unscrupulous residents often managed to steal their prized eggs.
Here is a newspaper cutting from many years ago which in my view epitomises the contribution made by all the organisations such as the RSPB but also by the farmers and residents of the Upper Tywi Valley. I feel therefore that it is time that a memorial was erected to their contribution as well as to the stoicism of this wonderful bird. The Red Kite – Y Barcud Coch. Have you any views on this? Let me know.
SIR, — The statement made by your reporter (Trail of the red kite to boost jobs, Western Mail, March 14) that “egg collectors and farmers pose a deadly threat” must be put into proper context. That egg collectors pose a threat is not in dispute, but the co-operation of the army in recent years has played a significant part in minimizing the effect of these mindless predators. The issue of the farmers is a different matter. It is true that a few farmers have caused the death of red kites by the indiscriminate use of poisons. However, it must be remembered that if it wasn’t for the farmers of Rhandirmwyn and the Upper Tywi Valley, jealously guarding the nests of the red kite in the 1940s and 1950s, the bird would by now be extinct.
That it has made such a remarkable recovery is a reflection on the co-operation of those farmers then and now. It also reflects well on the sterling work undertaken by the RSPB whose video on the red kite acknowledges the important part played by the local farmers In the bird’s survival.
D IORWERTH JONES - Bronwydd Road, Carmarthen.
We attach a very interesting report published in 1953 by Captain H R H Vaughan who lived in Nantymwyn House, Rhandirmwyn. He was a retired Naval Officer and he and his wife Irene were very much involved in the preservation and protection of the kite. He was a magistrate at Llandovery and locals were heard to say, ‘God help anyone who is before him for stealing a Kite’s egg – there will be no mercy’. Rightly so. Mrs Irene Vaughan was a botanist and loved to talk to the village children, usually about plants and birds. Both Captain and Mrs Vaughan cared passionately about Rhandirmwyn and the Upper Tywi valley and were highly respected in the community.
I refer now to a book called, ‘Bird Life in Wild Wales’. (published. 1903) The author a Mr J A Walpole-Bond makes reference to the kite under the heading, ’In the nest Haunt of the Kite’. He states, ’Once common, even to the wonderment of foreigners, in the British Isles, the Red Kite is now reduced to a miserable remnant of some four pairs and an odd bird, which endeavour, but with ill success, to breed in a few chosen haunts in the Principality’.
He further states, ’At last measures have been taken (alas! all too late, I fear) to protect as far as possible this truly magnificent bird of prey……..’.
As can be seen the hopelessness of the situation was evident in 1903 which makes the story of the Red Kite that much more remarkable. In all references to the kite in various papers and books dating back over the last century there is no actual identification of specific haunts and nests.
This was to prevent the nests attracting the dreaded egg thieves who have regularly stolen kite eggs.
Both Captain and Mrs Vaughan received both silver and gold medals from the RSPB for their services to bird protection. The details were recorded as follows:
1954 Rare Birds…… It will be noted from an examination of the accounts that grants made under the scheme of awards for certain rare birds, notably the Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier and Marsh Harrier are higher than in previous years. This is all to the good. There has also been a slight increase in the number of Kites known to have bred successfully in Wales and the Society raised its grants from £100 to £170 in order that this work should not be hampered. The status of the Kite is still critical but there has been an improvement and this has undoubtedly been due in no small measure to the work of Captain and Mrs H. R. H. Vaughan and their small team of voluntary helpers. The Council decided during the year to award the Silver Medal of the Society to Captain and Mrs Vaughan for their devoted service to the protection of the Kite.
1968 – A Gold Medal was presented to Capt. and Mrs H. R. H. Vaughan in recognition of their service to bird protection and in particular Kites in Wales.
Apart from Captain and Mrs Vaughan the only other multiple medal winner in the history of the R S P B was Phyllis Barclay-Smith (silver in 1951 and gold in 1973).
We are grateful to the R S P B for this information.
Captain Vaughan died in 1978. Mrs Vaughan eventually returned to her native Suffolk where she died in 1993 at the age of 103.
Have you any photographs or stories relating to the kite. If so please send us details. Possibly you were one of the soldiers who was, ’dug in’, keeping watch on kites nests for weeks on end. If you were then we would love to hear from you.