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Nest 1a chicks 2018 credit Forestry Commission England

Photo credit: Forestry Commission England

Ospreys have now been stalking the fish of Kielder, on the doorstep of Northumberland National Park, for 10 years. Katy Barke of the Northumberland Wildlife Trust takes a look…. #summerofbeauty

The return of ospreys to Kielder is one of our most exciting and successful conservation stories. Although ospreys are found worldwide, in the UK they are still relatively scarce with fewer than 300 breeding pairs. In England, ospreys breed only in Cumbria, Kielder (both natural re-colonisations) and Rutland Water (a successful translocation project).

2018 marks the tenth year that ospreys have bred at Kielder Water & Forest Park, situated on the doorstep of the Northumberland National Park.

Historically, ospreys were distributed widely throughout Britain, however heavy persecution and egg collection in the 19th and 20th centuries resulted in dramatic population declines. They became extinct as a breeding bird in England by 1840 and persisted in Scotland only until 1916, although they still occurred as passage migrants. Ospreys remained functionally extinct in Britain until 1954, when they re-colonised naturally (most likely from Scandinavia) at Loch Garten, Abernethy Forest Reserve, Scotland.

For many years, Kielder has been a regular stopping point for ospreys migrating to and from their breeding grounds in Scotland. In 2006, a young male was seen to be summering in the local area, prompting the Forestry Commission to establish nesting platforms at various suitable points within the Kielder Forest area. In 2008, one of the platforms was moved and additionally splattered with white paint to simulate osprey droppings from recent use. In 2009, a platform was occupied by an unringed pair of ospreys who raised three chicks. These were the first ospreys to breed in Northumberland for around 200 years. Since 2016, Kielder has been home to four active osprey nests.

Once the birds had established themselves, it was clear that we needed to share them with visitors. For a number of years, Northumberland Wildlife Trust have run Osprey Watch from Northumbrian Water’s Kielder Waterside, a busy and popular family holiday park on the edge of Kielder Water. Osprey Watch is almost entirely volunteer led. Typically, there will be three volunteers working on an Osprey Watch day, showing visitors nest 1A through the scopes and manning the cabin with live video streams from three of the nests to further explain the lives and stories of these fantastic birds.

The Heritage Lottery Funded Living Wild at Kielder project has enabled us to employ a seasonal osprey assistant in 2017 and 2018. This has allowed us to extend the season, offering extra days of Osprey Watch and additional family activities. Visitor numbers more than doubled in 2017, compared to the previous year. One of the best things about the location of our Osprey Watch is that a large proportion of our visitors are not people who would consider themselves to be particularly interested in wildlife or birdwatching, but who have come over to see what we’re all about as part of their day out at Kielder Waterside. It’s always a treat to see families learning and enjoying themselves with our passionate volunteers, and who knows what kind of spark we may be setting off in the young people who get to see these magnificent animals for the first time…

Calvert Trust wildlife and osprey cruise copyright Neil Denham (3)

Photo credit: Neil Denham

To further expand the osprey watching opportunities at Kielder, we’ve teamed up with Calvert Trust Kielder, which is a wonderful charity that challenge disability through outdoor adventure activities. Through the summer, Calvert Trust Kielder offers wildlife and osprey cruises for visitors, and our volunteers act as guides on the boat. Although it can’t ever be guaranteed, there is a high success rate for these cruises seeing ospreys flying overhead, and sometimes fishing in the inlets of the reservoir. £3 from each ticket sold is donated to Osprey Watch, to help make it sustainable. Calvert Trust Kielder has also offered us invaluable advice in constructing a platform at the Osprey Watch cabin and adapting a tripod to make sure that wheelchair users are able to use the scopes to view the birds on the nest.

2017 saw a landmark achievement for the Kielder ospreys, with the 50th chick fledging since the ospreys recolonised. Chicks from previous years have been seen at several locations in the UK, including the Lake District, Balgavies Loch, Geltsdale and Derwent Reservoir, which is great news for the further recovery of the osprey in the UK.

