Carr heads south

Carr set out on his first autumn migration early on 1st September. He made fast progress south and crossed the First of Forth to the west of Edinburgh at 13:30. He continued flying until around 18:00 when he settled to roost in a wood to the north of Langholm in the Scottish Borders having flown 254 km.

Next morning he left his roost at around 07:30, but didn’t fly far. An hour later he was perched beside the Smithy Sike River and he remained in the area for the next two days. Perhaps he caught his first fish since leaving his nest site?

After two days in the Borders, Carr resumed his migration on the morning of 4th September, passing to the east of Carlisle at 08:15 and then continuing on a south-easterly track. By midday he was flying south through the Yorkshire Dales, climbing up to an altitude of 833 metres. At 13:30 he was fishing in Lumley Moor Reservoir and he spent the rest of the afternoon in the area – perhaps eating a fish?

Next morning Carr began migrating around 06:35 and he passed over Harrogate at an altitude of 327 metres 20 minutes later.  At 07:20 he was 230 metres above Leeds and he continued to make good progress south during the course of the morning, passing just to the east of Sheffield before skirting around the west of Nottingham at 10:15 at an altitude of 488 metres. He was flying with a strong tailwind and it showed. He made fast progress through south-west through the Midlands and by 15:39 he was passing to the east of Salisbury in Wiltshire. He showed no signs of letting up and at 16:54 he crossed the mouth of Poole Harbour at 758 metres and then, ten minutes later, he headed out into the English Channel over Swanage. He maintained the same south-westerly course for 140 km over the sea before arriving on Guernsey at 20:30 and roosting beside Saint Saviour Reservoir after a day’s flight of 550 km.

Carr flew 148 km across the English Channel from Swanage to Guernsey.

Carr flew 550 km on 5th September

On 6th September Carr began migrating at 07:30 and flew 120 km across the sea to the Brittany coast, making landfall at Mont Saint Michel. From there he continued south-south-west, passing over Rennes at 13:36 at an altitude of 831 metres. An hour later he was perched in a large block of forest 25 km south-west and he remained there for the rest of the day.

Carr set-off again just before 9am next morning and at 12:27 he reached the Atlantic coast, flying over the island of Noirmoutier at an altitude of 113 metres. Many Ospreys follow the French coast as they migrate south, but Carr simply continued south, necessitating a long flight over the Bay of Biscay. The 411 km flight took just under 12 hours, with Carr finally making landfall on the Spanish coast west of San Sebastian after midnight. An excellent flight for a juvenile Osprey on its first migration.

Carr took 12 hours to fly over 400 km across the Bay of Biscay

Once in Spain, Carr used a route favoured by many Ospreys as they head south – flying through the centre of the country. He passed just to the east of Madrid during the morning of 10th September and crossed the Sierra Morena Mountains in northern Andalusia later that day. He eventually settled to roost 35 km south of Seville having flown 504 km that day alone.

It took Carr just over three days to fly through Spain.

Next morning Carr continued south-west to the coast and at midday local time he flew over Cadiz Harbour – an excellent place for Ospreys to stop-over or even spend the winter. Carr, though, showed no signs of letting up and he followed the coast south-east. At 14:42 he was 12 km north-west of Tarifa and he headed out across the Strait of Gibraltar towards Morocco, flying at altitudes of less than 100 metres during the course of his 28 km crossing. He reached Africa airspace at 15:15 and continued flying south until just after 20:00, covering a further 183 through northern Morroco before roosting in riverside trees north of the village of Sidi Kacem. He is now over 2500 km south of Carrbridge, just 11 days after leaving Scotland.

Carr made a 28 km crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar.

To see a map of Carr’s migration so far, click here.

 

He’s back!

He’s done it! After an extraordinary eight day, 680 km flight around southern England, Culver made it back to the Isle of Wight today. What’s more, he made landfall over Culver Cliff – the site of the last known breeding White-tailed Eagles in southern England in 1780; the place he’s named after.

