First osprey chicks recorded in Yorkshire since 1800 hatch at Wensleydale's Bolton Castle Estate in landowner's 'dream come true'

A miracle of conservation is revealed as the first osprey chicks in history are born in Yorkshire.

The tiny fledglings, just a few weeks old, hatched in June at the Bolton Castle Estate near Leyburn in Wensleydale.

Extinct in the UK until the 1950s, there are no accounts of ospreys ever breeding in Yorkshire since records began back in 1800.

As conservationist Sacha Dench, leading the Flight of the Osprey expedition, visited the site yesterday to meet people involved, the first images of the adult raptors were revealed.

Ospreys at Bolton Castle Estate. Image: Mike Thornley

To Tom Orde-Powlett, son of Lord Bolton and business owner of the Bolton Estate, this is a “pipe dream” come true.

As a boy he had hoped for otters and salmon to one day return to the estate’s rivers, as they long since have.

Now, after he filled ponds with trout to entice a young breeding pair, and with platforms built ready for them to nest, a male and a female osprey chick have hatched.

“It’s just incredible. I’m very, very emotional, and I wasn’t expecting to be,” he said. “When we went to ring them, bringing them down from the nest, I had my son with me. Seeing the chicks, next to him, there were tears.

Brian Towers, building the nest platform.

"There’s a lot of doom and gloom in conservation. Sometimes successes are overlooked,” he added.

“I feel incredibly lucky as well. There are other people who have been working with ospreys, trying to get them to nest, and who are probably more deserving.

"The important thing is they are here in Yorkshire. I can be sitting having a coffee and one flies past with a fish.”

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An osprey hunting at Bolton Castle Estate. Image: Mike Thornley

The osprey was once a common sight across Europe, but was driven to extinction in Britain in the 1800s. In recent years, it has been trying to make a comeback, and it is a criminal offence to approach or disturb nesting ospreys to encourage their protection.

At the Bolton Castle Estate, said Mr Orde-Powlett, there have been sightings since the early 2000s.

Three years ago, a gamekeeper spotted a pair, giving him confidence they were seeking a territory.

First he stocked two ponds with trout, to entice them to stay. Then, with Mike Thornley of Thornley Wildlife Trust and river keeper Brian Towers, two platforms were built.

Ospreys at Bolton Castle Estate. Image: Mike Thornley


Early this year the raptors were seen laying low in a nest, sparking hopes of an egg, with a hatching day set for June 13.

It wasn’t without drama - the male was spotted by a farmer on his rounds trailing netting that morning, but former tree surgeon Mr Towers was able to check the all clear.

“It was an emotional rollercoaster - you really can’t count your eggs before they hatch,” said Mr Orde-Powlett.

Then it came time to ring the chicks, an important measure for conservation.

“We felt certain that one had hatched, we could see a little head bobbing up,” he said. “Then the good news, there were two.

Mike Thornley, building the nest platform.

“I’m a passionate believer that farmers, and gamekeepers and estate workers can deliver great conservation if given the opportunity,” he added.

“That doesn’t have to be expensive practice. It’s people - taking the time to check on the nest every day or a farmer’s observations or the river keeper who is passionate about nature recovery. All of these people have done it out of the kindness of their heart. That’s something to be celebrated.”


Conservationist Sacha Dench, visiting the Bolton Castle Estate today to meet those who have been involved in this grassroots project, said it was "nothing short of a miracle".

Ms Dench is founder of Conservation Without Borders and ambassador for the UN’s Convention on Migratory Species, and is leading an expedition called the Flight of the Osprey, tracking the birds' migration route from Scotland to Africa.

She said: "This sign of the osprey's comeback is a really positive message for the whole country of what can be done when lots of people collaborate to bring nature back.

"It doesn't take much for us to do something. This example, with a landowner seeing a pair prospecting for a new site - and then building it for them - is exactly the kind of thinking we need."

Founding of a 'Yorkshire dynasty'

The new chicks are known as 7C3 and 7C4, with Mr Orde-Powlett, our of respect, reluctant to give a name to wild creatures. The chicks’ mother is known as Blue KS1 and hatched at Glaslyn in Wales in 2018, while her mate is un-ringed. 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.

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.


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Brian Towers, building the nest platform.
Ospreys at Bolton Castle Estate. Image: Mike Thornley
An osprey flying at Bolton Castle Estate. Image: Mike Thornley