It’s back to school for the Osprey Team……

From the early years of the Osprey Project, education has been an important aspect of the Team’s work. During her time with the Project, Diana Spencer made links with a large number of local schools, and she and other team members have taken ‘The Rutland Osprey Story’ into classrooms all over the area, and welcomed returning groups of school and college students and their teachers back to the Lyndon Reserve to see the Project in action and breeding Ospreys in Manton Bay. Since Diana’s departure to a new post in Scotland, this role has been taken over by Michelle Househam, and today I was able to join her and Project Officer Tim Mackrill on a school visit to a secondary school in Peterborough. There was just one added dimension which made this school visit extra special for me : this was the school where I spent my entire teaching career before retiring six years ago…..

We arrive at Orton Longueville School just before 3.00pm with all our ‘Osprey Paraphernalia’ ~ lap-top and projector containing the images and information, visual aids including a life-size cardboard mobile Osprey, leg-rings, books about Ospreys and Osprey T-shirts and baseball caps. We are met by a smiling Mrs Overton, my genial former colleague in the History Department, and we are soon tucking into lovely chocolate roll, tea and biscuits which she has thoughtfully provided for us. ‘I can never resist chocolate roll’, says Tim! Our presentation is an after-school activity for a group of 25 students. I think to myself ‘Well, they must be keen if they are willing to stay after school to listen to us,’ but then again maybe it’s the chocolate biscuits that are part of the attraction…..I need not have worried ~ as soon as Mrs Overton introduces us, the boys and girls (aged 12 – 15) give us their full attention and listen to us intently for almost an hour! I start things off by asking a simple question : ‘What is an Osprey?’, to which one bright boy gives an amazingly accurate response : ‘It’s a bird of prey which feeds 99% of the time on fish.’ Good answer, young man. Second question : ‘Has anyone here actually seen an Osprey?’ No hands go up. So from here on it’s a new experience for them all.

The three of us have divided the presentation up amongst us. I haven’t actually stood in front of a class for six years, but having such a great subject as The Rutland Osprey Story to tell makes it quite a lot easier and, backed up by the pictures and graphics, including many of John Wright’s superb images and some fantastic movie sequences showing diving Ospreys catching fish, my section soon comes to an end. Tim takes over, explaining the translocation of young Ospreys in the 1990’s, and the mysteries and hazards of migration, leading to the first returns in 1999. Tim hands over to Michelle, who cleverly involves the audience by asking if anyone is 14 years of age. Several hands go up ~ she looks at one boy and says ‘Well, you’re exactly the same age as 03(97)…and he’s already a Grandad!’ Nice one Michelle, you’re a natural. Then I talk briefly about the volunteers, and tell them that there are about 150 of us, of all ages, from all walks of life, and with hundreds of different interests, skills, and parts to play. Tim concludes by showing them LIVE pictures from the webcam in Manton Bay, where the female is busy preparing the nest, and he talks briefly about what is happening in other parts of the world, where Osprey populations are being established as a direct result of the work being done here in Rutland. Tim ends by inviting everyone in the group to come over to the Lyndon Reserve one day later in the Summer Term, by which time, we hope, there will be young Ospreys in the nest for them to see. Mrs Overton says ‘Yes, we will definitely come.’

Then it’s photo time. Everyone crowds to the front of the room, and we are told to shout ‘Osprey’ after three as the shutter clicks and the flashlight goes. A girl pulls on an Osprey T-shirt for the photo, and a boy wears an Osprey baseball cap. The cardboard Osprey hovers above us. As the students gather their belongings and start to leave, one boy says to me : ‘My Dad was a pupil here when you were here.’ Fortunately I remember him too!

There are thanks all round : from Mrs Overton and the students to us, from Tim to them for being such a good audience, and especially from me to Tim and Michelle, for making the afternoon such fun and so memorable. There will be other school visits to ‘talk Ospreys’ I am sure, but this one was very special for me, and it was a privilege to be involved. Thanks Tim, thanks Michelle. Everyone loved it…and so did I.