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Water Voles at Rutland Water

Rutland Water Nature Reserve is known mainly for its significant wintering populations of wildfowl, and the increasing population of ospreys that breed here in the summer. It is easy to forget or take for granted the other wildlife that occurs on the nature reserve. It is not just ospreys that are endangered and were re-introduced to this area…

Water voles are members of the rodent family, and are often confused with rats. However, they differ from rats in many ways, not least in that they are under threat, and rats are not. Water voles, as the name suggests, like to live near water. They occur at the fringes of ponds, lakes and other bodies of still water such as canals, but are just as at home on the banks of rivers and streams. They live and breed in burrows that they dig into the soft mud of the banks, and feed mainly on vegetation such as reeds.

Historically, water voles were widespread throughout Britain, but their population suffered a dramatic decline during the 20th century – one of the most serious declines of all British mammals. This population decline was due mainly to the presence of mink, but also habitat fragmentation and water pollution. Mink are a non-native species that were brought to the UK in the 1920s for use in fur farms, and either escaped or were released, and had begun breeding in the wild by the 1950s. Unfortunately, mink are very efficient at predating water voles, and are their main threat.

It was soon realised that something needed to be done to replenish the population of water voles at Rutland Water. Consequently, a license was granted and a re-introduction programme for water voles took place in 2011, in conjunction with a programme of mink control. Click here for more information. It worked incredibly well, and there is now a thriving population of water voles on the nature reserve and in the surrounding area.

The population of water voles on the reserve has been monitored closely ever since the re-introduction, by volunteers Linda and Anthony Biddle. These surveys are carried out by the simple but effective method of counting the number of droppings on specially made “rafts”. Water voles like to keep their burrows clean by using flat areas of mud or grass as latrines. They will also often use areas such as this as feeding stations. With this in mind, several small rafts were made and installed in all locations likely to contain water voles. The voles then use these rafts as latrines, and surveyors visit the locations of these rafts and count the number of water vole droppings that appear on them.

Last week was my first water vole droppings count, and I really enjoyed it! It was a beautiful autumn day, and I was content to be wandering slowly up and down channels and water courses in the peace and quiet, locating the rafts, counting the droppings and noting the number on a recording form. It was amazing just how many droppings there were in some places! Water voles have definitely become well established on the nature reserve following the re-introduction – another success story!

The population will continue to be monitored over the coming years, and the data from previous surveys has been collated, reviewed and written up in the form of reports. The surveys are carried out every quarter, and a report is made of each survey, then at the end of the year an annual report will be created. The other ongoing task is to monitor the population of mink, which is done in a similar fashion but using special mink rafts, which contain a platform of clay in the centre to retain the footprints of any animal that passes over it, alerting us to the presence of mink in that area, should there be any.

Water voles are not a species that can be spotted easily, as they are rather elusive and live mainly under the protective cover of tall waterside vegetation. If you are lucky you may see one swimming away from you, but more likely you will just hear the “plop” of them entering the water when they hear you coming. Water voles have often been spotted in the channels in front of Waderscrape hide on the Lyndon reserve, and here you stand more of a chance of seeing them sitting on the banks, as there is the advantage of being able to sit in the hide and make no noise, making it more likely they will show themselves.

Look out for more updates on water voles and surveys in the near future!


water vole

Water vole, Mick Spencer

Water vole 2, Mick Spencer


Working in the woods

In the winter, when the ospreys have all gone, work at Rutland Water is not over for our team of osprey monitoring volunteers. Winter is the time of year that practical work on the nature reserve begins in earnest, and there is plenty to do! We have a dedicated team of osprey volunteers who convene at Lyndon every Monday throughout the winter months to carry out practical habitat conservation tasks. This work party team works hard to ensure that the Lyndon reserve is kept in a fantastic condition, and is ready for a new season next year, and all the visitors and breeding species that spring brings!

The first work party of winter 2016 was last Monday, and the second was yesterday. We had a team of around 15-20 working in two different groups. Task one was to clear the marginal vegetation from the edges of the wildflower meadow, which had recently been mown, and to coppice the stand of willow on the left of the meadow, in order to open up the view of the reservoir. This willow comes in very handy around the reserve, and is used for a number of other tasks such as willow weaving around benches, and creating willow fences.

