I have three children, all independent now and one grand-child on the way, perhaps born when you read this.
From a young age I wanted to be a solicitor. I did a Law Degree in Bristol University and was admitted to the roll of solicitors in January 1967. I had started as an articled clerk in the Legal Department of the Wales Gas Board, but I really wanted private practice and transferred my articles to the late Mr Gorwel Owen in Treorchy in March 1965.
When I started work in the Rhondda Valleys most of the collieries had been closed down and industrial dereliction was everywhere, dismantled colliery sites, railway sidings coal dust and poverty. However, I seemed to get on with the people and eventually with investment in roads and railways and in housing through housing grants, the prosperity of the area improved and the quality of life is now as high as anywhere.
We have good communications to enable people to travel out of the Valley to work and a vibrant community where music and arts flourish. But no kites as yet! My parents had been able to interest me in bird-watching and I saw my first kite near Trawsnant in the Tywi Valley in 1961. At that time they were very rare and I must have been lucky.
Working in the law and bringing up a family gave no time for bird-watching but by 1982 I was able to volunteer for the Red Kite protection scheme then being run from Cwmystwyth, where a large proportion of the total Welsh kite population was clustered in one place.
There were important lessons to be learned at Cwmystwyth about the degree of tolerance kites showed towards humans. The sitting kite would fly off the nest as soon as I raised my binoculars but the farmer could drive a flock of sheep complete with dogs and tractor and she would stay on the nest as if asleep. Lessons too about not drawing attention to the nest and the importance of keeping records. Later I was to learn the unlimited amount of effort and dedication needed to find new nests.
The following year saw me looking for nesting pairs ofÊkites in the Swansea Valley, where kites were being seen for the first time. I did not find a single nest that year andÊI guessed that they were flying from the area north of the Black Mountain. This area had already become home to several pairs of red kites who relied on the rubbish tip at Bethlehem for food over thewinter. It was an easy journey for them as the kite flies.
The then NCC warden for the area Bob Haycock was about to move to a full time warden position at Stackpole in Pembrokeshire. When I replaced him in 1984 I had three nesting pairs. Last year I had twenty-six pairs in the same area.ÊWhilst some allowance must be made for improvement in my technique, but there is no doubt that the population has increased dramatically in that time. I am sure this is due in no small measure to the feeding stations which have multiplied in Wales.
Provided the owner feeds consistently the two huge benefits are that young kites are helped to survive their first winter (when mortality is as high as 50%) and the public are able to watch kites without disturbing them at their nests. In those early days it was necessary to guard certain vulnerable nests to discourage disturbance over the Easter Bank Holiday. At one nest I saw the kite coming off the nest and after a few minutes looked through the telescope to check her return. As I did so a hand and arm came into view and felt about in the nest.
I arrived at the nest within seconds and there was a group of youngsters sitting around the nest tree watching their friend whose arm I had seen. I got them out of there immediately. It turned out they were visiting the area and had never seen a kite before. The nest was successful and by taking a sensible approach to the disturbance the bad publicity of an inappropriate prosecution was avoided.
Over the years as a watcher I have experienced lots of other dramatic incidents such as locking myself out of my car in torrential rain, the car breaking down miles away from anywhere and on one occasion the entire contents of my car were stolen, including my camping gear and telescope. However nothing can equal getting up at dawn from a tent in a secluded corner of my kite area and cooking breakfast ready to start another day's searching.
In 1996 I was privileged to take part in the establishment of the Welsh Kite Trust and the registration of the Trust as a recognised charity. The Trust is able to focus on kites in a way that the old kite committee formed from representatives of the conservation bodies in Wales including RSPB and the Nature Conservancy (later Nature Conservancy Council then Countryside Council for Wales) found it difficult to do because of the competing demands of other species. It is therefore the single most important development for Red Kite conservation since the development of the re-introduction schemes in England and Scotland.
As for the future the most exciting development for me is the 'Total Coverage Areas' where 100% coverage is given year on year to certain prescribed areas and the results are extrapolated to the whole kite population. Up to year 2000 we tried to provide 100% coverage to the whole of Wales. This has now become impossible. My present situation of semi-retirement will hopefully enable me to become more involved in this work.