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The ospreys have landed

A project hoping to restore ospreys to their former breeding grounds on the south coast of England has taken a major step. Eight osprey chicks have arrived in Poole Harbour, brought down from the rugged coast of Scotland. They will be the pioneers of a new project to reintroduce the once native species to the area, and aim to reverse the species’ decline.

The birds have been brought to Poole Harbour in Dorset as part of a five-year translocation project, which it is hoped will encourage the birds to once again begin breeding in the area. Persecuted by humans, ospreys no longer stop in Poole to breed.

Yesterday, the six-week-old chicks were taken to a secret nesting site, and already they make an impressive sight. As their orange eyes pierce through a highwayman’s mask, and they stretch their powerful, fish-catching talons, they are now getting ready to acclimatise to their new home.

While they settle in, the birds’ pens will be monitored by CCTV cameras. Within just a few weeks, they will be ready to begin their migration to Senegal, where they will likely stay until spring 2019. If the project is a success, the adult birds will return to Poole and establish a breeding ground.

The project has been brought to life by local charity Birds of Poole Harbour, Scottish charity the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and wildlife camera company Wildlife Windows.          

Paul Morton from local wildlife charity Birds of Poole Harbour said: “We’re so pleased to see the chicks finally arrive in Poole Harbour. It’s been a long few months waiting for this moment, so to see them in the pens has made the whole project very real now.”

The group has been overwhelmed by public support. A local fish restaurant, Storm, is sourcing, preparing, and storing the fresh fish needed to help the chicks fatten up before their release in August.

Coming home to roost

This project is a small part of the wider conservation recovery plan of ospreys in Western Europe and the Mediterranean. Across the region, the birds are being encouraged to return to areas where they have been persecuted by humans.

Roy Dennis said: “We are moving the birds to the best possible location given the abundance of fish found in Poole Harbour and the plethora of potential nest sites in the surrounding area.”

A vast supply of fish already makes an autumn visit to Poole Harbour an attractive prospect for a very small number of the birds, but they no longer stop to breed. Most males are faithful to their home and return there to breed, whereas females look for other ospreys they can join.

Paul Morton said: “These factors combined mean that the natural expansion of the species is very slow – often as little as 11 km per year. This project will help to significantly speed up this process and restore the osprey to the south coast, where we know that they were once a common sight.”

Wildlife organisations and individuals have spent the last eight years making efforts to encourage osprey to colonise Poole Harbour, by attracting adult birds to visit specific areas through artificial nesting platforms and decoy birds. This new venture takes a different approach - one which has already proved successful elsewhere.

A new lease of life

Strong and healthy chicks from Scotland were carefully selected by the Roy Dennis Foundation, who have been monitoring ospreys since the 1960s. Although the project means taking birds from their nests, there is a surprising side effect which gives a helping hand to nature.

Paul Morton from Birds of Poole Harbour explained that only the strongest birds are chosen, providing an opportunity for weaker birds to survive. In a nest of three chicks, the weakest would usually die, but by bringing the two stronger birds into the project, the weak chick is given a chance at life.

Tim Mackrill is involved with monitoring ospreys for the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, and he has seen the human impact on nature first-hand. While monitoring nests, the team discovered a chick wrapped up in twine, which the mother had collected and used to build the nest. They freed the chick from its binding, and later the bird was strong enough to join a translocation project in the Basque Country.

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