The other job that we have been working on for the past two Mondays is a bigger project that is likely to last several more weeks. We have been clearing an area of willow to the right-hand-side of Teal hide. This patch of willow had become very tightly packed and the ground was almost completely shaded, hence the ground layer was mainly a tangle of brambles. What we aim to do is take down the larger willow trees and open the area up to allow more light to penetrate. Gradually the willow will begin to grow back, and the area will become scrubby and shrubby, which is great habitat for a number of breeding species.

The cut material is being used to create a dead hedge along the track to the hide. Stakes are made out of the thicker, straighter bits of willow and driven into the ground at regular intervals. Then the cut branches and brash are packed into the middle of the stakes, creating a hedge. This makes a much neater edge to the track, and is an excellent use for the material being felled.

As always we were all treated to excellent soups at lunchtime – week one from Paul Stammers and week two from Becky Corby. Thank you both very much, and thanks also to volunteer Jan Warren for the wonderful cakes she always brings!

Thank you to volunteer Margaret Stamp for the following photographs of the work!

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Ozzie’s Winter Diary Part 1

Ken Davies will be writing a fictional monthly diary about what Ozzie gets up to in Africa! Here is part one!

October 2016

It already seems a long time since Ozzie left his territory near Rutland Water, but he has quickly settled into his winter routine on the west coast of Africa, in the country called Gambia. He is back near the fishing village of Tanji, where Ken and his friends saw him during their African trip in January.

Ozzie’s return to Gambia is always greeted with great joy by the pupils and teachers of Tanji School, who often come down to the beach with their friend JJ to see if they can find this special Osprey. Ozzie has become a link with children their own age in many schools in Oakham and Stamford, near Rutland Water in England. They like to watch all the Ospreys, but they are especially pleased when they see the blue leg ring and satellite antenna, which tell them they are looking at Ozzie.

Today when the Tanji children reach the beach with their teacher Isatou, they find Ozzie sitting on a sand bar a hundred metres or so away. He is not alone. There are four or five more Ospreys spaced out along the bank, and some small birds are running about amongst them. Ozzie has a piece of a fish he caught earlier in his talons, and the smaller birds, called Turnstones, are hoping he might drop something that they can run in and steal. The tide is low, the beach is quiet. The long, brightly painted fishing boats will not be going out till later.

2-paragraph-4-imageThe children love to watch Ozzie. He is their friend. They know he has two homes – one here with them, and the other thousands of miles away in central England, where he is watched in just the same way by the English children. Only yesterday, JJ had brought messages from England to Tanji School, all written on cards for them by children who had seen Ozzie during the summer.

After a while, Ozzie flies up into the air, still carrying his fish, and seems to come straight towards them as they stand on the beach. He flies over their heads, over their school and their homes in the village, over the main road that goes to the capital city Banjul, and into the mangrove lagoons that lie just a few kilometres inland. This is Tanji Marsh, where lots more Ospreys come every day to rest and sit quietly. The children know he has not gone far. They will be back another day to see him again.

Ozzie lands on a tree stump in the shallow water in the middle of the marsh, and has a peck at the fish he has carried all the way from the beach. There are a few Ospreys around, some quite close and some further away in the bare branches of dead trees. Ozzie can see them all, but they do not bother him. He does not know it, but one is another Rutland Osprey. She has been coming here for two winters now. Another one, far distant in a tree, is from Scotland. A group of Green Vervet Monkeys dance wildly across the mud, scattering ducks, gulls and terns as they go. The Ospreys do not move. A group of noisy children are walking along tracks through the marsh, but the Ospreys are used to them and do not fly. The children sing and shout as they make their way home.

A green 4 x 4 Land Rover pulls up on a hard patch of mud and some people climb out with binoculars, telescopes and cameras. They are tourists from England, and they have come to Gambia to see the wonderful birds, to enjoy the sunshine, and to meet some of the happy and friendly people. They set up their telescopes and are soon watching the Ospreys and all the other birds. They try hard to read the numbers on Ozzie’s ring, but it is hidden for the moment and they cannot make it out. They do better with a young female Osprey hatched in Rutland, and excitedly make a note of her ring number 5F in their books. The Scottish one is F93, and news of this sighting will soon be sent back to Scotland. After a while some of the people wander off away from the lagoon and find other colourful and interesting birds, including brilliant Little Bee-eaters, handsome White Helmetshrikes, and an amazing Beautiful Sunbird – yes, that really is its name!


