Ospreys need helping hand from humans to expand UK range

Posted by pt91 at Sep 12, 2011 11:20 AM |
University of Leicester doctoral student to present findings
Ospreys need helping hand from humans to expand UK range

A colour-ringed Osprey. Credit: John Wright

Issued by British Ecological Society on 12 September 2011

Ospreys will expand to southern Britain much faster if they are given a helping hand from humans, researchers will tell the British Ecological Society's Annual Meeting this week. Their conclusions come from a long-term study of ringed ospreys breeding in north-east Scotland, which found they have a strong tendency to return to breed close to where they hatched.

Once common throughout the UK, the osprey was driven to near extinction by Victorian egg collectors during the 19th century. It was not until the protection of a breeding pair of ospreys in the 1950s at Loch Garten in Scotland that a slow increase in numbers began, and there are now more than 230 breeding pairs of the iconic fish-eating bird of prey.

But despite the best efforts of conservationists, who have at times guarded osprey nests round the clock to protect them from egg thieves, the ospreys have been slow to expand to new areas. Now, new data helps explains why this is the case.

For the past 40 years, Roy Dennis of the Highland Foundation for Wildlife has colour-ringed osprey chicks in the Scottish Highlands, allowing ecologists to keep tabs on breeding adults.

By comparing the breeding locations of around 100 ospreys in relation to where they fledged, researchers from the University of Leicester and the Rutland Osprey Project, working alongside Mr Dennis, have shown that most ospreys return to breed close to where they hatched.

According to Tim Mackrill of the Rutland Osprey Project and a PhD student in the Department of Biology at the University of Leicester: “Our analysis of colour-ringed individuals breeding in north-east Scotland and other parts of the UK showed most birds exhibited strong natal philopatry, returning to breed close to the site where they were reared. This has resulted in the development of ‘loose colonies’ of 10-20 pairs in distinct geographical areas and made the expansion to new areas slow. Despite this general trend some individuals, usually females, nest further from their natal site. Such individuals are important in the development of new colonies.”

As well as explaining why ospreys in the UK have been slow to spread to new areas despite large amounts of available habitat, the results of this long-term study suggest the birds need a helping hand from humans. This has been done at Rutland Water in central England, where 64 osprey chicks brought from Scotland between 1996 and 2001 are now breeding successfully.

“This study shows that moving osprey chicks from Scotland is the quickest way to restore the birds to other parts of southern Britain – natural re-colonisation will take much longer given the strong natal philopatry,” Mr Mackrill says.

Tim Mackrill will present his full findings at 12:45 on Monday 12 September 2011 to the British Ecological Society’s Annual Meeting at the University of Sheffield.

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Notes for editors

1. For further information and photographs please contact Tim Mackrill, Rutland Osprey Project, mob: 07739 314794, email: TimMackrill@rutlandwater.org.uk.

2. The British Ecological Society’s Annual Meeting takes place from 12-14 September 2011 at the University of Sheffield. Press passes and further information are available from Becky Allen, Press Officer, British Ecological Society, mob: 07949 804317, email: beckyallen@ntlworld.com.

3. A full programme for the meeting is available at www.britishecologicalsociety.org/meetings/current_future_meetings/2011_annual_meeting/index.php.

4. Ospreys are iconic birds of prey, found on every continent bar Antarctica. They live in a variety of habitats, typically near both salt and freshwater, and are supreme fishers. For more information on the Rutland Osprey Project, visit www.ospreys.org.uk. Further information on the Highland Foundation for Wildlife is available at www.roydennis.org.

5. The British Ecological Society is a learned society, a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee. Established in 1913 by academics to promote and foster the study of ecology in its widest sense, the Society has 4,000 members in the UK and abroad. Further information is available at www.britishecologicalsociety.org.

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