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Issue 16 - In praise of ospreys

Scotland Magazine Issue 16
September 2004


This article is 14 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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In praise of ospreys

The osprey represents one of Scotland's most spectacular success stories, having re-established itself there without human intervention. Graham Holliday reports

The osprey is one of Scotland’s most remarkable conservation success stories. Persecuted to extinction during the Victorian era, the bird disappeared in 1916 when the last known pair bred on an island in Loch Fyne.

The bird, which is Britain’s only bird of prey to feed exclusively on fish, didn’t return to breed until 1954. What makes the osprey story so remarkable is that they were not reintroduced like the white tailed sea eagle, red kite or corncrake.

Due to their migratory habit, a pair returned of their own accord from West Africa more than 3,000 miles away to grab a precarious claw-hold in Strathspey at Loch Garten.

In the four years that followed the breeding success of 1954, the pair failed to breed or the eggs were robbed from the nest even despite the 1958 ‘operation osprey’ which watched the nest 24 hours a day.

In co-operation with the Countess of Seafield, the area around Loch Garten was declared a protected bird sanctuary the following year. The site was then opened to the public to view the ospreys after the eggs successfully hatched in 1959.

The site has been one of RSPB Scotland’s most popular attractions ever since. Recovery of the species has been gradual owing to the fact that ospreys generally breed in the areas where they themselves fledged. There are now thought to be around 160 breeding pairs in the United Kingdom, most of which breed in Scotland.

Ospreys have extremely keen eyesight and can spot fish from as high as 70 metres above the water’s surface. They normally build their nests in trees on the edge of lochs or sea lochs. A clutch of two or three brown, blotched eggs arrive in late April. The female broods and feeds the chicks while the male hunts for fish.

After seven weeks the chicks fledge and the mother migrates south. The male remains to feed the young until September when they too migrate separately through France and Spain to West Africa for the winter.

2004 marks the Golden Jubilee, or 50th anniversary, of ospreys in Scotland. ‘The osprey 50th’ is a three year project which aims to network six osprey viewing sites and to raise public awareness of the continuing need to conserve these raptors.

The project brings together Forestry Commission Scotland, RSPB Scotland, Kailzie Gardens, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Raptor Study Group, Highland Foundation for Wildlife and Dumfries and Galloway Council.

“It means that during ‘osprey 50th’, we are combining efforts to raise awareness of this species and help to promote their tale to the public,” says Adam Harper, national media officer RSPB Scotland.

“At each of the viewing sites in Scotland, visitors should be able to find out about the other places around the country where you can see osprey so that not one organisation or site claims ‘ownership’ of this Scottish symbol.”

Former long term Loch Garten resident, Ollie, failed to return in 2004 after raising 23 chicks between 1990 and 2001 and catching a record 14 fish in one day in 1995. He also mated a record 49 times – though not on the same day. 2004’s new arrivals, Henry and partner EJ, are currently raising three chicks at the Loch Garten reserve.

For a chance of seeing ospreys yourself take a trip to one of the following:

Osprey Centre, Loch Garten
RSPB, Tulloch, Nethy Bridge, Highlands, PH25 3EF
10 miles/16 km east of Aviemore between the villages of Boat of Garten and Nethybridge off the B970. Follow the RSPB osprey signs (spring and summer only)
Tel: 01479 831694
Daily from early April - end of August; 10 - 6
Adults: £2.50 Children: 50p
Family: £5

Loch of the Lowes Visitor
Centre, Dunkeld, Perthshire, PH8 0HH
Open April to September inclusive; daily 10 - 5 except Mid July to mid August when hours are 10 - 6.
Adults: £2.00
Tel: 01350 727337

David Marshall Lodge, Aberfoyle
From Glasgow follow signs on M8 for Aberfoyle. From Stirling/Callander follow A81 to Aberfoyle via Dukes Pass.
Open from March – mid- October 10 – 6 and from October to Christmas, noon to 4pm
Tel: 01877 382383

Kailzie Gardens, Peebles.
On the B7062, two miles south of Peebles
Tel: 01721 720099

Glentress Forest
On the A72, two miles east of Peebles
Tel: 01750 721120
Car parking for the day is £2.00
During the breeding season there are live webcam pictures every 15 minutes from

Loch Garten: and the SWT webcam at

Loch of Lowes:

Wildlife tour operators:
Search the database of the ‘Wild Scotland’ website run by the new Scottish Wildlife Tourism Association


Loch Garten:
Friendly cheap self-catering accommodation by The Old Bridge Inn. Aviemore Bunkhouse is a new family & backpackers hostel in the centre of Aviemore, gateway to the Cairngorm Mountains.
Tel: 01479 811181

Luxury holiday caravans and cottages for hire. Short breaks from £199.
Trossachs Holiday Park, by Aberfoyle, Perthshire, FK8 3SA
Tel: 01877 382 614

Dumfries & Galloway:
32 bedrooms from £75 per person per night. Bistro Restaurant and garden room are all fully refurbished in this classic Victorian hotel.
Best Western Station Hotel, 49 Lovers Walk, Dumfries, Dumfries-shire, DG1 1LT
Tel: 01387 254316

The Glentress Hotel overlooks the River Tweed and has rooms from £40 per person per night. The hotel is just 50 metres from the entrance to

Glentress Forest.
Glentress Hotel, Kirnlaw, Peebles, EH45 8NB
Tel: 01721 720100

Kalzie Gardens:
Cringletie House is a Victorian baronial mansion and sits in 28 acres of grounds and woodlands. It offers award winning cuisine with cuisine grown in the 17th century restored walled garden. From £95 per room per night.

Cringletie House, Edinburgh Road, Peebles, EH45 8PL
Tel: 01721 725750

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