Culver on Thorney Island this morning. Photo by Wez Smith.

This morning Culver remained close to his roost site on Thorney Island until just after 09:30. While he was there he was seen by Wez Smith, who sent us this great photo of Culver.

Wez saw Culver head-off south-west and, sure enough, at 10:05 he began crossing the Solent. The 15 km crossing took him 40 minutes to complete. As he passed over the famous cliffs he was flying at an altitude of 222 metres.

Very appropriately Culver made landfall on the Isle of Wight over Culver Cliff

Once on the Island, Culver showed now sign of letting up. He continued on a westerly heading and at 13:08 was just south of Yarmouth at an altitude of 379 metres and then, twenty minutes later, he was circling over another of the Isle of Wight’s famous landmarks: the Needles. He then turned back east over Tennyson Down – the exact spot he had set-off from eight days earlier. What an incredible flight for a young White-tailed Eagle.

Culver’s flight to the Isle of Wight from Thorney Island

It will be fascinating to see what Culver does next. Will he remain on the Isle of Wight, like the other five young eagles, or go wandering again? Watch this space…

Culver flew 680 km in eight days on his extraordinary flight

Please support us

This is a start of a journey for the young White-tailed Eagles and for the project team – the start of a five year project by Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation to restore White-tailed Eagles as a breeding species on the Isle of Wight and along the Channel coasts. We will have regular updates, maps and photos on all six eagles although no maps for those that have stayed close to the release site. Please check in to find news of them here.

We would be delighted if you would like to join us on these journeys and very grateful if you wished to help by donating to contribute to the costs of satellite tracking the eagles and other elements of the project. For more information, click here, or simply click donate below and select White-tailed Eagle project when prompted.  With sincere thanks.




Almost home!

We have just received tonight’s update from Culver’s transmitter and it shows that at 18:20 this evening he was at Thorney Island, a few kilometres east of Portsmouth. Having having flown just under 90km during the course of the day he’s almost made it back to the Isle of Wight!

After roosting just north of Burgess Hill, Culver set-off this morning at 11:00. He skirted around the west of Burgess Hill and then continued south-west towards the coast, flying at a maximum altitude of 768 metres. At 13:00 he reached Shoreham-by-Sea and circled up on a thermal, reaching an altitude of 807 before heading west along the coast. At one point, as he skirted across the northern part of Worthing he was flying at just 51 metres. Someone must have seen him!

Culver skirted over the northern part of Worthing between 13:37 and 14:00

After passing Worthing, Culver headed more inland, passing to the north of Arundel and then across the southern part of the South Downs, flying at a maximum altitude of 1242 metres at 15:58 when he was 5 km north of Chichester.  At that point he would have been able to see the coast and he headed straight for it, arriving at Thorney Island just before 17:00.

Culver was perched on the south-west end of Thorney Island this evening at 18:20

At 18:20 – the last data point in the batch he was perched on the ground in the south-west corner of Thorney Island. From that point he is just 16 km from the coast of the Isle of Wight. Will he return there tomorrow, or linger on the mainland coast? Check back tomorrow evening to find out.

Culver is now just 16 km from the Isle of Wight after a day’s flight of around 90 km.

Culver’s incredible exploratory flights over the past six days shows what remarkable navigational powers these young White-tailed Eagles have.

Culver’s flight, 29 August 4 September

Culver reaches West Sussex

Culver has continued his flight west through the Sussex countryside and the latest data shows that he was perched on the edge of a field 2 km north of Burgess Hill at 18:20 this evening after a day’s flight of around 70 km.

Having roosted 8km north of Bexhill last night and then made a few local movements during the morning, Culver set off in earnest at 11:10. He initially headed south-west towards Beachy Head, but then changed track as he approached Eastbourne, turning north-west.   At 12:30 he passed over Arlington Reservoir at an altitude of just 70m, but didn’t linger there. Instead he continued north-west, reaching altitudes of close to 650 metres.