Kielder Osprey Watch is a partnership betweenKielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Forestry Commission, Northumbrian WaterandCalvert Trust Kielder. To keep up to date with our ospreys, visit the blog at

This first appeared on the Campaign for National Parks blog as part of their #summerofbeauty campaign.

Goodness, since our last blog, we have released a further 160 water voles back into Kielder Water & Forest Park!  This time they went into Bellingburn on the North shore of the reservoir where they are thriving.  We also put some in Catcleugh field next to Kielder Campsite and folk are seeing them in the campsite which is great!

We have spent many hours surveying, to get an understanding of where the water voles are thriving and spreading.  We’ve discovered that they are thriving along Plashetts, and Wainhope along the north of the reservoir, and although we’re still seeing evidence of their presence, they don’t appear to be doing quite so well up at Scaup and Kielder burn, could this be due to the horrific winter and the high altitude, or is the habitat not quite right for them?  We’re not too sure; more than likely a combination of both factors.

Another release is looming, approximately 300 voles will head up in August.  As well as planning our next release, we’re also preparing for our first national water vole conference to be held in Hexham Abbey on 11th and 12th October.  We are also hoping to trap more voles for our project this autumn.  And it’s time for us to start designing and installing a ratty trail and put up some interpretation.

Phew, that’s it for another month!

Graham & Kelly

Photo No 3

By Katy Barke

Imagine standing in one of the wildest landscapes in England, looking up the valley and seeing Scots pine and native woodland stretching into the distance along a meandering burn. Black grouse forage below and golden eagles soar above…

This is the future we see for the land along the Scaup Burn at Kielderhead, stretching up to the Whitelee Nature Reserve and on towards the border.

I’m really excited to tell you all about a new project that we’re running in partnership with the Forestry Commission and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund – the Kielderhead Wildwood. This is the first step of an ambitious vision to restore an area of native upland woodland about 5 miles northeast of Kielder village, along the Scaup Burn. As one of the most remote places in Britain, it is the ideal location for such a project.

Much of our upland woodland has been lost due to land-use change over millennia. Pollen analysis show that thousands of years ago a diverse woodland was supported in the area. The vision of Kielderhead Wildwood is to bring all this back, restoring natural processes and rebuilding a diverse and healthy ecosystem that will help with carbon storage and water quality. Over the next 5 years, my colleagues and our amazing volunteers will be planting tree species that we know used to be here. These include alder, birch, elm and willow, as well as Scots pine, of which a few ancient remnant trees are believed to have survived. By using local seed stock and giving nature a helping hand we will increase biodiversity and build a really resilient ecosystem. As the woodland matures, it will provide a home for declining, red-list upland bird species such as dunnock, mistle thrush, song thrush, tree pipit, woodcock and black grouse.Photo No 1

For me, this is an exciting opportunity to restore a habitat that was lost long ago because of human induced changes in the landscape. Visiting the site provides a wonderful sense of wildness and remoteness with the only sounds those of birdsong carried on the breeze and the trickling burn nearby. You can visit the site by walking out from Kielder Castle, but it’s quite a challenging hike. If you’d like to visit, keep your eyes on our website to see of any future guided visits, or better still take part in the project by volunteering and help to plant some of those trees yourself!

201609 Alder Sept 2016This is just the start of our long term vision at Kielderhead Wildwood and I can’t wait to visit again in 20 years time to see the huge impact this project will have had on both the landscape and wildlife that can be found there. Kielder is an exciting place to work because of the sheer scale of the place. Home to the biggest man-made lake in northern Europe, the largest working forest in England and Europe’s largest expanse of protected night sky, Kielder truly is a spectacular place.

 Katy Barke is Kielder Living Landscape Manager, Northumberland Wildlife Trust

Osprey watch blogI am Ellie Kent and it’s my first season here as the Osprey Watch Assistant at Kielder. I’ll be the first to admit I have a great job and everything has kicked off to a cracking start! Even the weather and the midges have been on their best behaviour (don’t worry- I have been warned this won’t last).

Not only do I get to spend all day outside in the sunshine (most days) watching oyster catchers, chaffinches and swallows skipping around Kielder Waterside, but I get to meet people from all over the country and the world as well.

