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Loch Garten osprey centre reaches golden milestone

Last modified: 12 June 2009

Male osprey landing at nest at the RSPB Loch Garten nature reserve

there are now over 200 pairs of Scottish ospreys

The famous Loch Garten Osprey Centre in Strathspey is celebrating 50 golden years of showing people ospreys today (Friday 12 June) - a tremendous conservation and tourism success story.  The Centre overlooks the nest of where these famous birds first returned to breed again in the UK back in the mid 1950s, following their extinction in 1916. Fourteen thousand people visited in that first summer of '59 and since then over 2 million visitors have passed through its doors in half a century of inspiring the public about ospreys and other wildlife.  

The centre is holding a gala celebration day this Saturday (13th), with former RSPB Scotland Director Frank Hamilton due to unveil a new golden fish sign to mark 50 years of the osprey centre, and RSPB Scotland is pleased to offer free entry to all for this momentous occasion.   Nowadays, the osprey is once again thriving in Scotland, with the wonderful news that over 200 pairs were known to nest in Scotland in 2008.  Sadly however, the iconic birds still face threats, as the disturbing news last week that another nest in Strathspey had its eggs removed showed.  Storms and changing weather patterns may also affect the birds' chance of migrating and breeding successfully.  

When the RSPB first started showing people ospreys in the largest remaining expanse of native pinewood by Loch Garten in 1959, the birds' eggs had just hatched for the first time since they originally established a nest there in 1954.  Thefts from the nest in the years in between had been common, and so the RSPB set up a round-the-clock nest watch and placed barbed wire around the tree in an effort to deter thieves.  Prior to that, the birds hadn't nested in the UK since 1916, largely due to sustained persecution in Victorian Times, and egg thefts from nests.  

Richard Thaxton, RSPB Scotland's site manager at Loch Garten said: "Fifty years ago, the whole country was stirred by the fact that these amazing birds had finally returned after extinction at the hands of man.  Even now they still face danger, with the sad news just last week that another nest in Strathspey had been robbed of its eggs by egg-thieves.  However, overall ospreys are happily now a conservation success story for Scotland, with over 200 pairs now nesting here each summer.  Fifty years on since they first returned, people are still inspired by seeing these magnificent birds and learning about their amazing lives, journeying back and forth from West Africa."

Roy Dennis, of the Highland Foundation for Wildlife, has worked with ospreys for fifty years and collates the breeding osprey data. He said that:

“In 2008, the osprey newsletter reported that Scotland’s osprey population passed 200 pairs for the first time in several hundred years, which is a real landmark. Fifty years ago, George Waterston, then Director of the RSPB in Scotland, enthused me with the story of the ospreys when he visited Fair Isle, where I was a warden.  It started my lifetime’s interest in ospreys and George’s original idea, to open the Loch Garten centre to the public, was probably one of the first ever steps towards what we now call eco-tourism.  It’s all a great tribute to him and to the early osprey pioneers. Last year, between 205 and 210 breeding pairs reared over 300 young ospreys in Scotland”

The decision to set up viewing facilities was greeted with much excitement, and visitors flocked to catch a glimpse of these rare birds as they flew around the nest.  At the time, the 'Centre' consisted of a rickety caravan in the forest, as photos show.  The nesting success was reported with great fanfare in the press, with enormous pride in the fact that these majestic travellers had graced Scotland with their presence again after their arduous 3000 mile migration from West Africa.

It's a far cry from what the site looks like today.  Ten years ago, a wonderful new visitor centre was built, with much more space for visitors and groups.  Over two million visitors have come from far and wide to visit the Centre over the years, with many travelling from all over the world to see not only the famous ospreys, but rare capercaillie, Scottish crossbill and red squirrel, which rely on the forest habitat for their home.   In the years since 1959, 141 eggs have been laid and 86 chicks have successfully fledged from Loch Garten, meaning that second, third and fourth generation ospreys from fifty years ago are visiting Scotland today - just as generations of human families have come to regard a visit to Loch Garten as a real pleasure.   "We've had some incredible ups and downs with the birds over the years, every season just seems to turn into a feathered soap opera." said Richard Thaxton. 

"A visit to the Osprey Centre has become a generational thing.  I've met many people who visited as children and who have since returned with their own children, their grandchildren and even their great grandchildren - such is the enduring appeal of the osprey story. There's a magnificent global following online too nowadays, and hopefully the Loch Garten Osprey Centre  will still be going strong 50 years further down the line."  

The nest viewing experience for visitors has also increasingly entered the 21st century.  In 1989 the first CCTV camera was installed close to the nest, allowing visitors to enjoy the intimacy of osprey family life.  In 2007, images from a smaller camera on the nest rim itself were available on the internet, and last year, live-streaming footage was available for the first time at www.rspb.org.uk/lochgartenlive, with the complementary blog written by Osprey Centre staff drawing a feverish regular following.  Last year for the first time, the Loch Garten chicks were fitted with solar-powered satellite tags to allow tracking of the birds' migration routes to Africa.  Sadly, only one chick from last year made it to West Africa for the winter, and is believed to have since perished, but we hope to repeat the tagging again this year.

 

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