Culver passed over Arlington Reservoir at 12:30 before quickly gaining altitude

At 14:30 he flew low over Barcombe Reservoir, before again gaining altitude, up to a maximum of 876 metres. By 15:52 he was just south of Haywards Heath and this prompted a shift in track to the west. He flew for another 4 km before seemingly landing on a pylon in the middle of an arable field. He then remained in the vicinity until the final data point of this batch at 18:20.

Culver flew approximately 70 km through Sussex today

Culver is now just 15 km east of the Knepp Estate in West Sussex, home of the famous rewinding project. It will be fascinating to see if he pays a visit. Or perhaps he will be seen at RSPB Pulborough Brooks, a further 10 km further on? Check back tomorrow evening to find out.

Culver is now just 15 km west of the Knepp Estate in West Sussex and may also pass over Pulborough Brooks tomorrow if he continues west.

Culver’s flight 29th August – 3rd September

Culver continues west through Sussex

After his amazing exploratory flights of the past four days, we were eagerly awaiting news of Culver this evening. The latest satellite data shows that as we expected, he did fly west through Sussex but, rather than head along the coast, he cut inland as he approached Hastings and between 16:00 and 18:20 was perched in a field near Ashburnham, 9km north-west of Bexhill. He is very likely to have roosted nearby.

This morning Culver left his overnight roost just north-east of Rye at around 09:50 and ten minutes later he was circling over Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. From there he headed west along the coast, pausing briefly as he approached Hastings, and then heading north-east to avoid flying over the town.

Culver flew over Rye Harbour Nature Reserve at 10:00 this morning

At 14:30 Culver was circling at 499 metres over the south end of Powdermill Reservoir before heading west, passing over Battle at 14:54 at an altitude of 154 metres and then eventually stopping in the field near Ashburnham just before 16:00 having flown approximately 50 km during the course of the day. Perhaps he found some food?

It will be interesting to see what Culver does tomorrow. Will he continue west through Sussex or head south back to the coast? Watch this space.

Culver’s flight through East Sussex today

Culver’s flight 29 August – 2 September

An amazing flight to Essex

Its now ten days since we released six juvenile White-tailed Eagles on the Isle of Wight. Each is equipped with a satellite transmitter that logs the bird’s location once every three minutes, and this has given us a fascinating and very detailed insight into their movements since release. Five of the birds have remained at or close to the release site on the Isle of Wight, but one – G3 22 – has surprised us by making an incredible flight over central London to Essex. Research in Scotland and elsewhere has shown that juvenile White-tailed Eagles often wander widely in their first two years – often venturing 200km from their nest site. What we weren’t expecting, was for one of the Isle of Wight birds to to do it within two weeks of release. It is testament to what good condition the bird is in.

G3 22 is a male from the North of the Island of Skye, and rather than refer to it by its ring number, we thought it good to choose an Isle of Wight/Solent name. So we’ll now be referring to G3 22 as ‘Culver’ – after Culver Cliff – the last place that White-tailed Eagles bred in southern England.

After release on 22nd August, Culver spent a week exploring the Isle of Wight, circumnavigating the Island before roosting in a small path of coastal woodland a few kilometres east of the Needles on the evening of 28th August. Next morning he left his overnight roost at around 10am and slowly headed north. Just over an hour later he was circling over Yarmouth and then, at 11:21 he set-off across the Solent. It took him 15 minutes to fly 6km to Lymington – following the route of the Wightlink ferry!

Culver crossed the Solent between Yarmouth and Lymington

By the time he reached the shore at Lymington he was flying at just 89 metres, but once over land he quickly gained altitude and set-off north across the New Forest. He passed to the east of Brockenhurst at an altitude of 955 metres and then continued on a north-west heading across the forest, reaching a maximum altitude of 1008 metres to the north-west of Bolderwood. At 12:57 he was 357 metres over Blashford Lakes near Ringwood and he spent the afternoon making short local movements in around woodland a few kilometres to the west.

