It is almost twenty years since I saw my first Osprey at Rutland Water. It was early August 1997, the school holidays, and my first shift as a volunteer for the Rutland Osprey Project. We were tasked with monitoring eight juvenile Ospreys that had just been released onto the nature reserve. For a 15 year-old aspiring conservationist it was exciting and nerve-wracking in equal measure. I was hooked from that moment onwards.
Almost two decades later, today is my last day as a member of staff for the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust at Rutland Water. During that time I have gone from volunteer to Senior Reserve Officer and, for the past twelve years, manged the Rutland Osprey Project. I’ve also completed a PhD on Osprey migration. It has been a thrill and a privilege to be involved in such an exciting project.
It is almost impossible to pick a highlight from the past twenty years because there have been so many. In the early years the return of the first translocated Ospreys in 1999 was incredibly exciting and only surpassed by events in 2001 when 03(97) bred for the first time at Site B, rearing the first Osprey chick in central England for more than 150 years. 2004 saw the return of the first wild-fledged Rutland Ospreys to the area and, then, in 2007, one of them – 5N(04) – bred successfully for the first time. This was of further significance because the nest was in Manton Bay – the first nesting attempt on the nature reserve itself. That summer more than 30,000 people came to see 5N and her mate, 08(97), rear two chicks. Since then the Lyndon Visitor Centre has become the base for the project – and been visited by a quarter of a million Osprey watchers. In 2011 we satellite tagged two male birds, 09(98) and AW(06) for the first time, and that winter myself and a group of staff and volunteers visited Gambia and Senegal for the first time. Our satellite tracking research and annual visits to West Africa have enabled us to develop a new and exciting side to the project, helping us to link schools along the Osprey’s migratory flyways and engaging Gambian kids with nature. For me the Osprey serves as a powerful reminder that the conservation of migratory birds depends on partnerships and collaborations between nations.
Another immensely rewarding and enjoyable aspect of my time at Rutland Water has been working with such a committed group of staff and volunteers. The Osprey Project alone is supported by a team of 150 people who dedicate a huge amount of time every summer to monitoring the birds and sharing their enthusiasm and knowledge with visitors to the reserve. Over the years an entrepreneurial spirit has developed at Rutland Water that I hope is reflected in the successes of the Osprey Project during my tenure. Of course not everything we have tried has worked, but I think that we as a team – staff and volunteers – have demonstrated what you can achieve when you take a positive, pro-active approach to conservation. I hope that this ethos continues to underpin the work at Rutland Water Nature Reserve for many years to come. I know for a fact that the Osprey Project is in safe hands with the current team in place.
So what now? I’m pleased to say that I will be continuing my work with Ospreys with Roy Dennis and his foundation. Over the years Roy has had a real influence on my career and I am very much looking forward to the work we have planned. Keep an eye on Roy’s website later in April for more news on that. I am also in the process of setting up a new charity, the Osprey Leadership Foundation, the key aim of which will be to help young people get into conservation. This will build on some of the work we have been doing through the Osprey Project both in The Gambia and the UK.
Thank you to everyone who has followed and supported the Rutland Osprey Project over the past two decades. Little did I imagine as a 15 year-old schoolboy how that first shift as a volunteer at Rutland Water would shape the next twenty years of my life. Although today is my last day as a member of staff for LRWT, I will be continuing to work closely with the Rutland Osprey Project in my new role – and I very much look forward to the challenges that lie ahead.