Red Kites Are Thriving in UK Thanks to Conservation Effort
In July 1990, a British Airways plane flew from Spain to the UK carrying some very unique cargo: 13 red kites.
The birds launched a landmark effort to reintroduce the iconic raptor to England. When they landed, the only red kites in all of the UK were a few breeding pairs in Wales. Now, there are around 1,800 breeding pairs across the whole country, and you can see them in almost every English county, according to a government press release. This July, wildlife advocates are celebrating the 30th anniversary of that fateful flight.
"In a few short decades we have taken a species from the brink of extinction, to the UK being home to almost 10% of the entire world population," Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) operations director for Central and Eastern England Jeff Knott said in the press release. "It might be the biggest species success story in UK conservation history."
In July 30 years ago, we reintroduced 13 young red kites to the Chilterns, alongside partners. Once practically ext… https://t.co/RA0xZSJAeo— Natural England (@Natural England)1595237684.0
RSPB worked with government agency Nature Conservancy Council (now Natural England), Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), Zoological Society London and British Airways to release the birds in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a hilly part of England chosen for its suitability, according to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) criteria. Red kites were later reintroduced in other locations, and, by 1996, at least 37 pairs had bred in Southern England. Today they are still thriving in the Chilterns, as well as in South East England, Yorkshire, the East Midlands, Wales and Scotland.
Red kites are notable for their reddish-brown color, forked tail and distinctive cry. They were once so common in England that William Shakespeare described London as a "city of kites and crows," the RSPB tweeted.
The UK is home to 10% of the world’s red kite population, but did you know that even just 30 years ago they were ne… https://t.co/rYOj159fgU— RSPB (@RSPB)1595241590.0
However, by the 20th century they had been driven to extinction in England and Scotland, The Independent reported. They were killed because of their reputation as pests and their attractiveness to taxidermists. Their eggs were also preyed on by collectors. While a few remained in Wales, genetic testing linked them to only one female, according to RSPB.
Sadly, attitudes towards birds of prey changed and red kites were driven to near extinction in England by the 1900'… https://t.co/XXwkKOQ8l3— RSPB (@RSPB)1595241591.0
The species's comeback has paved the way for other reintroduction efforts in England. In 2019, for example, Natural England issued licenses for five white-tailed eagles to be reintroduced to the Isle of Wight, The Guardian reported.
"People are looking at many other species, not only birds, but also mammals and invertebrates, to put back some of the living fabric of our islands that's been depleted over many years from habitat destruction, persecution and chemical pollution," Natural England chair Tony Juniper told The Guardian. "As we face the global nature crisis, this is extremely important for people to know – that it is not a one-way street and we can reverse the flow of these historic trends if we put our minds to it."
The UK's 25-year Environment Plan includes provisions for reintroducing species when it will help the environment. Beavers were successfully reintroduced to Scotland and the government is considering reintroducing them in England. And white storks gave birth in the wild in Britain this summer for the first time since 1416.
"Some of these big animals like white storks and white-tailed eagles become ambassadors for a far bigger discussion around nature recovery. If those animals are thriving, then we know we have a healthy natural environment," Juniper said.
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Kevin T. Smiley
When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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