High as a Kite
Bill Oddie with something to get excited about on the farm.
"For Red Kites like you've probably never seen them before, and an exhibition of wildlife-friendly farming, Gigrin Farm is worth a visit"
Let me quote from the brochure:"Welcome to Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, Powys. Nature trail, picnic site and children's play area. Meet our working sheep dogs Belle and Meg, Jill the donkey, Pat the goat and Taffy the spaniel. Adults £2.50, O.A.P.s £2, children £1." Sounds a bit too dude for you?
OK, then, how about a 'kettle' of 30-odd raptors swirling on a thermal? Mainly Red Kites, plus several Common Buzzards and the odd Kestrel, Sparrowhawk or Peregrine Falcon. That's more like it, eh? So where's that then? The Pyrenees? South of France? Nope, the same place: Gigrin Farm, Wales.
I visited Gigrin earlier this year. Talk about a farmer doing 'the right thing'. Talk about value. Talk about memorable sights. The main event is Red Kite feeding time. Sounds like a zoo? Maybe, but it isn't. You walk down a track, past Jill the donkey (and I bet you can't resist giving her a pat), down to a veritable grandstand of wooden hides - three of them, side by side. In you go, settle down on a cosy bench and gaze out over a grassy field, which at this point seems empty, except perhaps for Pat the goat peering over a nearby hedge. Then, at 2 pm sharp, a small dog scampers out (not sure if that was Meg, Belle or Taffy - I'm not so good at dog ID), followed by Eithel the farmer.
He scatters various bones and bits of offal (got it a bit wrong there - it's actually Beef. Ed) round the field. Amazingly, thedog merely inspects the meat rather than gobbles it up. Maybe he's there for quality control. "Yup, good enough for sheep dogs and spaniels, therefore good enough for kites." As dog and farmer retreat, in come the birds.
There are Carrion Crows, Rooks, Jackdaws and Ravens (how often do you get close-ups of them?), but of course what we're really there for is the kites. And there are plenty of them: one, two, five, 10, 20 maybe - no - more. In winter they may get up towards three figures. But they don't descend like vultures in an unruly scrum.
They are timid, nervous almost, undeniably wild. They never actually even land. Instead, each kite circles for a few minutes, then suddenly zooms down and snatches a chunk of meat in its talons, much like an Osprey zapping a fish. As one veers away, another swishes in.
Sometimes they miss and have to try again - probably the younger birds. You can tell them because they don't have the adults' exquisite rufous red tails or the powder-blue heads. If you've never seen a Red Kite this close before, maybe this is the first time you really appreciate how many colours there are on it. And just how gentle and subtle that head colour is - almost like a giant blue budgie. Only the piercing yellow eye says 'raptor'.
But then kites are gentle birds, not that everyone realises it. Not least of the services that Gigrin provides is in educating other farmers. When the kite feeding began, neighbouring landowners rang to warn or complain: "Why are you encouraging those evil creatures? They'll kill the lambs, you know!" But Eithel put them straight: "Don't be daft. Show a healthy lamb to a Red Kite and it'd probably fly off in terror.
Come to Gigrin. See for yourself. Nowadays, generally local farmers not only tolerate the birds, they encourage them. Some of them have even begun competing to attract kites onto their land. No more poisoning and persecution; instead, they are proud of them.
And that's not all Gigrin has to offer or, should I say, has achieved? In the nearby woodland there are nest boxes with breeding Pied Flycatchers and Common Redstarts.
There are several ponds with wildfowl, Common Snipe and Woodcock, and even now the farmer is working with the RSPB to attract funding to create a larger custom-designed wetland. Plus, there are live video pictures from the local badger set, an agricultural museum, educational facilities for school parties, a gift shop, tea room, and breathtaking views across the Wye valley.
Surely Gigrin represents the ideal combination of traditional values, enthusiasm for wildlife, modern technology - check out the web site - and financial enterprise.
A couple of months ago I had a go at (some) farmers. I also said there were others doing a brilliant job. The Pugh Powell family at Gigrin are a perfect example of the latter.