South Scotland

Donald and Jeff Watson raptor award for red kite study

Red kite
Image caption The study found illegal killing was the main cause of the low rate of red kite population increase

A new science prize in honour of two renowned Galloway ornithologists has gone to research into illegal killing of red kites in northern Scotland.

The Watson award - named after father and son Donald and Jeff Watson - went to a team led by RSPB scientists.

Their research compared the fate of red kites in northern Scotland with those in the Chilterns in south east England.

It was praised by an independent panel of judges as an "exemplary piece of scientific work".

The Watson Raptor Science Prize was created in the memory of the two noted Scots ornithologists.

It was set up by the Watson Bird Centre and Celebration Project, based at St John's Town of Dalry in Galloway.

Director Prof Roger Crofts said: "Our project is multi-faceted, linking birds and landscape, arts and nature.

"The prize reflects the contributions made by the unique father and son combination of Donald and Jeff Watson to raptor studies.

"I am delighted that an RSPB team has passed the test of three independent internationally renowned scientists to win the first award."

A statement from the Watson family offered their congratulations to the winners.

It said they were delighted to see a new award recognise an area of study which had been "so important in the lives" of their relatives.

The research paper looked at the "phenomenal success story" of reintroducing red kites to the UK and the different rate of increase in populations.

It tried to identify why the north of Scotland population had only reached about 50 breeding pairs after 17 years compared with about 300 in the Chilterns, where habitats were similar.

It found that 40% of red kites found dead at the sites studied north of the border had been killed illegally.

The authors concluded that if there had been no illegal killing the population in northern Scotland would have grown at the same rate as in the Chilterns.

Judges' spokesman Prof Des Thompson said: "Some outstanding scientific papers were published on birds of prey in 2010.

"However, Dr Jennifer Smart and co-workers have published an exemplary piece of scientific work which pinpoints the key limiting factor for a reintroduced red kite population in the north of Scotland.

"It is especially fitting that this study should have been carried out in the late Jeff Watson's home area - where he played an important part in supporting the reintroduction programme.

"We also pay tribute to one of the co-authors, Brian Etheridge, who has made an exceptional contribution to raptor monitoring and conservation in Britain. "

Prolific artist

Prof Jeremy Wilson, head of research for RSPB Scotland, said the paper brought to fruition long-term work by RSPB staff.

He said it was a great honour to win the inaugural prize and thanked the individuals who had allowed access to their land and Scottish Natural Heritage for its support.

Donald Watson was born in Surrey and educated in Edinburgh before moving to St John's Town of Dalry in 1950.

He was one of the most prolific bird artists of his generation in Britain. He died in 2005.

His son, Dr Jeff Watson, grew up in Galloway and became recognised as a world expert on golden eagles through his studies in the Highlands, where he lived for many years prior to his death in 2007.

A presentation will be made by the research team which won the prize set up in their honour at Dalry Town Hall on 1 October.

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