The Great Osprey Bike Ride

Well I don’t know about you, but I’ve quite enjoyed this Summer. For a start it has warranted the name – a welcome change – but with enough rain to keep the vegetable plot happy. I have been donning shorts for weeks now, my jeans working their way to the bottom of the drawer. Our first holiday abroad with the kids went well and a couple of weeks ago I had a nice time plodding the marquees and car parks of a successful 25th anniversary Birdfair.

My main challenge this Summer has been keeping my two boys entertained over the school holidays and with a few days to go I was only just beginning to lose the battle. Not a bad result. But while I am looking forward to the re-opening of local educational institutions, that does mean that there are less than 2 weeks until the next challenge, The Great Osprey Bike Ride.

As our Ospreys begin to leave Rutland on their long, dangerous and impressive migration to West Africa, Tim, Michelle, Lizzie, Lloyd, Chris Ditchburn and I are making the final preparations for our own journey from Rutland to Dover by bike. We aim to tackle the 193 mile journey over three days from the 19th to 21st September and match the first stage of an Osprey’s migration.

If I had summarised our capabilities a few months ago I would have said that with his cycling experience Tim could be likened to a two or three year old Osprey. He’s done the journey before, perhaps even returned and has a fair idea of what to expect. The rest of us had taken brief, local exploratory trips and hadn’t even learned how to fish. We were the juveniles of the cycling world.

Since then the team have been putting in the miles by making use of the cycling track around the reservoir or burning up the country roads. Tim’s even had a go at some of this year’s Tour de France mountain stages while I’ve been happy to practice closer to home – Cambridge is lovely and flat. As the event has drawn closer the number of miles per trip has increased and the legs have felt better the next day. It has been painful but we have good motivation.

Last week’s sad news of 9J’s death is a reminder of the vulnerability of these magnificent birds. Even in the UK, where Ospreys are protected and actively promoted, the human environment poses a significant threat. In autumn 2011 the story of 09’s final journey illustrated that even experienced adults face huge natural dangers during migration. Unfortunately there isn’t much we can do about that, but we can increase their survival chances in their destination countries in West Africa where there is little protection of Ospreys.

In 2011 the Rutland Osprey Project founded the Osprey Flyways Project after a winter visit to West Africa. The key aims of the project are to provide education opportunities for schools in over-wintering areas and to link schools along the migration route. In 2013 the project has widened to cover five schools in The Gambia where optics and computer equipment have been provided to enable students to discover their local wildlife and make contact with students in schools in the UK and elsewhere along the migration route.

Gambian students on a fieldtrip organised by the project.

Gambian students on a fieldtrip organised by the project.

The project has been funded by fund-raising events organised by the Rutland Osprey Project. The Great Osprey Bike Ride is the latest of these. If you would like to sponsor the team, please visit our fund-raising page.

Most of my training has been done on my hybrid mountain bike. It’s a little on the heavy side and I’m quite happy to get off after 30 miles or so. But on Saturday Chris and I tried out the road bikes that Rutland Cycling have very generously agreed to provide free of charge for the challenge. We rode the first leg from Rutland Water to Abington (a few miles south of Cambridge) with only a couple of wrong turns and a lack of sunblock to complain about. Confidence is building.

Gavin (right) and Chris after completing a trial run of the first leg of the journey

Gavin (right) and Chris after completing a trial run of the first leg of the journey