Poole Harbour Osprey Reintroduction Project

The Poole Harbour Osprey Reintroduction Project started in 2017 and is running until 2021. Over this 5-year period, Birds of Poole Harbour is partnered with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Wildlife Windows to restore a breeding population of Ospreys to the South Coast, through translocating up to 60 Osprey chicks from Scotland and releasing them in the Poole Harbour area.

Permission for the project to go ahead was granted by Natural England after substantial evidence that Poole Harbour would be a suitable habitat for Ospreys to breed, as well as being an ideal location for a reintroduction project because of the high numbers of Ospreys passing through the harbour on migration. Prior to the project, attempts were made to encourage Ospreys to stay in the area over 8 years. This included the installation of several nesting platforms around the harbour, as well as the use of “decoy” Ospreys, intended to give the impression of Poole Harbour a breeding site to migrating Ospreys. Despite interest in the area and an increasing population passing through, there had still been no known nesting attempts on the South Coast, and so in 2017 the reintroduction project was given the go ahead.

Following similar procedures to the Rutland reintroduction project, each year up to 14 Osprey chicks of around 6 weeks of age are removed from nests in Scotland by experts from the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation. They are extensively checked to ensure their good health and ringed with a blue Darvic ring, along with the remaining chicks in the nests. There is always at least one chick left in an Osprey nest; on rare occasions two will be taken, and only from a nest of three or more. The larger chicks in the nest are collected, which gives the smaller chicks a better chance of survival as they will have a greater food supply with less competition. The chicks are then bought down to Dorset in July and spend the next few weeks in specially designed hacking pens.

These pens are supplied and made by Wildlife Windows, and each have space for up to 3 chicks, reflecting a similar environment to a natural Osprey nest. The area is large enough for the birds to make small flights and display “helicoptering” behaviour, demonstrating when they are strong enough to be fly and be released. Fish is prepared and supplied to the chicks three times daily, fed through a small hatch at the back of the pens to minimise human contact. They are monitored throughout the day by a dedicated team of staff and volunteers using a high-quality camera for each pen. When all the birds have displayed important development behaviours, the Ospreys are ready to be released, and so they are fitted with a radio tag so that they can be tracked.

Following their release, the birds are still supplied with fish, but instead on feeding nests outside of the pens, which replicate the appearance of a natural nest. The progress of the juveniles is monitored through feeding cameras and regular scans using a yagi – specialist equipment used to locate the birds from their radio tags. The Ospreys stay close to the release site and within the Poole Harbour area for at least a month, strengthening their flight and increasing their body mass for their eventual migration. The juveniles will usually leave the Harbour between the end of August and the end of September, travelling to their wintering grounds which are typically in West Africa. The released Ospreys will then spend the next few years at this destination, maturing until they are ready to breed themselves. During the month spent exploring the area before they migrate, they imprint on the surrounding, and so when the birds are ready to return, they will recognise Dorset as home. This is highly important as male Ospreys set up territory and therefore look for nesting opportunities close to where they fledged, and so the success of the project relies upon them forming this connection with the local area.

To read about years 1-3 of the project, have a look at our blog pages.

The Future of the Osprey Project

2019 marked an exciting development in the project: one of the translocated Ospreys, LS7, returned for the first time! LS7 is a male Osprey from the 2017 cohort who had been spotted in Senegal in January 2018. He was seen back on the 12th of June 2019 and quickly met a female, CJ7, who has been summering in the area since 2017. CJ7 is offspring from a 2015 nest in Rutland and has spent 3 summers in Poole Harbour, seemingly attracted by the juveniles released through the project. Seeing juveniles in the area is an indicator of nesting suitability, and so she has stayed and waited for a male, very fortunately for LS7 and the progress of the project. The pair bonded throughout the summer of 2019, spending time nest building on different platforms around the harbour and they even attempted to mate! As young Ospreys, such as LS7, return from their first migration slightly later than fully mature adults, they don’t breed in the first year and will attempt to pair bond and set up territory instead. Luckily LS7 has done just that in 2019, and so we can hope that over the next few years we could have breeding attempts and nesting in Dorset.

In preparation for this development, we are fundraising for a live-stream camera to be mounted on the pair’s favoured nest. This will hopefully capture key moments in the return of breeding Ospreys to the South Coast and mean that Osprey fans will be able to watch these moments unfold from the comfort of home. Live-stream cameras are a fantastic education and engagement tool and give the opportunity for people who can’t access the outdoors easily to view these birds. We are also fundraising for other aspects of the project, including erecting new artificial nests in the local area. Find out more about our fundraising and how to donate on our Just Giving page.

Call 01202 641 003