Species Spotlight: The Osprey

Authored on 29/04/2022 by Lonieke conservationist and educator at The Habitat People

Raptor persecution remains a major issue in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom (see our first blog ‘Raptor Persecution in Scotland’). Many species have suffered major losses and wildlife crime convictions are unfortunately not always successful in favour of the affected species. 

In this blog we would like to focus on the conservation success of one particular species; the osprey, and to bring you some positive news regarding their nesting successes at various sites throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Ospreys are a relatively easy species to recognise, although it could be mistaken for a large gull at a distance. With a good look through binoculars however, its dark brown upperparts  and contrasting white underside are good aids for identification. Ospreys migrate from West Africa to stay in the UK for the summer and their diet consists for the most part of fish, which they catch in spectacular fashion as they dive towards a loch or a lake, scooping them out of the water with their powerful talons.

The osprey suffered major losses in the 19th and early 20th century through egg and skin collectors, and by organochlorine pesticide poisoning in the 1950s and 1960s (Schmidt-Rothmund, Dennis & Saurola 2014). They were declared extinct as a breeding bird species in England in 1840, and in Scotland in 1916. They began to recover in the 1960s, and their (natural) recolonisation process was a slow but steady process. By 1976, 71 pairs had established, and this number grew to 158 pairs in 2001. There are currently estimated to be between 200

and 250 pairs, mainly in Scotland. One of the most well known osprey conservation sites in the world is the RSPB reserve at Loch Garten, Abernethy Forest, in Scotland. A pair has successfully nested here almost every single year since 1959 (RSPB 2022). Having recently returned from their wintering grounds in Africa, the pairs’ 2022 efforts can be observed through a live cam set up at the nest (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYeEaXvLu38&ab_channel=RSPBVideo

Although conservation efforts seem to be heading in the right direction, the osprey is still on the Amber list. It is vital that nest protection efforts are maintained, and perhaps through future reintroduction programmes the species might further increase their relatively low (compared to Scotland) numbers in England and Wales. As all raptor species, they play an important role in a healthy, balanced ecosystem and it would be a terrible shame to see them disappear from our nature reserves again. 

References: 

The RSPB. (n.d.). Osprey Population Trends. [online] Available at: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/osprey/population-trends/#:~:text=The%20osprey%20became%20extinct%20as [Accessed 29 Apr. 2022].

Schmidt-Rothmund, D., Dennis, R. and Saurola, P. (2014). The Osprey in the Western Palearctic: Breeding Population Size and Trends in the Early 21stCentury. Journal of Raptor Research, 48(4), pp.375–386.

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