160 pages, 200+ colour photos, 200+ colour & b/w illustrations
Anglian Water's project to reintroduce the osprey to England has been an outstanding success, but is also a very personal project for the volunteers who have been involved in the ospreys' journey from Scotland to Africa via Rutland.
The Rutland Water Ospreys, published in close collaboration with Anglian Water and the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, is a celebration of their project and a chance for osprey fans everywhere to discover the many amazing stories behind the Rutland osprey team's efforts over the last two decades to re-establish these magnificent birds in England.
Historically the osprey was widely distributed throughout England but by at the end of the last century ospreys hadn't bred in England for more than 150 years. Thanks to Anglian Water's close work with the LRWT English chicks hatched in 2001 at Rutland Water, their largest reservoir.
This ground-breaking project was the first of its kind in Europe, and is now in its eighteenth year. Other osprey translocation projects in Italy and Spain have come about as a direct result of it, and breeding pairs are also now established in Wales as an indirect result of the work of the Rutland osprey team.
The Rutland Water team monitor the ospreys from their arrival from Senegal and the Gambia in March, through to their autumn migration. The nest sites at Rutland allow visitors to get close views to the ospreys, and artist and photographer John Wright has been working for Anglian Water for several years to document the Rutland ospreys from even closer.
Stories in The Rutland Water Ospreys will reveal early disappointments, detail the ospreys' incredible journeys as they migrate to Africa, and convey the pride the Rutland field team and many locals feel as 'their' ospreys return to the same roost year on year.
"I have maintained a keen interest in the progress of the Rutland Ospreys Pandion haliaetus, in large part because of my involvement in the East Midlands Red Kite Milvus milvus reintroduction, in nearby north Northamptonshire. The first young Ospreys, taken from nests in Scotland, were released in 1996, one year after the first batch of Red Kites, and both species have gradually become re-established in the area over the intervening period. The two new arrivals even interact at times and Red Kites are not beyond pilfering the odd fish from active Osprey nest-sites. Locally breeding Red Kites probably outnumber Ospreys by a factor of over 20 to one but, as explained in the book, that is largely a reflection of the significant challenges involved in restoring a bird like the Osprey, with its highly specialist diet and hazardous long-distance migration.
The bulk of the book is taken up with highly readable year-on-year accounts of the project, from the initial preparations back in 1995 through various milestones such as the first release, the first returning bird and the first successful breeding. Lessons are learnt along the way and there are some notable setbacks described with real feeling by those directly involved. Although the book focuses on the release site and breeding area centred on Rutland Water, other parts of the story are not forgotten. Satellite tracking has helped to reveal the migration routes taken by released Ospreys and the authors provide accounts of exciting trips to the Pyrenees and West Africa to try to connect with migrating birds. The recent breeding attempts in Wales (partly involving birds released at Rutland) are dealt with though, surprisingly, I could find no mention of the recently established breeding birds in Cumbria.
The book is very much a joint effort by the key individuals involved in the project. There is a foreword by Roy Dennis, whose expertise, enthusiasm and enviable powers of persuasion helped to get things started. And there are a number of diary-style contributions from some of the many hundreds of volunteers who have helped with monitoring and nest protection over the years. A special mention must go to John Wright who, on this evidence, appears to be equally skilled as a photographer and artist. His work appears on almost every page and images of the individual birds and events being described really help to bring the story to life.
The final chapter focuses on some of the wider conservation benefits of this pioneering project and the legacy of work undertaken, an important aspect given that reintroductions are by no means universally popular and must justify the funds spent on them. The authors deal with a regular criticism of such projects by arguing that there is nothing at all unnatural about the small breeding population now established in central England. On the contrary, it is the bird’s continued absence from the vast majority of lowland England and Wales, as a direct result of past human intervention, that is unnatural. That raises interesting questions about the future. The work at Rutland has already helped to inspire release projects in Spain and Italy and the authors make a strong case that further releases would be useful in southern Britain to help speed up the process of recolonisation."
- Ian Carter, www.britishbirds.co.uk, 14-05-2013
"There are few birders who will not have visited Rutland Water, home of the British Bird Fair, at some point in the last decade; and there are few who will have left without trying to see one of the reservoir's famous Ospreys. The story of how this pioneering English colony came to be begins all the way back in the mid-1990s. The status of the Osprey in Rutland today – an established breeding species – is the result of years of dedication and hard work; dedication and hard work that is detailed in The Rutland Water Ospreys.
The book reveals that introducing Ospreys to Rutland Water involved far more than collecting some young birds in Scotland and releasing them in Rutland. There was paperwork, planning, and adapting to the inevitable hiccups that the first year presented – this was, after all, the first time a project like this had been attempted with Ospreys in Europe. It explains how the team had to deal and adapt to changes in their plans; the criteria used to select a chick for translocation from Scotland; the site of the release pens; and the challenge of feeding the birds with minimal disturbance.
The book starts with several chapters written by different people involved in the Osprey reintroduction (though you will need to check back to the contents page to see exactly who it is writing what); it first describes the early years, from the set-up of the project to the first introductions, the first returning birds, the critical first breeding, and the end of the translocation phase in 2002. The remainder of the first half of the book consists of a chapter for each of the following years, from 2003 right up to 2012. The number of man-hours and the work that has gone into this project from all parties involved is quite staggering: hours spent watching the nests from hides – or the back of a leaky Land Rover; monitoring and ringing chicks; building (and rebuilding) nests.
The second half of the book shifts away slightly from the core of the project. The legacy of the Rutland Ospreys is notable: not just the tourists they have brought to the Rutland area or the inspiration they have provided to local communities – nowhere is this more evident in the book than in the handful of one-page 'Volunteer Diaries' that appear between chapters – but it extends far wider than Rutland. British Ospreys, Rutland birds included, leave the British Isles for the winter, all heading south, with most wintering along the West African coast south of the Sahara. Satellite tracking has given a unique insight into the route taken by Rutland Ospreys and the hazards they face en route, while this link between Rutland and Africa has provided the opportunity for the team to educate school pupils in The Gambia about the Ospreys' amazing annual journey: education that will hopefully lead to conservation. The Rutland Osprey project has been exported slightly closer to home, too: to Italy, in the form of expertise, where the Rutland team helped with establishing a breeding colony of Ospreys; and to Wales, where Rutland birds themselves have settled to breed.
The book has a scrapbook feel to it, with plenty of photographs and illustrations throughout. I've been following John Wright's blog, and admiring his amazing artwork, for some time, and it's a real pleasure to see his sketches and studies printed in this book.
The Rutland Water Ospreys is a beautiful publication and a fascinating read. For anyone who's ever experienced the joy of observing Ospreys in southern Britain – be it one of the Rutland birds raising a family in Wales or an early-morning cruise on the Rutland Belle – and wanted to know a bit more about them, this book is a must-read."
Stephen Menzie, www.birdguides.com, 14-03-2013
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Tim Mackrill has been part of the Osprey team since 1997 when he was a volunteer aged 15. He joined the staff a few years later and since 2005 has been the team's Project Officer. In his spare time, Tim is also currently studying for and writing his PhD on Ospreys. John Wright, a photographer and artist, works for Anglian Water between March and September to visually document the Ospreys and their environment at Rutland Water. He has several years worth of original and never before published material on the Rutland Osprey project.