Mr Rutland’s legacy

If you tuned in to BBC Springwatch this evening you’ll have been introduced to an Osprey with an ever-growing legacy. So what is it that makes 03(97) – or Mr Rutland – such an important bird?

To begin with, we need to go back to July 1997. It is mid-July and eight young Ospreys have just arrived at Rutland Water. Having been collected under special licence from nests in North-east Scotland by world-renowned Osprey-expert Roy Dennis, they had been driven 450 miles south to England’s smallest county. The birds were placed in specially-designed release pens and left to settle in to their new home. At six weeks of age they were still a fortnight away from taking to the air for the first time, and the pens would provide a good opportunity for them to become acclimatised to their new surrounds before they were released. Each bird was fitted with a colour ring to enable the team at Rutland Water to monitor their progress.

The birds were part of a pioneering project that aimed to restore Ospreys to England for the first time in over 150 years. A year earlier we – the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust and Rutland Water’s owners, Anglian Water – had been granted a licence to translocate a small number of Ospreys from the annually-increasing Scottish population to the reservoir. Research in Scotland and elsewhere had shown that Ospreys are highly site-faithful and so it was hoped that the translocated birds would recognise Rutland as home and return in future years to breed. In all a total of 64 young Scottish Ospreys were relocated to the reservoir between 1996 and 2001.

03 was one of 64 Ospreys that were translocated to Rutland Water between 1996 and 2001 as part of a pioneering translocation project

03 was one of 64 Ospreys that were translocated to Rutland Water between 1996 and 2001 as part of a pioneering translocation project

 

We didn’t know it at the time, but of the eight birds who arrived at Rutland Water in July 1997 there was one who would go onto have a profound effect on the future of Ospreys in both England and Wales. 03(97) – 03 being the bird’s ring number and 1997 the year of release – made his first flight just after 8pm on 27th July. He made short, but surprisingly competent, two-minute flight before landing on a nearby dead tree. As the days progressed he grew in confidence on the wing and spent the next six weeks getting to know his adopted home. Then, 40 days after that all-important first flight, he set-off south on the perilous 3000 mile journey to West Africa. He would have to negotiate at least two crossings of the Sahara before we stood a chance of seeing him again.

03(97) - or Mr Rutland - has become the most important Osprey in the Rutland colony

03(97) – or Mr Rutland – has become the most important Osprey in the Rutland colony

 

Remarkably, eighteen years later, 03(97) is still going strong. Over the past 15 years ‘Mr Rutland’ has raised a total of 32 chicks at a nest that he built in the top of an oak tree in the summer of 2000. He bred successfully for the first time in 2001 and hasn’t looked back since. He’s reared young with three different females – including 14 with his latest unringed mate – all at the same nest in the top of the oak tree. It is a suitably regal setting for the most important Osprey in the Rutland colony.

Mortality among young Ospreys is usually very high; as many as 70% of young birds failing to survive the first two years of their life. And yet 40% of 03(97)’s offspring who are old enough to have returned to the UK, have made it back. Prior to this summer those 12 birds had, in turn, reared a total of 43 chicks between them, and, to date, four of those 43 have gone on to breed successfully. So aside from being a grandfather many times over, 03(97) is also a great grandfather to 15 young Ospreys.

03 has raised 32 chicks at his Site B nest since 2001. The nest is situated on private land

03 has raised 32 chicks at his Site B nest since 2001. The nest is situated on private land

Although 03’s own nest has sadly failed this year after repeated intrusions by two young males, his various offspring who are breeding, should help to make up for that. The three Manton Bay chicks which hatched over the bank holiday weekend have made 03 a grandfather for the 46th time; and with his offspring breeding at four other sites this year, that tally should exceed 50 quite easily within the next fortnight.

33 looking at his chicks

33 (11) (far right) – whose 3 chicks hatched on the Manton Bay nest over the bank holiday weekend – is 03’s son

The Site B dynasty has ensured that there have been plenty of Ospreys to populate the growing Rutland colony. With eight pairs breeding this year, it is very likely that by the end of the summer over 100 young Ospreys will have fledged from nests in the area since 03(97) reared the first chick in 2001.  In many ways, however, the Mr Rutland nickname is a bit of a misnomer. It suggests that his legacy is confined to England’s smallest county, but that is most definitely not the case. In 2011 Ospreys returned to breed on the Dyfi Estuary in mid-Wales for the first time in four centuries. The nest, situated on the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust’s Cors Dyfi Reserve, attracted the attention of the world through the BBC Springwatch cameras. Although the male was unringed, a white ring on the female’s right leg showed that she had fledged from 03(97)’s Site B nest three years previously, in 2008. 03(08) – or Nora – as she became known – raised four chicks over the course of two successful summers on the Dyfi. When she failed to return in 2013 her place was taken by 03(97)’s granddaughter, 12(10) aka Glesni. The nest on the Dyfi has become highly sought-after and 12(10) had to fight off the aggressive advances of her cousin, 24(10) – another of 03(97)’s granddaughters – to keep hold of the nest.

Events on the Dyfi not only show how the Rutland translocation has completely changed the distribution map of Ospreys in the UK, but how one Osprey in particular, has been integral to the spread of Ospreys through southern Britain. Who would have thought that eighteen years ago on a balmy evening in Rutland, that an Osprey making its maiden flight, would go on to have such a profound and lasting legacy on the Osprey populations of England and Wales.

Although 03’s nets is on private land with no public access, you can see a family of Ospreys at the Lyndon Visitor Centre where 03’s son, 33(11), has three newly-hatched chicks with his mate, Maya. For visiting information, click here.

03 lifts the fish out of the water

03 regularly fishes at Horn Mill Trout Farm

4 responses to “Mr Rutland’s legacy”

  1. lAngie Humphreys

    Thanks for this wonderful biography for Mr Rutland.His fame is spreading deservedly and enjoyed watching him on Springwatch. Let us pray he will return to Rutland many more times.

  2. Helen Hall

    Well done Tim for this article it really does show that all your and the teams hard work has been instrumental in populating Wales. This fact is rarely, if ever, given by the rspb. A credit to you all.
    I am sorry to hear about the efforts that the Osprey have put in to raise a brood this year at site B. I hope it is only a blip.
    Keep up the good work

  3. Bill Hunt

    Read the book, hooked on the web cam since 2013, watching as the next generation grows up is wonderful. Loving it all and still reading about Mr Rutland, he seems to have passed some good paternal genes on to 33. Wonderful piece of work Tim, thank you. The whole team at Rutland are doing a great job!! Any more news on the return of baby from 2013?

  4. Lin

    Having read Helen Hall’s comment, it made me sad as had no idea regarding Site B.
    However, my faith has been totally restored watching 33 and Maya. Thus far this year (season) seeing Maya what comes naturally has been truly inspiring to watch. Springwatch too did an ‘ab fab’ job which i hope they will follow up!