English osprey returns after absence of 150 years

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE ENGLISH osprey is here at last. Scotland's most celebrated bird has returned south of Hadrian's Wall. The spectacular fish-eating hawk, which returned north of the border in 1954 after a long extinction in Britain, has reappeared in the English Midlands.

The first of a number of young ospreys released annually at Rutland Water from 1996 onwards, in the hope that they would come back to breed at the reservoir from their African wintering grounds, has just returned. The bird, released in summer 1997, is fishing in Rutland Water and investigating manmade nests around the shore, though there is no sign of a potential mate for it.

Its appearance a week ago delighted members of the osprey reintroduction project, which is run by Anglian Water with the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust.

The five-year project started after ospreys on migration were regularly seen at the reservoir over a number of years. Because the birds were naturally selecting it as a stop-over point on their journeys to and from the Scottish Highlands, the decision was taken to try to bring them back to breed.

Young birds were taken under licence from their Scottish nests and reared to adolescence in woodland cages overlooking the reservoir, then released in late summer.

They would typically spend a month in the area before flying to Africa. Since 1996, 24 birds have been released in this way and the first was not expected back until 2000, as ospreys take four or five years to reach breeding age. "To have this bird back now is fantastic news, and extremely encouraging," said Stephen Bolt, in charge of the project for Anglian Water. "What we are now hoping for is a breeding pair to return for the millennium. It would be an excellent start to the next century to have the first breeding ospreys in England since 1842." Ospreys were persecuted to death in Britain, although they lingered on in Scotland till 1916.

In 1954 a pair returned to Loch Garten in the Highlands, since when, strictly protected, they have steadily increased in numbers. Last year 130 pairs successfully bred, raising 192 young.

"They are doing so well in Scotland that I think it's touch and go whether the first English breeding pair will be at Rutland Water or will spread south naturally over the border," said Chris Harbard of the RSPB.