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Loch Garten osprey centre's proud history is aired

By Gavin Musgrove

Visitors to RSPB Scotland’s Loch Garten Osprey Centre will be able to step back in time this summer and discover how a nest deep within the Abernethy forest changed the fortunes of the magificent bird in the UK.

The attraction by Boat of Garten is hosting a 60th birthday exhibition and showcases the world-famous Operation Osprey project and some of the nature heroes who helped make it all possible.

After years of persecution, ospreys became extinct in the UK in the 20th Century.

A family enjoying the Osprey Centre at Loch Garten Photo: Helen Pugh (rspb-images.com)
A family enjoying the Osprey Centre at Loch Garten Photo: Helen Pugh (rspb-images.com)

Then, in 1954, a pair nested near the shores of Loch Garten and the hopes of nature conservationists and bird enthusiasts were ignited.

There followed three years of frustration, when the birds failed to breed, and it was suspected that egg collectors had raided the nest for the precious eggs.

In 1958, George Waterston, then director of RSPB Scotland, set up 24-hour surveillance of the nest near Loch Garten.

This was to become known as ‘Operation Osprey’, but efforts were initially thwarted when one misty night in May, a daring egg-thief once again raided the nest of its three osprey eggs, replacing them with hen eggs.

Despite the nest-watchers giving chase, the culprit was never found.

The following year a renewed determination in the Operation Osprey set-up and thanks to another round the clock nest watch, the Loch Garten ospreys successfully hatched three chicks.

It was then that Mr Waterston persuaded his colleagues that opening up the nest to public viewing, rather than keeping it secret, would be the best way to ensure the future survival of breeding ospreys in the UK.

The Osprey Camp including Frank Hamilton RSPB Scotland Director for 15 years until his retirement in 1994 (RSPB Images)
The Osprey Camp including Frank Hamilton RSPB Scotland Director for 15 years until his retirement in 1994 (RSPB Images)

In this way, public awareness and support would grow and the ospreys would benefit from greater protection.

Ever since, RSPB Scotland has been working, with the help of volunteers, to protect these birds and all the other amazing wildlife that calls the area home.

From just one breeding pair at Loch Garten in the 1950s, there are now around 250 breeding pairs across the UK.

Jess Tomes, Loch Garten's visitor operations and site manager, said: “The story of the Loch Garten ospreys is ultimately a story of triumph over adversity and one which shows how determination and resilience can win the day in the end.

"The heroes of the 1950s Operation Osprey had these qualities in spades and today, people all over the country can see ospreys, thanks to their passion and commitment.

"It really is an uplifting, conservation success story”.

The exhibition is displayed in an old-style caravan to commemorate the original 1950s ‘osprey camp’, where volunteers and staff stayed in tents and dined in a caravan.

There are photographs, original documents, and reproduction artefacts on display, including barbed wire used to protect the 1959 nest tree, and a fake osprey egg - a reproduction of the chicken egg daubed in boot polish from the 1958 nest raid.

The exhibition is on display in the Loch Garten Osprey Centre until the first Sunday in September. It comes for the first time in many years that the nest is empty following the suspected death of the prolific female bird EJ.

The visitor centre is open daily from 10am – 6pm.

Price: Normal entry fee applies. RSPB members free of charge. Adult non-members £5, child non-members £2, student & concession non-members £3, family (two adults and four children) £10

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