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The Welsh Kite Trust

Red Kite - © Roger Wilmhurst

Who's Who
Tony Cross
Peter Walters Davies MBE
Peter Davis MBE
John F Roberts
Michael Hayward
Sir Michael Leighton BT
Welsh Kite Trust Home

‘Who’s Who’ of the Welsh Kite Trust:

Peter Davis MBE

I was born at Idle near Bradford in Yorkshire in October 1928, though I think I can state with some accuracy that IÎve never been an Idle man.


My education took me to local primary schools at Calverley and Rawdon, and thence, thanks to a scholarship, to a minor public school, Woodhouse Grove School at Apperley Bridge.

Later, after a reluctant and undistinguished career in the Royal Air Force, an ex-servicemenÎs grant allowed me three years at the University of Leeds, where I graduated in 1951. My bird-watching career had started much earlier, as an early-teenage egg collector who later went straight, a route probably taken by most birders of my generation. I spent much of my youth wandering through the glorious countryside of the Yorkshire Dales, mostly on foot, often in company with fellow-birder Dudley Iles.

I became a registered bird ringer in 1946, before I was 18. Rings at first were rationed, due to post-war metal shortages, but around 1950 the 'Davis and I' partnership was regularly near the top of the national ringing-totals league! I also became a very active member of the Leeds and District Bird Watchers Club and of the Yorkshire Naturalists Union, and a frequent visitor to Spurn Bird Observatory. In the summer of 1951, with the help of indulgent references, I applied successfully for the post of warden of Lundy Bird Observatory; in April 1954 moved on to become warden of Skokholm (where I met my wife Angela); and in May 1957 we migrated north to Fair Isle, where we ran the Bird Observatory until the autumn of 1963.

Our three children (one female, two male) were born in Shetland. We look back on our stint on these beautiful remote islands with some nostalgia; a period studded with rare birds, interesting people, and uncommon experiences. In October 1963 we moved south again, to live at Mentmore in Buckinghamshire, while I was Migration Research Officer with the British Trust for Ornithology at Tring.

I disliked working in an office, but stuck it for three years, then was fortunate enough to be appointed Warden Naturalist (and soon Assistant Regional Officer) in the Nature Conservancy, based at Tregaron in Cardiganshire, starting in October 1966. I was never quite clear how this happened (I'd applied for any one of several posts advertised that summer), but suspect the influence of either my father's mother, who was Welsh (and of course long deceased), or of Peter Walters Davies, then Regional Officer.

It was helpful to have a Welsh connection, to become a Crown employee in Wales, but my ornithological background quite possibly counted for more, since Peter needed a person who could work on the Red Kite, and help fulfil an undertaking made by the Conservancy to the Kite Committee nearly 10 years earlier, to look into the life history and requirements of this endangered species. In 1967 there were only 22 known breeding pairs of kites in Wales, and itÎs unlikely we missed more than the odd one or two. Nest monitoring at this time was organised by Captain Vaughan's Kite Committee, whose senior figures included Mrs. Vaughan, Col. Morrey Salmon, William Condry, and Dr. Cliff Fenn.

I was already acquainted with several of them, which helped to ease me into the company. The only 'professional' field workers were Maurice Massey (RSPB Gwenffrwd warden) and myself. From 1968 I was asked to collate the annual records and produce the confidential internal report, while Morrey Salmon continued to produce an expurgated version for release to the public. The emphasis at that time, and for 20 years after, was very much on nest location and protection, against eggers and other disturbances of all kinds. Some nests were physically guarded by voluntary or paid watchers; farmers and landowners were rewarded with bounties, and weekend patrols kept us busy from March to May.

In spite of our efforts, the proportion of known nests robbed by egg collectors increased from 1 in 15 in the 1960s to 1 in 12 in the 1970s, and 1 in 9 in the 1980s; happily tailing away in the 1990s. I was involved with several successful prosecutions and a couple of unsuccessful ones, where the evidence was inconclusive. The kite population increased painfully slowly and hesitantly through the 70s and early 80s, reaching 30 known breeding pairs in 1978, 40 in 1985.

