Yorkshire’s first breeding ospreys for centuries ‘nothing short of a miracle’

Sacha Dench, known as ‘the human swan’, has visited the nesting site on the Bolton Castle estate in Wensleydale.

05 August 2022

The establishment of the first breeding pair of ospreys in Yorkshire for hundreds of years “is nothing short of a miracle”, according to a conservationist.

The young adult pair, who have made their home on the Bolton Castle estate in Wensleydale, have produced two chicks – a male and a female.

Sacha Dench, known as “the human swan” for her journey following Bewick’s swans from Arctic Russia to the UK by paramotor, was visiting the nesting site in the Yorkshire Dales as part of her Flight Of The Osprey expedition, which is tracking the birds’ migration route from Scotland to Africa.

Sacha Dench visiting a nesting site
Sacha Dench visiting a nesting site in the Yorkshire Dales (New Hope/Conservation Without Borders/PA)

She met Tom Orde-Powlett, son of Lord Bolton, and others who have helped create the Yorkshire Dales nesting site.

Ms Dench said: “I am incredibly honoured to be able to visit the very first osprey breeding pair in Yorkshire. What Tom and his colleagues have achieved is nothing short of a miracle.

“Our expedition is designed to shine a light on some of the fantastic efforts organisations and individuals like Tom are making to address the challenges faced by ospreys and other migratory birds.”

Ospreys have not been recorded breeding in Yorkshire since records began in 1800 and were generally extinct in the UK until returning initially to remote parts of Scotland from Scandinavia in the 1950s.

Mr Orde-Powlett said one of his gamekeepers noticed two ospreys together in the area and this gave him the confidence that there could be a pair establishing a territory.

With the help of Mike Thornley, of Thornley Wildlife Trust, and his river keeper and former tree surgeon Brian Towers, two platforms were constructed and the birds built a nest on one.

Mike Thornley building a platform on Bolton Castle Estate
Mike Thornley building a platform on Bolton Castle Estate (Mike Thornley/PA)

The two chicks hatched in mid-June and have now been ringed.

The mother of the new chicks is known as Blue KS1 and hatched at Glaslyn in Wales in 2018, but her mate is unringed.

KS1’s mother is known as Mrs G and has been returning to Wales since 2004.

Her father, known as Aran, has been with Mrs G since 2012. It is believed that this is the first of Aran’s offspring to breed.

Mr Orde-Powlett said he has seen ospreys in the area for 20 years but in 2019 he spotted a pair and decided to stock to stock two ponds.

“We were overjoyed when they eventually built a nest on one of our platforms and we saw the hen bird apparently sitting on something – we hoped an egg – in May, which would mean potential hatching in mid-June,” he said.

“One of our keepers has taken a keen interest and has been checking the nest every day of incubation.”

Brian Towers building a nest platform
Brian Towers building a nest platform on Bolton Castle Estate (Mike Thornley/PA)

Mr Orde-Powlett added: “We were pretty confident of one chick but when we went to ring them we were thrilled to discover two, one of each sex.”

Simon Warwick, director of the Lower Ure Conservation Trust, said it appears that the adult male comes south to Nosterfield Nature Reserve, near Masham, most days to fish for chub.

“All our research indicates that this pair is the first in Yorkshire in historic times – incredibly exciting and hopefully the beginning of a Yorkshire dynasty,” he said.

The Flight Of The Osprey expedition is Ms Dench’s first since being involved in a mid-air collision which claimed the life of her cameraman, Dan Burton.

She has said her trip will be dedicated to her late colleague as much as it is for conservation.

Ms Dench survived the crash but was left with life-changing injuries.

Now, only months out of hospital, the Australian-born biologist, who still has one of her legs in a metal brace and requires crutches to walk, set off on the Flight Of The Osprey expedition on Monday.

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