Learn about what makes Nature of Scotland Award winners Argaty Red Kites such a special place in this guest blog from volunteer ranger, Clare Harte.

An introduction to Argaty Red Kites

At 2018’s Nature Scotland awards ceremony, following years of hard work, Niall, Lynn, and Tom Bowser from Argaty Red Kites in Doune were the well deserving recipients of the “RSPB Nature Tourism” award. Their passion for wildlife and conservation is clear not only when you speak to them but also through the activities and events they run to bring people closer to nature and educate visitors. They do this by running a variety of activities from the Red Kite feeding sessions to Red Squirrel encounters, Dragonfly & Butterfly workshops, and excellent talks held by renowned wildlife experts and nature authors. As soon as you arrive, you can look round their visitor centre, stop by the bumblebee garden and frog pond and as you’re wandering up to the hide admiring the Kites soaring in the sky, you frequently see Long Tailed Tits, Chaffinches, and the now rare Tree Sparrow. Wildlife is everywhere at Argaty and when visiting you can see exactly why they won their award.

I’m lucky enough to have gone from a passing visitor to a volunteer ranger, feeding the kites and leading guests up to the hide and telling them about how Argaty has supported the reintroduction project and why it is such a special place. I’m honoured to be able to tell you why they won but the only people who can really explain how much it means is those who are key to the success of the project. I spoke to Lynn Bowser, who said “We never really expected to be chosen as winners - the short list was so strong, and all the projects were doing really important things for wildlife. So it was an enormous surprise and I feel quite humbled that something we really do for the love of it should be considered as making an important contribution to conservation”

We’ve previously written about the history of Red Kites, most recently in December 2018 by Duncan Orr-Ewing, which you can read here - The history and future of red kite conservation. To understand why Argaty won the award though, where better to start than when the reintroduction project took place in Central Scotland between 1996-2001. After the reintroduction, the Kites quickly found their way to Argaty and because there were only 20 young birds in the first year the influx of birdwatchers were promising to impact badly on their welfare. As their location became more well known, people started to turn up looking for them. Occasionally this meant they were getting too close to the birds and nests, which could have disturbed them. Whilst Niall and Lynn had been feeding the birds from their own private hide, in 2003 they decided the right thing to do was build a public viewing hide primarily for the safety of the birds but also to encourage visitors, which in turn raises awareness of the project.

People come from all over the world to see the Kites and always comment on how beautiful the birds are, especially on a sunny day when the light perfectly shows off their markings. The viewing hide at Argaty is an excellent vantage point for seeing the Kites demonstrate their supreme aerial agility by using their iconic forked tail like a rudder as they swoop down to grab their food. Hearing the awe in people’s voices and the looks on their faces as they enjoy the show is easily the best part of being a volunteer there. Sometimes it seems the Kites have a watch on as they begin to gather above the feeding spot, wondering why you’re taking too long then flying lower as you walk out in to the field with the food. All too often you’re barely away from where you’ve put their meal before you hear the rush of wind through their wings just metres behind you, which is a sight and sound I’ll never tire of experiencing.

It’s not just Kites you can see here, the surrounding fields and woodland are buzzing with a huge variety of species at Argaty. The Red Squirrels can be watched in the secluded and quiet woodland hide, which allows close encounters as they frantically run around looking for their next meal. At times there can be up to 5 Squirrels scampering around the hide, all being careful to avoid each other. This is normally the calm before the fluffy storm however and it’s highly amusing to watch when they get a bit too close to each other causing some tail swishing, warning calls and the inevitable chase, which takes place to see the intruder off. They’re unfazed by the hide and you do wonder if they’re going to come in and join you! Even if the Squirrels are out of sight there are numerous small birds to watch including Treecreepers, Nuthatches, Jays, and an ever optimistic Sparrowhawk.

Niall, Lynn, and Tom could’ve stopped after their successful Red Kite project but luckily for us they never. Through their passion to combine farming and active conservation they have proven the two can work exceptionally well together. With the introduction of the woodland hide, a specialist Kite photography hide, a new raised bed pond, and a beautiful 4 acre wildflower meadow about to go to seed, it’s evident they want people to have an outstanding visit and really get close to the abundance of flora and fauna at Argaty. Winning this award shows their hard work and commitment has paid off, giving their efforts well deserved recognition. I for one can’t wait to see what they plan on doing next to further support our beautiful Scottish wildlife.

The Nature of Scotland Awards entries for 2019 are open until June 4th. Learn about the categories and apply at rspb.org.uk/natureofscotland