Culver’s flight on 29th August

Culver spent much of the next morning exploring the Avon Valley between Fordingbridge and Blashford Lakes before heading off north at 13:30. By 14:45 he had flown more than 40 km and was just west of Stockbridge flying at an altitude of 505 metres. At this point he began heading south again and over the course of the afternoon flew a further 46 km, passing over Romsey at 16:26 at an altitude of 375 metres and then following the River Test south, before settling to roost in the New Forest 5 km north-west of Lyndhurst.

Culver flew more than 100 km on 30th August

Having flown over 100km the previous day, we wondered if Culver may remain in the New Forest on Saturday. In fact, he did quite the opposite. After a relatively slow start he crossed Southampton Water at 11:00, and then flew east across the city at an altitude of over 500 metres. He continued on the same easterly heading for the next hour, passing to the north of Portsmouth, before turning changing track to the north-east. Now aided by a fairly brisk south-westerly tailwind, he made fast progress through Surrey and at 13:40 passed over Queen Mark Reservoir near Staines at an altitude of 473 metres. As he approached Heathrow airport, Culver wisely turned to the east and headed for central London. Incredibly, at 14:23 he was directly above Big Ben at an altitude of 705 metres.

Culver flew over Westminster as he passed over London on Saturday afternoon

Culver followed the course of the River Thames as he flew over London

We wondered if anyone saw Culver as he passed over central London and, sure enough – they did. Ed Pack got in touch to say he and his son took a phone pic of it over Victoria Street as just as speck in the sky.

Having passed over London, Culver showed no signs of letting up and continued to follow the River Thames east, passing over Canvey Island at 15:20 and then Southend-on-Sea ten minutes later at an altitude of less than 200 metres. Eventually, at 15:44, he landed on the North Sea coast near Great Wakering, just north of the mouth of the Thames Estuary. After such an amazing flight it was no surprise that he remained in the same area for the rest of the afternoon. It is quite possible that he found a dead fish or bird to eat on the beach, before flying half a kilometre inland to roost in a small wood after an incredible day’s flight of 220 km.

It will be fascinating to see what Culver does next. Will he stay in Essex, or continue north up the East Anglian coast into Suffolk? Might he even cross the North Sea to the Netherlands? Or will he return back to the Isle of Wight? We will receive the next batch of data from the transmitter later today, so check back this evening to find out.

After arriving on the Essex Coast, Culver spent several hours perched on the shore, before moving inland to roost.

Culver flew over 200km to the Essex coast on 31st August

Culver’s explorations, 29-31 August

Update – we have just received this evening’s data. It shows that Culver flew east out to sea at 09:32, before turning to the south and heading for the Isle of Sheppey. He made landfall at 10:35 having flown 30 km in an arc across the sea. It must have been fairly tough going because he was flying just a few metres above the waves when he made landfall near Eastchurch.

 

Culver flew 30km in a wide arc from the Essex coast to the Isle of Sheppey

After resting for just under an hour he set off again across the east end of the Isle of Sheppey before crossing the estuary to Faversham. He continued south through the Kent countryside at high altitude – flying in excess of 1200m at times. At 12:50 he was 643 metres above Ashford, still heading south. He crossed into East Sussex at around 13:40 and then stopped 3 km north-east of Rye, a few kilometres from the coast and 14 km west of Dungeness. He was still there when we received the last data point in the batch, at 18:20, having flown just under 100 km during the course of the day.

Culver flew just under 100 km south through Kent today.

It’s going to be fascinating to see where Culver’s travels take him tomorrow, but it looks like he may follow the Sussex coast back towards the Isle of Wight. Watch out for another update on Monday evening or early Tuesday morning.