By the mid-80s, however, kites were expanding into more fertile lowland areas and productivity was improving. The number of known breeding pairs passed 50 in 1988, 60 in 1990, 70 in 1991, and 100 in 1993, exceeding all the expectations of a few years earlier. The organisation of monitoring passed in early 1971 from Capt.VaughanÎs committee to a rather more formal one, composed of representatives of the NC (later NCC) and RSPB; though everyone continued to participate in the traditional annual jamboree.

I officially became Kite Recorder, and usually also kept the minutes of our meetings. Peter Walters Davies and I both retired from NCC in 1988, but then formed a private survey company, Wildlife Surveys (Wales), which contracted to do kite monitoring and research until 1994, when CCW (NCCÎs successor body) and RSPB withdrew major financial support, as they had planned to do, once the population passed 100 breeding pairs.

The joint committee ceased to exist, but a recently-formed body of watchers, the Welsh Kite Watchers Group, continued to function, under Peter's chairmanship, with myself as secretary. We considered that the Welsh kites were going to need monitoring and assistance for some time to come, and in 1996 the Welsh Kite Trust was created, to raise funds to support the activities of WKWG and to promote research and other charitable objectives.

In parallel with the monitoring programme, and dovetailed with it, we began in 1967 to broaden and strengthen research into the life history and requirements of the kite in Wales. Capt.VaughanÎs hesitant acceptance of kite ringing, starting in 1968, turned to enthusiasm after one of the first marked juveniles was found in Oxfordshire in the following autumn.
Young kites have been ringed every year since then.

Detailed investigations if the food and feeding behaviour, habitat requirements and management, and of the various aspects of breeding, culminated in a lengthy paper on the ecology of the kite, prepared by Peter and myself, and published in British Birds in 1972. This drew attention to aspects that needed confirmation or further investigation, and in 1975 Dr. Derek Ratcliffe (then Chief Scientist of NCC) recommended that a contract be awarded to the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, to carry out a full-time study on Carrion-feeding Birds in Central Wales, under the supervision of Dr. Ian Newton.

I was seconded to do field work on the project, from 1975 to 1980, and John Davis came in as field assistant, 1976 to 1978, after which he became NCC warden at Tregaron. In addition to studies of the kite, our work embraced about 140 pairs of Common Buzzards and around 70 of Ravens, in a study area of some 470 square kilometres between Devils Bridge and Cilycwm.

Special attention was given to the relationship between the distribution and breeding of these birds, and afforestation, sheep farming, and other forms of land use. From 1975 to 1979 young kites, as well as buzzards, were marked with individual wing tags, to allow their identification in the field, and much time was devoted to reading tags. They revealed new information about movements, settlement on territories, the age of first breeding, and many aspects of the birdsÎ behaviour.

The outcome of the project was a clutch of published scientific papers around 1980, mostly initiated by Ian Newton, and a straggle of later publications up to 2002. From 1981 to 1988 I returned to NCC, as ornithologist in the Wales Field Unit, mainly on hill bird surveys and advisory work, but still with time to cover my kite 'patch' in the spring.

We resumed kite wing-tagging between 1983 and 1993. New projects during the 1980s included egg and chick manipulation (mainly as a defence against egg collecting), which had been done occasionally since 1967, but which now also made use of the chick rearing facility of Dr. Nick Fox at Carmarthen; and from 1987 to 1993 genetic fingerprinting, organised by Dr. David Parkin from Nottingham University.

I was licensed by the Home Office to collect tiny blood samples from the fledglings, which were analysed at Nottingham by Celia May. In this connection, readers of the last issue of Boda Wennol will have learned about my cynical exploitation of the tree- climbing skills of Tony Cross. I have to admit that much of the tagging and genetic work from 1986 could not have been achieved without him (or someone like him, if such exists). He made no reference however to the distaff side of our relationship. I mention only his chronic unpunctuality, his insatiable hunger and thirst, his regular trashing of motor vehicles, and my having to field the complaints and enquiries of landowners and even the police, about his unorthodox behaviour.
I'm so glad he eventually settled down, two kids and a mortgage. I finally retired as Kite Recorder at the end of 1999, but seem to be stuck with the role of minuting secretary, and still totter round a few nests in the spring.
Peter Davies

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