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200th osprey chick for pioneering Rutland Osprey Project

A ground-breaking project that reintroduced ospreys to England and helped bring them back to Wales has seen its 200th chick fledge this year.

Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust started the project 25 years ago because ospreys had become extinct in England and Wales. As a result of the project, ospreys have now spread across the two countries.

Ospreys are a huge fish-eating bird of prey with a wingspan of nearly 5 feet and can live for up to 20 years. The 200th chick, a female, fledged in July and was ringed with the number 360 to identify her.

Abi Mustard, Osprey Information Officer for the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, says:

“This year is an important and exciting year for the Rutland Osprey Project – we’re thrilled to be celebrating our 25th anniversary and also welcoming the 200th chick. It’s brilliant that we now have a self-sustaining population of ospreys in England.

“The success of the Rutland Osprey Project is not only due to the resilience of the birds themselves, but also to the hard work, support and dedication of everyone who has been involved – we have a wonderful team of volunteers, staff, local landowners and supporters who have helped facilitate these incredible achievements. We are all looking forward to seeing what the next 25 years brings.”

Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust launched the Rutland Osprey Project in 1996 in partnership with Anglian Water and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation to reintroduce this magnificent bird of prey to the skies of England, where they had been extinct for over 150 years.

As well as establishing an osprey population in and around Rutland Water nature reserve, the project has helped the birds to breed in other parts of England and Wales.

Ospreys are now found breeding in Cumbria, Northumberland and North and West Wales, while Suffolk Wildlife Trust is working with the Rutland Osprey Project and Roy Dennis Foundation to bring breeding osprey back to East Anglia for the first time in over a century. Essex Wildlife Trust has erected nesting platforms around the Abberton Reservoir to attract the birds.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust has been helping to increase the number of ospreys in Scotland for over 50 years. Three of its reserves host breeding pairs. The Trust’s Loch of the Lowes Wildlife Reserve has been at the forefront of the recovery of the species since 1969, when it became the fifth known breeding site in Britain. 85 chicks have fledged from the reserve in the past 52 years.

Ospreys were once widely distributed across the UK, but faced intensive persecution through shooting, egg collecting and habitat destruction, which eventually led to their extinction as a breeding species in England in 1847.

In the mid-1950s a population in Scotland began to slowly recover, however it was estimated that it would be approximately another 100 years before breeding ospreys would naturally recolonise central and southern England.

In a first, to help re-establish the birds to central England, the Rutland Osprey Project started translocating birds in 1996, carefully collecting 64 osprey chicks from Scottish nest sites and releasing them in Rutland between 1996 and 2001. A further 11 female birds were translocated in 2005. The first breeding pair of ospreys successfully raised a single chick at Rutland in 2001, and 25 years later, there are now approximately 26 adults including up to ten breeding pairs in the Rutland area.

2021 has brought another major milestone with the 200th chick, which hatched on a nest situated nearby on private land. The team hope she will return to Rutland to breed when she is mature.

Rob Stoneman, director of landscape recovery for The Wildlife Trusts, says:

“Seeing 200 chicks successfully hatch at the Rutland Osprey Project is a fantastic achievement. These beautiful birds belong in our skies, and it’s thanks to the hard work of so many people over the last 25 years that we now have osprey across England and Wales.

“Success stories like this prove what’s possible and help us to visualize how our countryside could look in the future – with wildlife in abundance, a rich tapestry of habitats, green corridors for species to move through landscapes, rivers and lakes free from pollution, and access to nature for all.”

This year’s osprey chicks will likely remain in Rutland until early September, before they begin their remarkable 3000-mile migration journey south, to the west coast of Africa. The chicks will remain in their African wintering grounds for the first couple of years, so it won’t be until at least 2023 before we see if the 200th chick returns.

Visitors to Rutland Water Nature Reserve can see ospreys by visiting the Lyndon Visitor Centre where two bird hides offer an exceptional view of the nest home to female osprey Maya and male 33(11), who have been breeding together at the reserve since 2015.

Plan your visit here lrwt.org.uk/lyndon-nature-reserve or watch the 24/7 nest webcam with a unique insight into the lives of a pair of breeding ospreys from the moment they return to their annual autumn migration at lrwt.org.uk/rutlandospreys

Header image: Osprey fishing over water. Credit: Andrew Mason.