Culver’s flight, 29 Aug – 1 Sept

Please support us

This is a start of a journey for the young White-tailed Eagles and for the project team – the start of a five year project by Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation to restore White-tailed Eagles as a breeding species on the Isle of Wight and along the Channel coasts. We will have regular updates, maps and photos on all six eagles although no maps for those that have stayed close to the release site. Please check in to find news of them here.

We would be delighted if you would like to join us on these journeys and very grateful if you wished to help by donating to contribute to the costs of satellite tracking the eagles and other elements of the project. For more information, click here, or simply click donate below and select White-tailed Eagle project when prompted.  With sincere thanks.




So far, so good…

Last week, I visited the white-tailed eagle release area where Forestry England and the Foundation are embarking on a project to restore the sea eagle as a breeding bird to the Isle of Wight and the English Channel coast. The first six young have thrived since they were brought south from Mull, Skye and Wester Ross. Of course I had received frequent CCTV footage and photos of them growing up since they arrived there on 25th June; but I was delighted to see them in outstanding condition and ready for release. The hacking cages built by Pete Campbell, his metal work team and Dick Milner, the joiner, were the best I’ve seen. Daily supplies of plentiful fish and dead rabbit carefully threaded through a hatch in the back of the cage by Steve Egerton-Read, the project officer, meant that they young had grown and their plumage was perfect. And they had not seen a single person, important for keeping them truly wild birds.

Continuous monitoring was achieved through a superb CCTV system in each cage and on the roof, which allowed Steve and the team of volunteers to monitor progress. On Tuesday 20th we gathered at the site, with a contingent from Scotland, – Ian Perks, Dave Sexton and me, – joining Tim Mackrill, Steve and the team for the important step to catch up each bird so that our highly skilled raptor vet, John Chitty, could examine each bird before release. He passed all of them fit and ready for release, and also collected tiny blood samples to confirm sexes and for future DNA studies. Then we fitted small satellite transmitters to each one so that their movements post-release could be tracked. At this age these are now powerful birds, with very sharp bills and talons, and require careful but firm handling. By afternoon all was completed and they were back in their temporary homes.

Each of the birds were given a health check by vet John Chitty (right) prior to release.

It was a 4.45am start next day so that the team could lower the cage front door in darkness, which allows the young to come out in their own time when first light starts to illuminate the release area. Finally the big Mull female came out and perched on the front door, bouncing along the branch from side to side. She looked around but was slow to fly, so the male came out in a hurry and beat her to the first flight, which was into the nearby wood. Next morning and another pre-dawn start to release the other four young eagles. It’s a time of change for those who have looked after and watched over them for two months, and a time to wonder about the massive leap of releasing young sea eagles back to the Isle of Wight after an absence of 240 years.

The successful release was covered by a BBC crew and will feature soon on the ‘The One Show’. There has been tremendous interest and support for the project, and we have started to produce podcasts of our fieldwork that are now available on many of the podcast platforms. Our latest podcast covers the release of the eagles last week. To listen, click the link below.

Before release, we were not sure what they would do – would they stay nearby or would they just fly off in all directions and distances? In fact, they all stayed close by, within a few kilometres and three remained in the immediate vicinity. Those ones started to return to the feeding platform and the top of the cages where Steve placed fresh fish each day after dark, so as not to disturb them. Most of the time they perched in trees at the edge of woods, spending their time watching what was happening in their new world. For such a huge bird they can be surprisingly unobtrusive, and despite many reports of people seeing them, we were able to confirm from their satellite tracks that only a couple of people would have seen them in the first days. We are keeping the release location confidential for the welfare of the birds, but as they start to disperse, we’ll be posting regular updates on their movements. We also hope it will be possible to set-up a public eagle viewpoint once the settlement patterns of the birds are understood.

