Pioneering males and the legacy of the project

If you have bought a copy of The Rutland Water Ospreys, our new book celebrating the Rutland Osprey Project then you will hopefully have read the final chapter entitled The Legacy of the Project. In it I discuss how the project has completely changed the distribution of Ospreys in the southern part of the UK. Not only has the translocation project established a population of Ospreys in central England for the first time in 150 years, but it has also resulted in Ospreys becoming established in Wales for the first time in several centuries. 11(98) – an Osprey originally translocated to Rutland Water in 1998 – has been breeding in the beautiful Glaslyn valley in North Wales since 2004 and another Rutland male, 07(97), bred for single year in mid-Wales in 2004. And then, of course, there’s Nora at Dyfi. Nora, or 03(08) as we knew her at Rutland Water, has raised four chicks at the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust’s Cors Dyfi Reserve over the past two years and we are all eagerly awaiting the return of her and her mate this year. Nora is part of 03(97)’s ever-increasing dynasty, having fledged from Site B in Rutland in 2008. Two other Rutland females visited the Dyfi nest in 2012 and I have no doubt that it is only a matter of time before another Rutland Osprey rears young somewhere in Wales. The important thing to bear in mind with all this is that, given the slow geographical spread of Ospreys that has been recorded in Scotland since the mid-1950’s, neither Wales nor central England may have had breeding Ospreys for another century without the Rutland translocation. Quite a sobering thought; and one that demonstrates the real value of hands-on, pro-active conservation.

The great thing about the Osprey story in the UK is that it is constantly evolving – and almost without exception in recent years, for the better. This week there has been some incredible news from Kielder Forest where it has been revealed that the breeding males at two nests there last summer were both from the Glaslyn nest in North Wales. For more check out the Kielder Ospreys blog. This, of course, means they also have a Rutland connection – being the offspring of 11(98): a translocated male.

Black 80 – son of translocated male 11(98) – at the Castle Douglas nest

So what’s going on? Analysis of colour-ring data for the PhD I’m currently working on has shown that male Osprey usually breed within 30 miles of their natal site – which explains why the geographic spread of Ospreys in Scotland has been relatively slow over the past 50 years. There are exceptions though. Occasionally ‘pioneering birds’ sometimes nest much further from their home nest. And this of course is what 11(98) did in 2004. Rather than returning to Rutland he settled in North Wales and has been rearing chicks some 140 miles from his adopted natal site, albeit on almost exactly the same latitude. If 11(98) had nested 140 miles from his natal site in Scotland then he would still have been north of the border, but the fact he had been moved to Rutland meant that he chose to breed much further south.

Fast forward a few years and 11(98) seems to be producing offspring who themselves are also pioneering. A male, known as ‘black 80’ who fledged from the Glaslyn nest in 2006 has been breeding near Castle Douglas in southern Scotland since 2009 and now we know about the two males in Northumberland. Significantly, the distance from North Wales to Northumerland is about 160 miles – just 20 miles further than the distance from Rutland to Glaslyn. Coincidence? I think not. Of course the Northumberland birds could just as easily have spread from southern parts of Scotland – as those in the nearby Lake District have done – but we now know that the population at Kielder has been established by the offspring of a Rutland Water male. In other words, we have more evidence to demonstrate the positive impact that the translocation project has had on the distribution of Ospreys in the UK. Now if that isn’t a superb legacy of the project, then I don’t know what is.

5 responses to “Pioneering males and the legacy of the project”

  1. Joanna Dailey

    This is a really interesting post. I have bought your book, which is also a fascinating read. At Kielder it is still not 100% certain the Nest 1 bird is White YA, bit hopefully resolution will be very soon as he seems to have left Somerset.

  2. Nick Gordon

    Tim, I’ve not had time to read through the book yet, but your post is a fascinating, and revealing insight. I’m a huge believer in education being the way forward for conservation, so I have great admiration and respect for all the work you and the team at Rutland continue to do. The translocation project has been, and continues to be, a huge success, and with so many species in decline, it is heart warming to know that Ospreys at least, are enjoying this increase in both their population, and in their range – much of this wouldn’t be happening without the foresight and dedication of people like yourselves.

    Best wishes once again, for a successful season at Rutland, and to you also, Joanna, for a successful season at Keilder.

  3. Mike Simmonds

    Tim, “Now if that isn’t a superb legacy of the project, then I don’t know what is.” Never was a truer word spoken.

  4. Monica & Tony

    Tim, this post is so informative, thank you.

    It is really wonderful for the project, Roy Dennis and Tim Appleton must be over the moon with the success of what they started in the mid 1990s with these fantastic birds.
    Working on your PhD must be hard but so enjoyable for you and to be able to pass on some of your findings is so rewarding and truly greatfully received by your many supporters.

    We wish everyone who is involved in any way with the Ospreys around the UK all the best for another rewarding year of dedication.