3rd January 2002.
In Britain we now have 42 more species of breeding birds than we did in 1800: the fire-crest, brambling, snowy owl and the eagle owl returned to Yorkshire in 2005 and much of the success has been due to conservation.
It wasn’t always thus as the Tudors in their ‘Vermin Acts’ were particularly aimed at the raptors, and the corvids, termed ‘Rookes, Crowes and Choughes’, regarded as a threat to the developing agriculture of the time.(1)
It is a battle still being fought as revealed in the Daily Telegraph Today in 2002 when it was reported that about one third of red kites re-introduced into Scotland have been illegally poisoned.
The red kite was persecuted and more or less exterminated by the end of the 19thc in England, Scotland and most of Wales. It had been under threat from the 16thc onwards as a series of Acts required ‘vermin’ which included the red kite to be killed ‘throughout the parishes of England and Wales’.
It is the raptors which have taken the brunt of persecution owing to its impact on the sport of red grouse shooting, so the hen-harrier has been poisoned and shot along with peregrine falcon and goshawks.
The persecution continued throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, and then disaster came later in the guise of the gamekeeper employed to protect the now enclosed estates.
By the end of the 18thc the red kite bred for the last time and was only hanging-on in mid-Wales. By 1977 Nottingham University calculated that there was only one breeding female.
The small white heron nested in England for the first time in 1996 at Brownsea Island, the most successful colonisation since 1955.
The little egret was once in demand for ceremonial and millinery feathers known as aigrettes, and took 20 years before breeding was first recorded. However it became the most successful colonist of modern times since the collared dove with twelve recorded up to 1952 and 965 in Essex and Kent alone in 2004.
The 19th century saw the demise of the osprey due to egg-collecting and trophy hunters, resulting in its extinction by 1840 in England. It had become a problem in medieval times when fish eating was a requirement on Fridays and the monastic fishponds attracted the fish-eating osprey which were hunted and killed.
By 1916 it was extinct as a breed species in Britain, the last siting on an island in Loch Loyne.
(1) The Vermin Acts included the 1532 Destruction of Crows Act and the 1566 Preservation of Grain Act.
The Vermin Acts were only repealed in the 18thc and only really abated in the mid 20th century.
Ref:Amelia Hill Sunday Observer 7.1.2007
Ref: the guardian.com 2007. Tudors drove wildlife to brink of extinction.
Ref:thenaturephile.com Vermin Acts/Pics.
Ref:bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancs re Hen Harrier.