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Preying for answers on family tree; Researchers examining DNA of goshawks.

Byline: Tony Henderson

FAMILY tree research is helping a rare bird population in a Northumberland forest.

Goshawk chicks in Kielder Water & Forest Park are having their mouths swabbed in a bid to discover if the bird of prey's population has a healthy future.

Goshawks were common until the early 19th Century, but were then persecuted to near extinction.

The bird, which reappeared in Kielder in the 1960s, is rare, with only around 500 breeding pairs in England and Scotland, and a special licence is required simply to visit a nest.

Now Forestry Commission monitoring - which includes ringing, weighing and measuring chicks - is being stepped up to include taking a DNA swab sample.

Forestry Commission ornithologist Martin Davison said: "Blood tests found that the local population derived from a single female - presumably the one which arrived in the forest 50 years ago. "We are now seeking scientific proof that new bloodlines have since come into the forest.

"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.

"The bigger the gene pool, the healthier the population will be.

"Goshawks are magnificent birds and it's good see the population is stable."

A goshawk which had been killed and which was found at Kielder was identified by its leg ring as having come from Derbyshire.

Ringed Kielder birds have also been identified in the Borders.

Martin said: "Goshawks will nest in any woodland and the only reason they are not common in Britain is persecution.

"They conflict with gaming interests."

Rangers are staging three goshawk walks to raise the curtain on the Wild at Kielder season, which celebrates the forest's wildlife.

In spring male goshawks bid to impress potential mates with a "sky dance". Walks take place at 10.30am and 1.30pm on March 5 and 9am to noon on March 6. Booking is required on 01434 220 242 and the cost is pounds 6 adults, pounds 5 concessions and pounds 16 for a family of four.

Other opportunities to sample Kielder's wildlife include deer safaris, on April 20 and 27 and June 1 and 11, a bat night on April 30 at Kielder Castle; a dawn chorus on May 1 at Kielder Castle; a badger watch on May 6 and 14 at Wark Forest and owl nights on May 13, 18 and 20 at Kielder Castle.

Wild at Kielder season is organised by the Kielder Partnership.

For detail of events, go to the website www.visitkielder. com For more environmental stories, go to www.journallive.co.uk/tonyhenders on

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RECOVERING Goshawks were hunted to near extinction, but their numbers have been growing stronger at Kielder since the 1960s
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 11, 2011
Words:461
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