Anyone who has followed the story of Ospreys in England will know that they were originally wiped out through human persecution in the Victorian era. You would hope that in todays far more enlightened times that this would not be a recurring problem, but events in Rutland in the past thirteen months suggest this may not be the case.
Last spring two male birds – 06(00) and 32(05) – disappeared within a few days of each other from the same area in south-west Rutland. Their disappearances were highly suspicious and lead us to believe they had been illegally killed – most probably shot. Our view was shared by the local police who investigated the matter on our behalf. Then last week, 08(97) also went missing. Although we have not been reporting 08’s progress on the website so far this year – due to the continued threat of egg collecting – he had returned to Rutland on 29th March, a few days after his mate, 5N(04). They began incubating on 15th April and seemed to be progressing well. 08 was catching a good supply of fish and the birds were sharing incubation duties without problems.
Then everything changed. On Thursday 08 was absent from the nest all day, and still hadn’t returned by dark. We began to worry because we knew that 08 regularly fishes in the areas favoured by 06 and 32 before they disappeared last spring. Nothing changed on Friday and it soon became clear that he was not going to return. 08 is fourteen years old, but we had seen nothing in his behaviour to give us any cause for concern. As ‘Lady’ at Loch of Lowes has shown, Ospreys can live well into their twenties. The only conclusion that we can draw from 08’s disappearance is that he has suffered the same fate as 06 and 32. In all likelihood he has been shot. To lose three healthy males from the same area of south west Rutland within thirteen months of each other is a very serious problem and one that, if it continues, has implications for the long term viability of the population. If we lose more birds in this way, then all our hard work trying to restore Ospreys to England could be in vain. Hen Harriers, despite the best efforts of hard-working conservationists, continue to be illegally killed in northern England. I sincerely hope that this is not going to be the case with Ospreys in England too. England has the potential to support hundreds of pairs of Ospreys, but only if persecution does not restrict their numbers.
The very sad aspect to this whole story is that the vast majority of people in Rutland are hugely supportive of the project. I have never been approached by as many local people as I have this spring, asking if the birds are back and how they’re getting on. Most local people are very proud to have Ospreys in the area. It is an absolute tragedy if one misinformed individual is threatening the success of the entire project. All of the birds usually favour the reservoirs – Rutland Water and Eyebrook – for fishing, but when the weather is poor they will often visit smaller lakes and ponds to hunt. Although they will have minimal impact at these sites, it appears that there is someone in Rutland who does not share our view. Most people are thrilled to see an Osprey in action but this is not the case with a minority of individuals.
We are now appealing for anyone with any information to come forward. Losing three birds in this way is totally unacceptable and we hope that the people of Rutland will get behind us to try and identify who is responsible for their disappearance. Aside from shooting, the one other possibility is that 08 and the other two birds died after becoming caught in netting over a pond – a cause of death that has been recorded in Scotland before. It does however, seem highly unlikely that three birds could have suffered this same fate – particularly two birds at virtually the same time last spring. We would however urge any one with a netted pond to check them regularly in case any birds or other wildlife have become caught – and to get in touch if they think 08 or either of the other two birds may have become caught at their pond.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of the story is that 08(97) was the first translocated bird to return to Rutland Water. His arrival in May 1999 was the first indication that our ground-breaking project was going to work. How sad that after all these years 08 has almost certainly come to grief at the hands of a human. All we can hope is that at least one of the six chicks 08 has raised with 5N(04) in recent years will return, and in doing so, provide lasting legacy for a bird that thousands of people have watched and admired-whether it be from an Osprey cruise on the Rutland Belle, or at Lyndon where 08 held territory between 1999 and 2008.
Of course 08’s disappearance means that 5N is alone at the nest. We have been putting fish near the nest since Saturday to ensure that she is well fed, and she has continued to incubate the eggs during this period. We are currently discussing various options with Natural England, because it will be almost impossible for 5N to raise any chicks should they hatch. We will, of course, keep you updated with any developments in the coming days.
In the meantime, if you have any information regarding the disappearance of 08 please do get in touch by phoning us at the Lyndon Centre on 01572 737378 or by calling Leicestershire Police 0116 2222222.