Having been driven to the brink of extinction in the UK in 1916, ospreys have made quite the comeback in Scotland – including here in the Tweed Valley, where these charismatic, fish-eating raptors have become a major wildlife attraction
Persecuted to the brink of extinction by egg collectors and hunters, the osprey was absent from Scotland for much of the first half of the 20thcentury. That all changed in 1954 when a pair settled at Loch Garten in the Cairngorms, although it took until 1998 before the first nesting pair returned to the Borders.
And even then they needed a helping hand. Rangers from the Forestry Commission worked closely with the local police wildlife liaison officer and the RSPB to encourage the birds to settle and breed here. In what was a secretive effort – the threat from egg collectors and accidental human disturbance was and remains very real – artificial nest platforms were erected in safe locations around the Tweed Valley Forest Park in the hope that ospreys might find the area an attractive place to breed.
Slowly but surely, the birds began to settle here. In April each year, when the birds return from their West African wintering grounds, the Tweed Valley began to see a growing population of breeding osprey.
Keen to share their story, but without revealing nest locations, the project team placed cameras at nest sites to provide live footage of the birds as they raised their young. A partnership between the Forestry Commission, Tweed Forum and Kailzie Gardens, the Tweed Valley Osprey Project was born with an aim of protecting the birds while providing expert interpretation and education for the public.
For the past decade and more, visitors to osprey watch centres at Glentressand Kailzie Gardens have been able to view wonderful footage of osprey families – with passionate, fully-trained volunteers on hand to share information and answer questions. Today, with improvements in technology, the footage is better than ever and can include some truly spectacular moments – not least when adult birds bring large fish (often still waggling!) back to the nest.
Chicks are satellite-tagged so that the project can record the movements of those that fledge successfully, and monitor attempts to find breeding sites of their own. Birds that fledged from Tweed Valley nests over the years have been found breeding as far away as Northumberland and Ireland.
And despite recent struggles the return of ospreys to the Tweed Valley overall has been a huge success. “The project area now has 11 breeding sites, with a particularly healthy population here along the upper Tweed,” explains project officer Diane Bennett. “Our aim is to see ospreys present all the way along the river from source to sea – a goal that I think will be realised in the near future.”
For much more on the Tweed Valley Osprey Project, including becoming a volunteer osprey watch guide for the 2016 season, click here
Photography: Angus Blackburn; Tweed Valley Osprey Project
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