BIRD-LOVERS visiting Dumfries and Galloway to see the region’s red kites have contributed more than £8.2 million to the local economy, a new report has found.

The birds of prey were reintroduced to the north of Castle Douglas in 2001 and two years later the self-guided Galloway Kite Trail that circles Loch Ken was launched.

A survey by the RSPB found that between 2004 and 2015 the trail attracted more than 100,000 visitors and £8.2m of spending in the area was directly attributable to people who came to see red kites.

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On average, the trail also supported the equivalent of 19 full-time jobs each year, with the figure rising to 21 jobs in 2015.

A total of 105 breeding pairs were counted in Dumfries and Galloway surveys in the summer of 2016, with at least 120 young fledged.

RSPB Scotland community liaison officer Calum Murray said: “The reintroduction of red kites has been a massive conservation success story and we now have over 100 pairs breeding in Dumfries and Galloway, but this survey clearly demonstrates how nature can bring economic benefits to the area as well.”

VisitScotland regional director Doug Wilson said: “The Galloway Kite Trail has been a fabulous success story in many more ways than one. As an ambitious nature conservation project, it has achieved outstanding results in terms of increasing red kite numbers, educating the public about these spectacular birds of prey and raising awareness of RSPB Scotland’s superb efforts to protect them and their habitat, and encourage breeding.”

Red kites were persecuted to extinction in Scotland in the 19th century but have now made a comeback in many parts of the country.