I get to work with a fantastic group of volunteers who have given me an encyclopaedia of osprey knowledge and facts, handy Osprey Watch tips (such as how not to break the cupboard locks…) and the odd biscuit and coffee to keep my tummy and hands warm – even though I swear it has been sunny.

And not to mention the 4 entertaining osprey pairs (soon to be parents), which I can watch all day in the cosy cabin, newly furnished with fancy bench cushions.

Of course, being the ‘newbie’ something ridiculous had to happen. It turned out that ‘handy Osprey Watch tips’ from the volunteers didn’t necessarily nestle in my brain and a cupboard lock was accidentally broken, meaning we lost access to the necessary equipment.

There is no problem that a litter picker and a little motivation (biscuits) can’t solve. I don’t want to say I saved the day, but if that bag hadn’t been there to hold up the lid I could have easily lost an arm…

All in all I have had a great introduction to my new job and a wonderful start to the 2018 season of Osprey Watch. The visitors are happy, the ospreys are laying eggs, the volunteers are spreading wisdom and I’m in a cupboard eating biscuits.

We have visitors who journey over land and sea to see us, visitors who have stumbled across us after a lunch at the pub, real wildlife wise-guys and eager nature novices. We welcome all at Osprey Watch and we’d love you to come visit this season.

Hello! My name is Kelly Hollings and I am lucky enough to be one of the project officers, working alongside Graham Holyoak and a super team of volunteers for a project called Restoring Ratty. We are based at Kielder Castle, if you have any questions about this blog, please call us on 01434 250898.

In the summer of 2016, ‘Restoring Ratty,’ was born; a five year partnership project aimed to re-introduce water voles back into Kielder, thanks to a grant of £421,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Our partners are Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Forestry Commission and Tyne Rivers Trust.

We are coming to the end of our first year; have learnt lots on the way, and have received so much support. Most importantly we have released 560 water voles back into Kielder on the upper catchment tributaries of the Kielder Burn and North Tyne above Kielder Reservoir.

Our first task was to assist Ecologists from Derek Gow’s consultancy, Roisin Campbell-Palmer and Ben Wright to catch Water Voles from the North Pennines to breed from for our project. Consent was given to do this from Natural England and the North Pennines AONB. Only voles under 160 grams were taken as these were juveniles born in the very last litter and had a slim chance of surviving through the winter. We caught 16 voles in total from the North Pennines. Derek Gow already had some Water voles from a re-introduction project in Scotland taking the total up to 40 water voles to breed from. It is important to only breed from water voles in the North East and Scotland in order to maintain the correct genetic haplotypes.

The Water voles spent the winter at Derek Gow’s consultancy in Devon and were paired up in March. The first young were born in late April. And in June 320 young water voles bred in captivity by Derek Gow were brought up to Kielder Water & Forest Park to be released! A huge thank you goes to all who helped us, especially our volunteers and staff from Forestry Commission and Tyne Rivers Trust. We undertook another release in August and will be repeating this for the next 2 years.

20 years ago water voles were common sights in Kielder, but were sadly wiped out by the American mink released from a local fur farm. Forestry Commission Rangers spent years trapping mink and we can now declare that Kielder is mink free and safe for the water vole’s return

Our much valued volunteers still head out into the forest twice a month to check the mink rafts for tracks; this will remain hugely important throughout the next 4 years. We need to maintain a mink free zone in order for the release of water voles to be successful. We are pleased to report that we have found no confirmed signs of mink since this project began. We are always happy to welcome new volunteers, if you would like to find out more, please contact Kelly Hollings,

We have begun to roll out our 3-way school Education programme. In September we worked with Terrington Hall School in York who helped us capture some voles from a Forestry Commission site in the North York Moors, to breed from for our next release. In March 2018, we shall be working with St Davids School in Exeter and Devon Wildlife Trust, who will be visiting Derek Gow’s farm and learning about the breeding of water voles. Bellingham Middle School will help us with the next release in June 2018.

You can follow the progress of the project:
via Facebook at: Ratty or
via the Trust website:
This video gives a flavour of our first year from start to finish,