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Mouth swabs to probe rare bird blood lines

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The Wild at Kielder season lifts off in spectacular fashion with three thrilling goshawk treks raising the curtain on a series of amazing wildlife events in the 62 hectare (155,000 acre) wilderness.

Kielder Water & Forest Park is the most tranquil spot in the UK according to the CPRE, but when it comes to animals it is like Piccadilly Circus.

Martin Davison, a Forestry Commission ornithologist, will lead the way by giving nature fans chance to see the goshawk’s amazing courtship display on 5 and 6 March.

The bird, once persecuted to extinction and which reappeared in Kielder in the 1960s, is one of the rarest in the UK and a special licence is required simply to visit its nest. 

Every year Martin rings chicks, noting down their weight, wing measurements and state of health.  And now he has to perform another delicate procedure - taking mouth swabs!

The samples are being used in a new project to analyse the bloodlines of Kielder’s goshawk chicks. 

Blood tests carried out 20 years ago found that the local population derived from a single female – presumably the one which arrived in the forest 50 years ago. 

Experts want scientific proof to confirm that new bloodlines have since come into the forest, adding to the DNA pool.  Martin explained:

“It’s an interesting project, but very much in its early days. We expect the results to confirm that the bird is drawing on a wider gene pool of unrelated birds. That is important because it makes for a healthier and more viable population.  Goshawks are magnificent birds and it’s good see the population is stable.”

While the science may be fascinating, it’s the sheer spectacle of male goshawks bidding to impress potential mates with a thrilling “sky dance” that will beguile people. Walks take place at 10.30am and 1.30pm (5 March) and 9am to 12 noon (6 March). Booking is required on 01434 220242 and the cost is £6 adults, £5 concessions and £16 for a family of four.

Other great opportunities to sample Kielder’s wildlife include:

  • Deer Safaris, 20 and 27 April  and 1 and 11 June – Kielder Castle/Bellingham
  • Bat Night, 30 April – Kielder Castle
  • Dawn Chorus, 1 May - Kielder Castle
  • Badger Watch, 6 and 14 May – Wark Forest
  • Owl Night, 13, 18 and 20 May – Kielder Castle

Richard Gilchrist, Chief Recreation Ranger, added: 

“Kielder is a haven for some of the nation’s rarest creatures, including goshawks, red squirrels and even wild goats.  This is a special place and these events are a great way to experience Mother Nature.”

Wild at Kielder season is being organised by the Kielder Partnership - for detail of other exciting events go to

Note to Editor

The Forestry Commission is the government department responsible in England for protecting, expanding and promoting the sustainable management of woods and forests and increasing their value to society and the environment. Forestry makes a real contribution to sustainable development, providing social and environmental benefits arising from planting and managing attractive, as well as productive, woodlands.  For more information go to

Media calls to Richard Darn on 01226 246351, mobile 0775 367 0038.