Poole Harbour

Breeding ospreys were once widespread along the South Coast of England where the old English name is ‘mullet hawk’. Today ospreys are regular visitors on spring and autumn migration but despite the provision of artificial nests in many areas, there have been no breeding attempts. Our work at Rutland Water and elsewhere in Europe demonstrates that in this situation translocation is the best means of restoring a breeding population, and Poole Harbour in Dorset was considered the best location. This large natural habour is perfectly located to act as the nucleus of a new South Coast ‘colony’ and will provide an important link between expanding populations in central England, Wales and central France. In spring 2017 we were given the go ahead by Scottish Natural Heritage and Natural England to begin a translocation project at Poole Harbour in partnership with Birds of Poole Harbour and Wildlife Windows (read more here). This will involve the translocation of 60 juvenile ospreys from carefully monitored nests in northern Scotland over the course of five years.

Checking chicks at a nest in Caithness

In July 2017 Roy Dennis, Tim Mackrill and colleagues collected the first eight five-six week-old birds from nests in Moray, Badenoch and Strathspey, Caithness and Sutherland (read more). They were then transported by road to Poole Harbour on 10th July with an overnight stop in Staffordshire to allow us to rest and to feed the birds (read more).

Once at Poole Harbour the young ospreys were kept in release pens based on the design used at Rutland Water at a site on private land. They were fed twice daily using fresh locally-sourced fish and closely monitored via CCTV images by a team of volunteers led by Brittany Maxted. Once capable of flying the birds were fitted with tiny 2g tail-mounted radio transmitters to enable their movements to be tracked, and then released. Six birds were released on 31st July (read more), followed by two on 8th August (read more).

Brittany Maxted and Jol Mitchell monitoring the birds via CCTV

After release the young ospreys slowly grew in confidence and began exploring the habour; a vital period in the imprinting process. They remained in the area for between 25 and 44 days before migrating and regularly ranged up to 5 km from the release site. Fish was provided twice daily on artificial nests at the release site until the last bird migrated in order to replicate behaviour at natural nests. LS7 was the first bird to leave on 25th August (read more), and LS6 the last on 13th September.

The young ospreys remained in the harbour for between 25 and 44 days after release

A number of adult ospreys lingered in the Poole Harbour area during the summer, most notably two year-olds S1 and CJ7 from Rutland Water. S1 was present for two months from 25th May and was regularly seen on an artificial nest at Arne RSPB reserve and CJ7 was first seen on 8th August and then remained until the end of the month. Although S1 returned to Rutland Water before the release of the translocated juveniles, CJ7 was observed interacting with them on a number of occasions, most notably on 8th August (read more). We hope the translocated birds will encourage other adult birds to linger at Poole Harbour in future years, as has been observed at other translocation sites around Europe.

We are delighted to have got this exciting and important project underway and next year plan to translocate a further 14 young ospreys to Poole Harbour.

CJ7, a two year-old female from Rutland Water, attempting to land with the translocated juveniles (photo by Simon Kidner)