Farmer likes his meat very rare

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FORTUNE WAS smiling on Abdoura Hamane Compo. After a hard day's work in the fields, the Guinean farmer spotted his evening meal - an exhausted bird, writes Mark Rowe.

It was only after cooking it that he found a ringlet informing him that his dinner had, in fact, been a pounds 3,000 osprey, part of a captive breeding programme set up three years ago to reintroduce the species to England, where it was wiped out in the 1840s.

Stricken with guilt, Mr Compo wrote to the scientist in charge of the reintroduction project in Rutland Water, Leicestershire, telling how he spotted the bird one evening. "Tired, it flew away with difficulty over the ground," he wrote. "I chased it until I caught it, I had won my meal for the night. The head had a wound so the bird was suffering a little. At 20.00 hours its soul went to heaven.

"I understood that the bird was on a mission. Unfortunately I did not understand what it represented. If God has chosen me to be the author of this discovery, I could not keep this information to myself."

According to Roy Dennis, who is running the five-year project, a young osprey can grow "quite fat" and make a good meal - and the loss of the odd bird is built into most breeding programmes. "You're always disappointed when you learn a bird has died," he said. "But you have to expect it."

Even the news that the bird had ended up in the pot, described as "one of the unfortunate hazards of being an osprey" by a spokesman for Anglian Water, which is sponsoring the pounds 150,000 project, is more encouraging than it sounds. "It's a good sign that they are making it all the way to Africa," the spokesman said.