For those of us lucky to be involved in the Rutland Osprey Project – or any of the UK’s Osprey projects for that matter – March is an incredibly exciting time. As the month progresses we know that ‘our’ birds will be battling their way across the Sahara, over the Atlas Mountains and on through Europe. As the end of the month nears, the anticipation builds to a crescendo. In my opinion there are no better sights in the natural world than watching a newly-returned Osprey at its nest in the spring. As it surveys its surroundings in the spring sunlight, it is almost humbling to imagine the sights it has experienced over the course of its 3000 mile migration from West Africa. And, if you have known that particular Osprey for a few years, then it makes it even more special.
It is that sort of experience that myself, John Wright, Tim Appleton and Helen McIntyre have tried to capture in our new book about the Rutland Osprey Project that is published today. The Rutland Water Ospreys has given us the opportunity to look back and reminisce over the 20 years of hard-work that have gone into re-establishing a population of Ospreys in central England; and also, in Wales.
When we look back, there are many highlights: Tim Appleton opening the letter that gave the translocation the go-ahead in 1996, the release of the first juvenile birds a few months later, the thrill of the first return of a translocated Osprey, 08(97), in May 1999, ringing the first Osprey chick to hatch in central England for 150 years, the excitement of seeing our own Rutland birds returning home and then raising their own chicks. The list just goes on and on. And what’s more the excitement never fades. I’ve been involved with the project since 1997 (over half my life!) and yet I am just as excited about the return of the birds this spring as I ever have been. If that makes me a bit sad, well, I don’t care!
The book has also allowed us to share all we have learnt about Osprey migration over the past decade. In 1999 when Roy Dennis, Tim Appleton and Helen McIntyre fitted a satellite transmitter to an Osprey in the UK for the first time (I was lucky to be there to watch) little did we know how much we would learn in the intervening years. Technology has now advanced to such an extent that we can say exactly what tree our bird is sitting on, whether in Rutland, or 3000 miles away in West Africa. We can tell exactly how fast the birds are flying, and at what altitude. Furthermore, the satellite tracking has enabled thousands of people around the world to gain an insight into the incredible journeys the birds undertake each year. This was something that Barrie Galpin helped pioneer with the Rutland Osprey Project website fifteen years ago. Now, thanks to the birds’ migratory journeys we are beginning to link schools along the migration flyway. Not only is this helping the students with their studies, and to understand the need to conserve migratory birds, but it is giving them a chance to learn about other cultures and countries in a new and exciting way.
In many ways the Rutland Osprey Project is a bit of a misnomer now – our work is not just confined to England’s smallest county. We have followed our birds south through Europe – in the book I describe the trips John Wright and I have made with Paul Waterhouse following Osprey migration through France and Spain – and we have visited West Africa during the last three winters. We’ve learnt a great deal by watching the birds on their wintering grounds, identified more than 40 different Ospreys from seven different countries, and established links with the local communities where the birds spend half of their lives. It’s all covered in the book, not just in words, but through John Wright’s superb artwork and photographs. In the words of Roy Dennis, who has written the foreword, ‘John has taken the identification of Ospreys to a new level and has added greatly to our knowledge.’.
In many ways, the book is as much about the people involved in the project as the birds themselves. For that reason, it is wonderful to have been able to include the memories of just some of the hundreds of volunteers who have dedicated over 100,000 hours to the project since 1996. We simply couldn’t have done it without them. And nor could we have done any of this work without the support of Anglian Water. The Rutland Osprey Project is just another example of the long-standing and highly successful partnership between Anglian Water – the owners of Rutland Water – and the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust. It is a superb example of what can be achieved when conservation and industry work together. Thanks to the support of Anglian Water all the proceeds from the sale of the book will go back into the project – and if you buy the book direct from us, either through the website by clicking here, or at one of the Rutland Water Nature Reserve Visitors centres, that means 100% of every sale.
So, whether you have been following the project for twenty years, or just a few months we think you will enjoy the book. And if you buy it, you know that you’ll be helping us to continue to conserve Ospreys and help people to enjoy seeing them in Rutland and all along the migratory flyway – from central England to West Africa. We hope you enjoy it!