Eight osprey chicks were due to be translocated from nests in northern Scotland to Poole Harbour, Dorset this summer as part of a new project to increase numbers of the fish-eating raptors, which were once extinct in Britain.

Poole Harbour, with its shallow bay and abundance of grey mullet, is a favourite stop-off point in southern Britain for ospreys on their migration to West Africa, explained Paul Morton, founder of Birds of Poole Harbour, one of the charities running the project. This makes it a strategic location for linking breeding populations in central England, Scotland and France and strengthening the long-term survival of the birds in Western Europe as a whole.

“If you look at a map of breeding ospreys in Western Europe it is very fragmented,” said Morton. “With this project we hope to get them interacting with each other.”

The spectacular bird, which has a wingspan of 1.5 metres, was once the target of egg collectors, whose activity, along with illegal shooting, led to the extinction of breeding ospreys in Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

A pair recolonised northern Scotland naturally in the 1950s, but numbers grew very slowly due to contamination by organochlorine pesticides in the food chain and a continued threat from egg collectors. The bird’s fate took an upward turn in 1996 with the first translocation project in Rutland, central England. Since 2005, 117 birds have flown the nest from there. This success has led to the recolonisation of Wales and to similar projects being set up in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Switzerland. The Rutland breeding ground was deemed self-sustaining last year, paving the way for the plan in Poole.

Ospreys, particularly males, usually return to breed in the area in which they fledged, while females tend to settle close to where other ospreys are nesting, which explains the relatively slow expansion of range.

The first translocated birds are expected to return to Poole in 2019. They are most commonly seen at Poole Harbour in the last week of August and first two weeks of September.


Marianne Brown is Deputy Editor at Resurgence & Ecologist.