Trust seeks views on reintroducing bird of prey to Suffolk

A pair of ospreys nesting

Could nesting ospreys return to Suffolk? - Credit: Andy Rouse

Conservationists say they are "very excited" as they seek feedback on a proposal to bring ospreys back to Suffolk — after nesting pairs died out.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust (SWT) is consulting on social media until Friday (March 19) on an idea to reintroduce the bird of prey to the county for the first time in more than a century.

Migratory ospreys are found in the county for short periods in spring and autumn — but the birds remain very loyal to their natal sites — or where they fledge. 

After years of persecution dating back as far as the Middle Ages and later the use of pesticides which caused problems to eggs, the bird — a type of hawk which exclusively feeds on fish — became functionally extinct from Britain until returning to Scotland naturally. There are now also ospreys to be found in Rutland Water, Poole Harbour and Wales following work by conservationists.

UK-born ospreys spend March to September in Britain and migrate to warmer climates over winter months, ending up in areas such as Spain, Portugal and West Africa.

There are currently no breeding pairs in East Anglia, but the trust is working with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation — which has pioneered the bird’s introduction elsewhere — a local landowner and Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust on a plan to revive the population here.

It wants the views of local people and businesses to assess the feasibility of the project with a view to applying for a licence from Natural England for its judgement on whether the plan can proceed.

Ospreys are slow to spread to new areas because the males in particular remain very faithful to the location from which they fledged, with its surroundings imprinted in its memory. To overcome this, successful “translocation” projects have moved juvenile ospreys a few weeks before they fledge to a new location so that it can be imprinted.

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Even then, it would be a long road back for the bird. Suffolk Wildlife Trust wants to run a five-year project which would help young ospreys to see Suffolk as their home. Even if successful it’s estimated it would take 20 to 25 years to even establish four or five pairs in the county. Over time, that could mean the species will be able to expand its range to Norfolk, Essex and the wider East Anglia region.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust chief executive Christine Luxton said: “Our proposal to bring breeding ospreys back to the east coast champions our ambition for a living landscape, where our rivers and coasts are thriving with wildlife. The osprey is a spectacular bird that was lost from southern England due to historical persecution and habitat loss. 

“While birds regularly feed on our Suffolk estuaries, they are yet to nest. We hope this wonderful bird will inspire everyone to play their part in cherishing the natural world. 

“Our proposals will need full consent from Natural England before we can proceed but we are very excited for the potential to make Suffolk and the east coast that little bit wilder.”

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