We are very grateful to two generous donors, who have allowed us to get the project underway and to employ a full-time project officer. We are very careful with funds for these projects do cost money and as well as general support donations which come in through our website or mail, we would welcome help with paying for certain equipment. For example someone to sponsor the top-class CCTV equipment (£11,000) or the satellite transmitters at £1200 each and with the white-tailed eagles being so good at hiding in woods a thermal imager for the project would be extremely useful. You can make a donation or get in touch via the support us page if you would like to help this ground breaking project.

Two of the eagles perched together after release last week. Both of these birds are females (photo by Tim Mackrill)

The released eagles are now growing in confidence on the wing (photo by Steve Egerton-Read)

The exciting return of Morven’s son – carrying on from his illustrious mother

Some ospreys remain in my mind for many years. There are old favourites like Logie, the first that I tracked with a new and highly accurate GPS satellite transmitter in 2007. Another was her neighbour, Morven. She tried to take over Logie’s nest in April 2008 but was quickly kicked out when Logie got back from Guinea Bissau. As a five-year-old local bird Morven spent the summer visiting osprey nesting places in the North of Scotland. On 9thJuly I live-caught her and fitted a transmitter when she was near the nest belonging to Beatrice – another of the Forres clan. Soon we learnt about her life. Instead of going south in late August she flew north to the Caithness trout lochs, not far north of the distinctive mountain named Morven. It’s a landmark across the Moray Firth from where I live near Forres. She was observed there by my old friend Stan Laybourne before migrating south. Winter quarters proved to be on the coast of Mauritania.

We satellite-tagged Morven as an adult in Moray in 2008.

Morven migrated to Mauritania after we tagged her in 2008. He transmitter to continued to provide data for a further five years.

Perseverance paid off because the following spring she bred with Logie’s old mate Talisman and reared one young. Logie had disappeared in September 2008 on autumn migration.  Morven’s annual migration pattern was then established; after breeding she flew north each year to Caithness for a few weeks trout fishing and then migrated south to the Mauritanian coast.  On the spring migration north she stopped off for a short break on the Villiviciosa estuary in North Spain, before the last leg to Moray. In 2011 she bred again at the same nest but with a new male, yellow HA, and reared 3 young, they reared one young in 2012 and three in 2013. But in 2014 her mate was killed by a new male, and they were also kicked out by a younger pair and moved to unused nest some miles away.  Morven was too late to breed in 2014 but she and her new mate reared two young in 2015 and one in 2016.  In March 2017 she was live-trapped at an artificial osprey nest on the Villiviciosa estuary by osprey biologist, Doriana Pando, and the defunct transmitter was removed.

Morven and her mate, Talisman.

Some ospreys were very delayed by bad weather in 2017 but not Morven, who gave up waiting for her mate and moved to join an old male at another nest in the Forres area, and there she reared three young. In 2018, she was at the Spanish estuary on 20thMarch and returned to incubate eggs, but the nesting attempt failed, possibly due to pine martens. She has not been seen since.  15 years of age she contributed much to osprey conservation. She nested in three different eyries with four different mates which is unusual for ospreys. Some of her young were translocated to the Basque reintroduction project and one in 2015 to start the Swiss project. We also satellite tagged her single young in 2012 and named him Stan, in memory of my Caithness birding friend, who had died. Sadly, we lost contact with Stan off the Cape Verde islands after an incredible nine day, 5000 kilometres migration over the Atlantic Ocean via the Canary Islands.

Importantly in 2017, one of her young, blue colour ring LS7, was translocated to Poole Harbour. LS7 was a young male, the first to fly from the hacking cages at Poole Harbour when we started the latest reintroduction project in partnership with Birds of Poole Harbour and Wildlife Windows. He was a winner, attacked by a peregrine on his first flight at 05.45am on 31stJuly 2017, he soon settled down to feed up from fresh fish supplied by the project team.

LS7 was the first of the birds to fly after release on 31st July (photo by Tim Mackrill)

He was the first to leave on migration  on 25thAugust and his post-fledging period of 25 days was equal shortest of the eight young that year.  On 22ndJanuary 2018 he was seen and identified on the  Ile des Oiseaux by Adam Lene a ranger in the Sine Saloum National Park in Senegal. Both Tim and I have visited this fantastic sandy island off the mangrove swamps, it’s an osprey Mecca.

