Catching-up before Christmas

I’m sorry I haven’t written a blog for three months, but this past autumn saw me very busy at my desk and I’m delighted to say that I’ve finished writing two books. Collins is publishing the first next summer and it’s a big, exciting book about all the reintroductions, translocations and species recovery projects that I’ve been involved in over the last six decades: sea eagles, red kites, ospreys, red squirrels and a range of other birds and mammals. It’s been fun to rake through my diaries, field notebooks, papers and photos to tell an intriguing story of successes and, sometimes, failures. The shorter book is called Cottongrass Summer and is being published by Saraband. It’s fifty-two essays about nature conservation seen from the inside in an uncertain world. Much of the time, as I wrote, I also watched the antics of the local red squirrels collecting nuts in the hazel trees below me, often burying some in the garden. From the same window, I now see a beautiful ermine (white stoat) nosing around the woodpile. More often she raids the bird table for scraps, in fact she’s surprisingly vegetarian for a stoat. We also hear her footsteps, for she lives in the roof space of our front room.

Looking back on the summer it was really exciting that we could start the reintroduction of white-tailed eagles to the Isle of Wight and also have a really successful third-year with the osprey translocation to Poole Harbour. Of course it’s the birds themselves which are markers of success. I’ve just looked at the satellite data and seen that three of the sea eagles are living on the Isle of Wight and one is in Oxfordshire. Two of the eagles on the island, a male and female from different locations, are always together and acting like a young pair. If they survive they could easily stay together to breed, but it’ll be a four-year wait – fingers crossed. It’s been great to watch people in southern England learn about sea eagles in their midst; despite their massive size, they are so unobtrusive. Perching in trees after a meal is what they do most of the day, but sometimes they soar and fly in view. It’s been great to see the beautiful photographs that some photographers have sent in – especially the pair flying over the Solent with the female carrying a small branch. They’ve also been making life more interesting for the local buzzards, crows and jackdaws, and in Oxfordshire the sight of a sea eagle followed by a gang of red kites is something special. Let’s hope the eagles are as successful as the kites we reintroduced.

Two of the Isle of Wight eagles earlier this autumn – male G2-74, and female G3-24, have spent much of the past three months together (photo by Nick Edwards)

With the Dorset ospreys, I was thrilled to bits when the guys from Birds of Poole Harbour reported the return of one of the young males translocated in 2017. At just two years old he was an early returner and he was in luck, because a young female osprey was summering at Poole Harbour and had been visiting osprey nests built in the area by the team. They stayed together for the rest of the summer and also took a great interest in the eleven young ospreys, translocated from the Scottish Highlands, once they had been released. This female had behaved in the same way with the previous years’ young and I’m sure these interactions are important for establishing new populations. The 2019 cohort were released in great condition, which should have helped them migrate all the way to West Africa. It was sad that a fox killed one a few days before it was due to leave, but that’s nature. Unlike the sea eagles, the ospreys disappear for the winter, and it’ll be very exciting to see if the pair survive their migrations and return next spring. That would be a landmark, and we should see other translocated young return to Dorset.

LS7 and CJ7 on an artificial nest at Poole Harbour this summer. We hope they will return to breed in 2020.

Both projects are aimed at restoring iconic species to the lands where they once lived but, as ever, I love the way these projects bring together great teams of people. The yearly sea eagle project starts with those who monitor nests in Scotland and let me know of suitable young. Then it’s collecting time, with Tim, Ian and Fraser climbing trees and cliffs, followed by the safe transport of the eaglets to the Isle of Wight, where our colleagues in Forestry England, Steve and Leanne, take over, helped by a group of enthusiastic volunteers. With the ospreys the southern part of the project is carried out by Paul and Brittany of Birds of Poole Harbour, again helped by a local dedicated team of helpers. This year my wife, Moira, has produced twelve podcasts of our fieldwork – it’s great listening. You can listen on our website here, or subscribe/download on all major podcast platforms.

Our Foundation receives some very superb support from donors to carry out these exciting projects but to maintain our vision we need donations – large and small. As a starter in 2020 we aim to translocate 12 young sea eagles to the Isle of Wight and 12 young ospreys to Dorset. Please help if you can, either by writing to us direct or by donating on our website.

This week we can help you if you are still thinking what to buy a friend for Christmas. Why not send us a charitable donation in their name? We’ll do the rest. Click here to make a gift donation and order your card.

Wishing you a Happy Christmas and an excellent New Year