Poole Harbour Osprey Project

One of the first initiatives that our Foundation was involved with was the Rutland Osprey Project. In July 1996 the first eight six week-old ospreys were translocated to Rutland Water from nests in northern Scotland in the hope of establishing a breeding population of ospreys in central England for the first time in over 150 years. A further 56 birds were moved over the course of the next five summers, with another 11 released in 2005. The project has been a resounding success with 117 young ospreys fledging from nests in the Rutland Water area since 2001. In addition it has resulted in the recolonisation of Wales and led to similar projects in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Switzerland. Now we are extremely excited to be involved in the second English translocation project at Poole Harbour in Dorset.

A young translocated osprey making its first flight at Rutland Water (photo by John Wright)

Poole Harbour is one of the best places to see ospreys on the South Coast. In autumn it is not uncommon for six ospreys to be present in the harbour with migrant birds attracted by the abundance of salt water fish such as mullet. In fact it is no surprise that in Hampshire and Dorset the old local name for osprey is ‘mullet hawk’. We know that ospreys once bred along the whole of the south coast and over the past eight years a concerted effort has been made by to attract passing ospreys to stay and breed at Poole Harbour by building artificial nests. Although there has been some interest by ospreys, most notably this summer when two year-old Rutland male S1(15) and a female have been present in recent weeks, none have stayed to breed. This is not surprising given that male ospreys in particular are highly site faithful, with most settling to breed very close to site they fledged from; Rutland Water males have nested an average of just 11 km from their natal site to date. So whilst it is common for two year-old birds such as S1 to summer south of their natal site, once the urge to breed grows stronger they nearly always head further north.

Two year-old Rutland male S1 on one of the artificial nests at Poole Harbour (photo by John Wright)

Given the breeding biology of the species and the fact that the techniques for the transportation, care and release of young ospreys are now very well understood, we believe that a translocation is the best means of establishing a population on the south coast of England. Poole Harbour is perfectly suited to act as the nucleus of this new population and a firm base from which the population can spread east and west along the coast, as well as further inland. In the short term it is possible that the presence of the translocated birds may tempt others, such as S1, to stay and breed, but there is no doubt that in future years, as osprey colonies in Rutland, Wales and the south coast grow, birds will move between these populations. The Poole Harbour population will also act as an important stepping stone to the expanding population in Orleans Forest in France. We know the Rutland project has completely changed the distribution of ospreys in southern Britain, and the Poole Harbour project is likely to be similarly important.

Poole Harbour will act as an important link between populations of ospreys in England, Wales and France

Scottish Natural Heritage has granted a licence for Roy Dennis to collect and translocate the first eight young ospreys to Poole in July this year. They will be held in large holding pens at a confidential site for two – three weeks to acclimatize to their new home and prepare for their first flights. Once released they will be provided with fresh fish on artificial nests, to replicate normal osprey behaviour, and are likely to remain around Poole Harbour for a further six weeks (the normal post-fledging period) before beginning their long migration to West Africa. During this six week period as the birds grow in confidence on the wing they will imprint on the area and adopt Poole as their new home. We hope that the first translocated birds will return to Poole in 2019. It is planned that a total of 60 birds will be translocated over a five year period. Click on the link below to listen to an interview about the project with Paul Morton of the Birds of Poole Harbour charity.

The project is a partnership between the Foundation, local charity Birds of Poole Harbour, and Poole based-business Wildlife Windows and is part of a wider conservation recovery plan of osprey in Western Europe and the Mediterranean region which was recently commissioned by the Council of Europe and authored by Roy Dennis. This plan was was adopted in November 2016 by all member States of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats of the Council of Europe and it can be viewed here¬†here. We believe that this is an incredibly exciting and important project and we hope the whole of the community in Poole and surrounding areas will enjoy seeing breeding ospreys again on the South Coast. If the experiences in Rutland are anything to go by, there is much to look forward to. We’ll be sure to keep you updated with news over the coming weeks.

If you would support the work of our Foundation and help us to undertake more proactive projects such as the one at Poole then please consider becoming one of our special Conservation Champions.