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British-born red kites are being flown abroad in a mission to help rescue the dwindling Spanish population.
The birds of prey are threatened in parts of Spain by factors including poisoning and a lack of food.
Experts have been given special permission to take 30 red kites from England and release them in the remote mountains of south western Spain.
It’s hoped the birds will thrive and breed there, rescuing the population.
In the UK, the red kite has had a remarkable turnaround after almost being wiped out.
A reintroduction programme in the 1980s and 1990s proved so successful that the population is now considered stable enough to support this vital conservation work.
Dr Ian Evans of Natural England went out to Spain in the 1990s to collect wild red kites for release in the Chiltern Hills. He said the ones returning this week may be of Spanish descent.
“Those birds we took from Spain in the ’90s have done really well in Britain – we’re talking 4,000-plus pairs in the UK now, which is an incredible success story,” he told BBC News.
In the 1990s, red kites in Spain were doing well in comparison to the UK, where years of human persecution, including egg collecting, poisoning and shooting, had pushed the bird to near extinction.
While red kites in the UK have since boomed, populations in some parts of southern Spain have gone