WOW Day 2: A History of Ospreys

WOW Day 2: A History of Ospreys

(c) Steve Waddingham

Day 2 of World Osprey Week is all about the history of Ospreys in the UK!

Ospreys were once widespread in the UK, with fossil records showing that Ospreys existed 15 million years ago! More recently we know they were about in the Shakespearean era as he himself mentions them in one of his plays, Coriolanus, so he must have seen Ospreys not only flying around but fishing too.

Unfortunately, during the Victorian period, Ospreys were heavily persecuted which caused the number of Ospreys to fall dramatically. Not only were Ospreys shot for use in taxidermy, but their eggs were also collected. After a while Ospreys became extinct as a breeding bird in England and Wales by 1847, which means that Ospreys could no longer be found raising chicks in England. Although the population clung on in Scotland for a little while longer, Ospreys also became extinct as a breeding bird by 1916.

Thankfully, Ospreys were still seen in the UK during the early autumn and early spring, and this is due to them being a migratory species, which means they spend the spring and summer in one place, where they can breed, and travel, usually southwards, for the autumn and winter months, where weather conditions are better. We will be covering migration in day 4 of World Osprey Week. In 1954, two Ospreys which were thought to be from somewhere in Scandinavia, bred at RSPB Loch Garten and raised a single chick. This was the first time in 38 years that Ospreys had bred anywhere in the UK, and this was a really important year for the start of the recovery of the Osprey population.

The population of Ospreys grew in Scotland, however it was initially slow. This was because a pesticide which was used on crops called DDT, affected the thickness of the eggshell, so fewer Osprey eggs successfully hatched, but thankfully this pesticide was banned in 1986, which allowed the population of Ospreys in Scotland to recover.

Ospreys are site faithful and will usually return to where they fledged from, or where they flew for the very first time, so it wasn’t until a pioneering and important project began here at Rutland Water Nature Reserve, that we saw Ospreys breed again in England, and this is what tomorrow’s topic of the day is all about.