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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 June, 2005, 06:02 GMT 07:02 UK
Dark origins of Lakeland ospreys
By James Lynn
BBC News

Tens of thousands of people flocking to watch a mating pair of birds have helped revitalise Cumbria's ailing tourist industry.

Osprey perched on branch
Ospreys were hunted to extinction in 19th Century England.

Four years ago England was in the grip of foot-and-mouth disease which saw the slaughter of millions of animals.

At its height in April 2001, the Lake District was one of the worst hit areas with more than 3,000 farmers losing livestock worth more than 200m.

Restrictions were imposed to halt the spread of the disease and the countryside became almost a no-go area.

But in the midst of all the suffering a small project was under way which helped to save tourism in Cumbria.

A team of volunteers from the RSPB, the Forestry Commission and the Lake District National Park Authority joined forces to help repopulate the county and ultimately England, with a once common bird of prey - the osprey.

The team had already had its first success after a pair of the birds nested on a purpose-built platform in the forest overlooking Lake Bassenthwaite.

Site made public

The decision was made to go public with the location of the nest in April of that year, and a viewpoint was set up across the lake at Dodd Wood.

Crucially, it was not constructed on farmland, which meant visitors were allowed to come and go freely.

By the end of the season in August more than 100,000 people had flocked to see the site.

View from Dodd Wood across Lake Bassenthwaite
Over 100,000 people flocked to Dodd Wood in its first year.

According to project member, Jill Damment, the effect on the devastated local economy was phenomenal.

She recalls: "It's fair to say that those two ospreys saved a lot of businesses. Depression in the area was high and hundreds of guesthouses were closing down because of the restrictions on visitors.

"The cafe at the bottom of the hill hadn't seen a single customer in two months, but as soon as the osprey project took off they were inundated."

That year, the birds mated successfully, the first chick hatched and was raised and all three migrated to Africa for the winter.

As is usual for young ospreys, the first chick never returned to the nest at Bassenthwaite, but the mating pair did - and have since raised seven more chicks.

Adam Hansen works with the osprey project at its second site, the nearby Whinlatter Visitor Centre, where live images from the osprey nest are beamed to a large-screen television.

Whinlatter Visitors Centre
Whinlatter boasts a live webcam link to the osprey's nest.

He says hopes are high that a second pair will soon nest in the region.

"It's uncommon for the female chicks to ever return to the region, but hopefully one of the males will soon come back and attract a mate.

"A similar project in Scotland has been a resounding success and they now have 150 nesting pairs.

"We've probably got this pair for a maximum of nine more years. By then we're hoping that some of the males will have returned.

"They usually spend two to three years in Africa so we're constantly on the lookout for new arrivals."

And the source of such fresh blood could be quite close to home, thanks to a colony of ospreys just over the Scottish border in Dumfries and Galloway.

Fingers crossed, say the birdwatchers, for this groundbreaking conservation project, born in the shadow of foot-and-mouth disease.


SEE ALSO:
Second chick for famous ospreys
31 May 05 |  Cumbria
Chick joy for rare birds of prey
28 May 05 |  Cumbria
Early birds catch osprey egg joy
25 Apr 05 |  Cumbria


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