The sun is sinking lower in the sky, and turning red. As the group of birdwatchers climb back into their Land Rover, Ozzie lifts off again and flies back over the darkening village towards the beach. He has a favourite perch at the top of an old bare tree, where he will spend the night. The tide is up now, the sand bank has been covered, and the fishermen are preparing their boats to go out and spread their nets on the overnight high tide. Ozzie is settled. The huge reddening sun sinks below the western horizon. Another African day is over.


By Ken Davies


Education News Autumn


The Rutland ospreys have taken their long flight south to overwinter in The Gambia and Senegal. It has been an exciting year for the Osprey Education Team. We have done assemblies, talks, run class activities, and hosted school visits to Lyndon to see the ospreys.  Including our 2016 Osprey Festival event at Brooke Priory School and the Rutland Water Osprey Cruise we have worked with over 3100 children this year! Our special thanks to the Osprey Ambassadors and Osprey Project volunteers who have helped us in our 2016 season. So what about the year ahead?

World Osprey Week (WOW)  2017  –  March 27th- 31st

Teachers can register on the website with access to our free online primary and secondary school resources which include fun activities, cross curricular projects, and lesson plans, all with ready to use pupil resources. Over 300 schools are registered and are using these teaching materials! You can also contact other schools involved.

Take a look at the WOW pages on website for more details.

Movie competition 2017 – “Ospreys and Us”

This year as part of WOW individuals or groups of children are invited to make a two minute movie inspired by ospreys. We will have separate primary and secondary school competitions.
Movies will need to be sent in by Friday 26th May 2017, and the winners will be invited to a movie premiere, the “Ozcar” Awards on Wednesday 5th July at Rutland water!

For more information about making and submitting your movie click here!

Osprey Ambassadors 

Several schools have now chosen ”Osprey Ambassadors” to keep their schools up to date with the latest Osprey news. If your school wishes to choose two or three Osprey Ambassadors who could be our link with your school, take a look at the information on the Rutland Ospreys website byclicking here!

Ambassadors should look at the Rutland Ospreys website regularly as we will have blogs throughout the winter giving the latest osprey news. Contact Ken regarding your Ambassadors by e-mail at

Ozzie’s Diary

Ozzie will be sending Ken a monthly “Ozzie’s Diary” to let us know what he is doing in Africa. The first one will be posted in October on the Rutland Ospreys website and it will be of particular interest to teachers, pupils, and our Osprey Ambassadors to use as a class or assembly item. Keep an eye on the Blog and WOW pages!

Ambassadors meeting 2017

There will be an Ambassadors Meeting at Rutland Water on Saturday 25th March 2017 from 10am to 12.30pm at the Volunteers Training Centre. Details to follow. Meanwhile, please appoint you Ambassadors and let us know their names!

Hot off the press

The second Ozzie book written by Ken Davies and illustrated by John Wright was published ready for the Osprey Festival in July.  Ozzie’s Return tells the story in words and colour pictures of Ozzie’s hazardous journey back from Gambia to Rutland Water, his place of birth. A must read for primary school children!

This has been followed by Ozzie leads the Way, published in August, just in time for “Bird Fair”.  With 180 pages, and aimed at older children, Ken Davies tells the story of Ozzie and his friends in Rutland and in The Gambia. Colour illustrations are by Fiona Gomez.

Book signing 

Ken Davies will be at Walkers Bookshop, High Street, Oakham, Rutland from 10.30 am – 12.00 on Saturday 22rd October to sign copies of his new books. We hope to see you there!

Ozzie's Migration Ozzie's Return

Ozzie leads the way - £8




Book signing!

On Saturday 22nd October there will be a special book signing event at Walker’s Bookshop in Oakham. Ken Davies, author of the excellent Osprey-themed children’s books ‘Ozzie’s Migration’, ‘Ozzie’s Return’ and ‘Ozzie Leads the Way’ will be present in the bookshop signing copies of all three books from 10:30am-12pm. This is a brilliant opportunity to meet Ken and ask him any questions you might have about Ozzie, Ospreys and his inspiration for the books, not to mention getting your copies of the books signed by the author! Pop along to Walkers on 22nd October to show your support for these lovely books and the Rutland Osprey Project. We look forward to seeing you there!

Ozzie's Migration

Ozzie 001

Ozzie leads the way - £8