LS7 was seen at Ile des Oiseaux in Senegal on 22nd January 2018. Wintering birds – both adults and juveniles – often perch together at this osprey Mecca (photo by John Wright).

It’s a long two-year’s wait to see which ospreys have survived their migrations and extended stays in West Africa and then return to the UK. LS7 was our first return as a two-year old when he was seen and identified by Paul Morton on 12thJune. Almost immediately he met the well-known female, blue CJ7, which fledged from a nest at Rutland Water in 2015. She has been a regular at Poole Harbour and this spring was building up nests around the harbour and keeping an eye out for a mate.  Too late to breed in 2019, their activity together bodes well for the future. These recovery projects rely so often on small numbers of winners, which have survived their first years learning the migration routes and wintering sites, and the associated dangers of bad weather and predators.

In a few week’s time the next group of young Scottish ospreys will be in the Poole Harbour hacking-cages ready for release from the end of July. I guess both LS7 and CJ7 will take an interest in the new cohort of ospreys and hopefully they will survive to start a breeding population in the south coast estuaries. Then we can say the mullet-hawk is truly back. If LS7 is the pioneer of that exciting future then he will be following in his mother’s illustrious life.

LS7 returned to Poole Harbour on 12th June (photo by Alison Copland)

Ospreys in Poland

Earlier this month Tim Mackrill was invited to attend a workshop on the conservation of ospreys in Poland, as part of an EU LIFE project. The general trend among the European population is positive, with translocations and artificial nest building helping to restore the osprey to many parts of its former range. One of the countries where the situation is not so encouraging, however, is Poland. Here the population has declined to less than 25 pairs, leading to concerns that if action is not taken the species may be lost altogether. In a country that still supports an amazing diversity of wildlife including many iconic species such as lesser and greater spotted eagles, white-tailed eagles, wolves, beavers and bison this is a worrying situation that requires urgent attention.

The project, coordinated by The General Directorate of The State Forests (GDSF) in Poland, aims to identify the reasons for the decline and to implement key conservation actions to reverse it. You can find out more here. The workshop provided a valuable opportunity to review the work that has been completed to date and to discuss future plans. Tim was invited to talk about our Osprey conservation work in the UK and was joined by colleagues Urmas Sellis from Estonia and Flavio Monti from Italy.

Participants in the workshop held in Olsztyn, Poland

The project has already completed an impressive amount of work, including the construction of over 125 artificial nests. This work has been undertaken in the north-east and west of the country where the remaining pairs continue to breed. It is hoped that this will facilitate the spread of the German population. There are now over 700 pairs of Ospreys in Germany, many of which breed on electricity pylons. By constructing up to 50 nests on similar pylons in western Poland it is hoped that he German birds will be tempted to cross the border. Artificial nest construction has greatly facilitated the geographical expansion of the UK Osprey population and suggests that the Polish work will also be successful.

Whilst artificial nests are clearly an important conservation measure, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the reasons for the recent decline. With this in mind efforts will be made during 2019 to understand more about the fishing behaviour of breeding males.  Our satellite tracking studies in the UK have provided a valuable insight into where and when adult male ospreys catch fish; demonstrating that individual birds visit numerous different sites and will sometimes travel surprising distances for fish. It is not uncommon for ospreys in both Scotland and England to make 40km round trips for fish on occasion. Satellite tracking adult male ospreys in Poland will give the team similar insights which will be useful in advising and directing future conservation effort. Although there are many natural lakes in Poland, particularly in the regions with breeding ospreys, the local birds also visit fish farms. I was pleased therefore to talk about the proactive efforts that have been undertaken in both Scotland and England to address this issue. The recent establishment of a photographic hide at River Gwash Trout Farm in Rutland is one such example which has been extremely successful. Income from the photographic hide now forms an integral part of the business; demonstrating that wildlife and commercial activities can coexist if a positive proactive approach is taken.

