First off, circumstances are that this is inevitably a long blog. I hope you’ll stick with us and read through to the end.

We are all acutely aware here at Loch Garten, that feelings are running high concerning EJ and her (now three) chicks. We wouldn’t be human if they weren’t. Odin’s disappearance on Thursday has caused all sorts of heart-wrenching issues and we do understand the strength and depth of the reaction. We feel it too.

We have already stated that we will not intervene and supply fish to the nest. This is a decision we have given considerable thought to and have not taken lightly. There are many elements to our decision and I will do my best to explain each in turn.

Odin has been a wonderful partner and provider for EJ and their chicks over the years. We have always thought he was younger than EJ, but we don’t actually know. Maybe he’s older, maybe he’s not – he is at least twelve years old, probably older. The fact remains that his disappearance coincided with a much younger male arriving in the nest area – PP7, who we know to be four years old.  Though we can’t be sure as, we couldn’t see him, it’s not unreasonable to surmise that Odin saw PP7 and was scared off. As if this wasn’t enough, another two, possibly three intruding ospreys also arrived, adding to the pressure on Odin. Providing fish for a young family and defending the nest is an energy- sapping job, and it’s only natural that younger males will try and prove their worth by taking over a territory from an older male. This is the natural order of things – it happens in nature, all over the world, every day, and helps to ensure “survival of the fittest”.

Many people have asked why we are not intervening, when we did so in 2009. That year, RSPB intervened and briefly implemented supplementary feeding for the chicks. This was because when Odin returned to the nest, he was carrying a large amount of fishing line tangled on his feet and talons, preventing him from fishing and providing for the young. In this circumstance, which was a direct result of human carelessness causing Odin to be tangled, we decided to briefly provide fish. When Odin managed to free himself of the fishing line, had regained his strength and was able to resume fishing, we ceased providing fish immediately. RSPB has a policy of non-intervention in the breeding efforts of pairs of nesting birds, unless the potential failure of a nest is brought about directly by the actions of people on those individual birds.

The ospreys at Loch Garten are in their natural habitat. They are not animals in a zoo; they are wild and free, and susceptible to both the welcome and also the adverse changes in circumstances of life, as any other nesting birds of any other species would be in the wild anywhere else in the world. RSPB is extremely privileged to be able to provide a window into the ospreys’ lives, both at the Osprey Centre and through the live webcam; to share with the public the wonder of nature. That’s part of the magic, part of the draw, part of the magnetism of this nest. We are privileged observers of nature in all its glory. And it IS a privilege, but it’s not one to be taken lightly. We believe that to intervene would be to diminish the reality of nature as it is. The birds are not captive or to be pampered and cosseted at our will.

People have also asked: ‘Why does the RSPB promote feeding birds in the garden, yet are unwilling to feed the osprey chicks?’  As many of you will be aware, ospreys are a Schedule 1 breeding bird.  Our presumption, across our involvement with these birds, is against disturbing them.  If we were to intervene here, it would involve at least daily delivery of food to the nest, disturbing these birds (EJ, her chicks, any other nearby ospreys) to an extent that will distort their natural behaviour, and potentially influence whether a new male will join EJ – we have no right to influence those interactions; we want these birds to live as wild and free as possible.  In your garden, your intervention is not causing disturbance, the birds choose to come to your garden and to take the food that you put out for them; they are engaging on their terms.  

When RSPB feed red kites at feeding stations, this is supplementary feeding, in that only a small amount is put out – a fraction of their needs - and the kites still have to find the majority of their own food. It is not artificially supporting the species and is done purely as a people engagement tool. Red kites have been, and still are, subject to persecution, and the feeding stations exist to garner public support for these wonderful raptors and to raise awareness of their plight in the face of ongoing persecution. This type of feeding is not supporting individual pairs of breeding birds and would not affect the chances of an individual pair of kites successfully rearing young.

Let’s for a moment consider the scenario if we did provide fish for EJ and the chicks and Odin doesn’t return. We are then in the position of having to continue to provide food for them, in effect, turning this osprey family into captive-bred birds. That is not what Loch Garten, Abernethy or the RSPB is about. We are not an animal welfare organisation; we don’t employ vets and we don’t have facilities to actively care for wild birds. Our work is about making the world and natural environment as good as it can be, so the circumstances for native, wild animals to raise their young and give them the very best chance of success are also as good as they can be.

Some of you have expressed concern that this might mean the end of EJ. We, as much as anyone, hold EJ dear. She is a true Loch Garten legend and every year when she returns, our hearts are lifted and our wonder increased. She’s amazing, and beautiful and an awesome mum. But she’s wild – she has led a wild life, free to be herself and susceptible to the vagaries of life, as are we all. We have no reason to believe that this will be the end of EJ – if no osprey provides fish for her, eventually her self-preservation instinct will kick in and she will go off and hunt for herself. But if it does transpire that this is the last breeding season for EJ, gut-wrenching though her natural demise would be, it would be even worse to try and molly-coddle her and take away her dignity as a wild and much-loved bird. She deserves better than that.

Some of you have expressed the opinion that we already intervene in the Loch Garten ospreys’ lives. The ospreys have been coming to this site since the late 1950’s. No one forces them to come here, they come of their own, wild, free-will. Once they are here, they are left to their own devices and apart from ringing, which happens at birds’ nests across the globe in order to gain scientific data, they have no interaction with humans at all. All we do is watch and wonder. We do not intervene.

I have also read that some people think we exploit the ospreys for our own gain and therefore we “owe” it to them to help.   Please think back to the origins of the Osprey Centre:  it was George Waterston’s pioneering vision in 1959, that this was an opportunity to share the wonder of these birds with the public, and that their future in Britain relied on public awareness and support; the real art is in achieving this engagement without detriment to the birds themselves.  These have been our guiding principles over the last half a century; they are fundamental to all that we do.   Anyone who has been to the Centre and has met our wonderfully professional team, will know that showing people wildlife comes at a financial cost, and yes, it is an important place for us to recruit new members, and to build support for the organisation.  It’s also an important place for members to appreciate what their contribution helps us to deliver.  These are first and foremost the drivers for the Centre. In summary, our aim is to share passion and to garner support for the natural world, not to make money. Sure, if the Osprey Centre was just about making money and “exploiting” the ospreys, we’d have been down the fishmongers quicker than you could say “brown trout”.

If I’m totally honest with you, when thinking through our non-intervention policy, we have asked ourselves again and again if we’re doing the right thing. But I know that this is because emotions are running high, and we haven’t slept much and like all of you, we have a human instinct to want to protect and care for the vulnerable. However, in the cold light of day, we know that this is the right decision for these wild and glorious ospreys. Whilst some may think this is borne of a heartless and cold attitude, we would disagree. We actually believe our non-intervention decision affords the birds the respect and dignity they deserve to face the world on their own terms. Sometimes nature is hard to watch and it doesn’t always work out. This can be difficult to witness and accept. We share in everyone else’s disappointment and sadness when that happens, we really do, but we feel that human intervention in a natural process is not the correct course of action, morally or scientifically.

We understand that our decision will upset some people and that is indeed regrettable. Unfortunately we cannot make everyone happy, but I do hope that those who don’t agree with our decision may at least understand our reasoning behind it.

We at the Osprey Centre would like to thank the many people who have sent us words of support and kindness. Keep hoping.