As It Happens

For the 1st time in centuries, an osprey has laid eggs in southern England

When Britney Maxted first learned that an osprey had laid an egg in Dorset, she could barely believe it.

The once-common birds were hunted nearly to extinction by the 1800s before modern conservation efforts

A female osprey known as CJ7 perches on her nest in Dorset, England. The soon-to-be momma is currently incubating new eggs, which conservation groups say are the first produced in southern England in 200 years. (Birds of Poole Harbour)

Story Transcript

When Britney Maxted learned that an osprey had finally laid eggs in Dorset, she could barely believe it.

That's because the event marks the first time that a pair of ospreys has attempted to breed in southern England in nearly 200 years, according to the conservationists who have been working for years to make this moment possible. 

"To be honest, it was mind-blowing," Maxted, the osprey project manager for Birds of Poole Harbour, told As It Happens guest host Dave Seglins.

"We've had a lot of highs and lows of the project, so to actually see two birds mating on a nest in southern England, it just took our breath [away], to be honest." 

The momma bird, CJ7, and her mate, 022, welcomed their first egg into the world on Saturday, and then a second on Tuesday in their nest at a secret location in Poole Harbour, Dorset. Folks can watch the feathered family 24/7 on the Birds of Poole Harbour's YouTube livestream.

Watch: A rare osprey nest in southern England:

Ospreys were once common across western Europe, but by the early 1800s, the birds of prey had been hunted to near extinction in the region.

At first, Maxted says they were targeted because they exclusively eat fish and would often hunt them from privately owned ponds. But as they became more rare, she says people began to hunt them as trophies. Even their eggs were popular among collectors. 

But the birds have made an incredible comeback in Europe. Thanks to decades of conservation efforts, there is now a thriving population of them in Scotland. And thanks to a 1990s conservation program, they have also started breeding in Rutland Water in the Midlands, England.

"The only reason that these birds aren't here is because of human actions," Maxted said. "We believe that it should be human actions that bring them back."

CJ7 and her mate 022 watch over their nest. (Birds of Poole Harbour)

These latest eggs are the culmination of about seven years of work by Birds of Poole Harbour and the Roy Dennis Foundation, which have been working to bring the birds back to southern England.

They use a technique called translocation. They take young birds from healthy populations, like in Scotland, and relocate them to new areas, like Poole Harbour, in the hopes that they'll imprint on the environment and eventually return to mate.

CJ7 was born in Rutland Waters in 2015, and first visited Poole Harbour in 2017. While she was there, she saw eight young osprey, which had been released as part of the translocation project.

"This seems to have had a huge, huge influence on her. So every single summer since then, she has come back to Poole Harbour in an attempt to breed herself," Maxted said. "She believes there's a healthy population of ospreys somewhere here, and she wants to get in on that."

She finally struck gold last spring when she met 022. The pair took off together to spend the winter in West Africa, and returned to Poole Harbour to breed in the spring. 

"The male, he is a very special bird to me actually, because I was one of the people involved in helping to actually raise him as a young bird," Maxted said.

Britney Maxted is the osprey project manager with charity conservation group Birds of Poole Harbour. (Submitted by Britney Maxted)

The mother bird is seven years old, while her mate is just three. Both are first-time parents.

"In terms of his parenting skills thus far, I'll be honest, he's got a little bit of a way to go," Maxted said with a laugh.

"Over the coming days and weeks, we're hoping he might start chipping in with the incubation of the eggs and hopefully he'll do an amazing job with that. But so far, he has been brilliant in provisioning her while she's been sat on the nest. So he's been bringing all of her fish for her."

As for CJ7, Maxted says she's doing "a fabulous job" incubating her two eggs.

"We're incredibly proud of both of them," she said.

If all goes well, the first egg should hatch in early May or June, she said, and the other will follow soon after. She also suspects CJ7 might lay a third egg soon, as ospreys tend to breed in threes.

"Even to have got to this stage, we are just so thrilled," she said. "No matter what happens for the rest of the season, we are just so, so happy with this result and we look forward to having many more successes like this."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kate McGillivray. 

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