We wish the Polish team all the very best for their valuable project.

A Polish fish farm visited by Ospreys. The birds also forage in the many natural lakes in the region.

The photography hide at River Gwash Trout Farm in Rutland offers great views for photographers and valuable income for the fish farm (photo Geoff Harries)

Three cheers for beavers

I’ve just heard that the beaver is to be protected in our country. That’s welcome news from the Minister, but oh dear how long that took. And that’s only a first step, the next is to return the species to all suitable wetlands, to aid the future of our planet. A week ago young people were reminding us adults that the future of a living earth is in serious danger, yet how quickly that goes off the headlines. The young will need to be more demanding to secure their future. It is an unrelenting struggle to effect meaningful change. Many ecologists have tried over the last century but after an initial breakthrough the old ways of politics and power continue. So this time, young people, keep pushing! The beaver should encourage you to note that yesterday’s total opposition can change to a recognition of its value.

Last summer, I wrote that I visited an osprey nest in Strathspey and ringed the single chick, the first young there after a gap of eight years. The eyrie is atop an ancient Scots pine growing in a bog. I remembered on earlier visits having to jump ditches and wade through swampy areas to reach the tree, but now everywhere is dry and the patches of open water I remembered have all vegetated over. This was such a special forest bog where the ospreys had as neighbours nesting teal and very rare green sandpipers. This forest has every sort of conservation designation possible but it has lost a lot of its value through the uncontrolled growth of excess vegetation, due to lack of big herbivores, originally auroch, moose and beaver. It was clear to me that the immediate remedy for such a special area would be the return of beavers. In a few years their activities would bring those forest bogs and pools back to life, as well as opening up and rewetting the other low-lying parts of the forest. They would slow down the small river and create even more wetlands. I firmly believe that the Scottish government’s refusal to allow beavers back in all these wet woodlands is seriously detrimental to wildlife conservation and our international obligations.

Earlier in the year I was asked to address the annual conference of Forestry Commission England at the University of Exeter and give my views on where they should be heading ecologically after their centenary year of 2019. One of the delegates was Dr Richard Brazier, of the university, whose team had carried out detailed scientific studies on beavers which had been placed in a wet woodland reserve in north Devon. Their results were very impressive and showed how the beavers had changed the ecosystem by building a chain of dams that slowed down the small river coming from the adjacent farmland. Water flows had been ameliorated as water was held in the dams, sediments and chemicals had been deposited within the site. The water coming out of the wood was much purified and the wildlife benefits for other species outstanding. In fact, the 14 dams held 1,000 cubic metres of water and had captured 100 tons of silt. I remember walking there nearly ten years before with Derek Gow, who is the pioneer and champion of the return of the beaver to the UK as a water engineer and ecological improver. Just about everything we talked about then has been proved by these studies and others.

Similar results have been obtained by PhD researchers on beavers and their impacts in the River Tay catchment in Scotland, yet we are still experiencing resistance to the return of the species to the UK. It saddens me greatly that board members and staff of the then newly created Scottish Natural Heritage discussed the need to reintroduce the beaver in the early 1990s and here we are, 25 years later, still dithering about full-scale recovery. Then, our interest was very much about the ecological and wildlife benefits they would bring. Now, though, with an ever-increasing recognition that we must restore natural processes for the benefit of people as well as wildlife, we have the evidence that beavers can help alleviate downstream flooding, maintain water in streams in times of drought, slow down the run-off loss of soils and help prevent agricultural chemicals from pouring down rivers and into lochs, estuaries and the sea. You would think it’s a no-brainer. Sadly, that’s not how it works at present, but it has to change. That’s another area where our young people  can encourage adults to see sense before it’s too late.

Photo by Laurie Campbell