Bird-watchers catch ‘thrilling’ trout-hungry ospreys on camera

Osprey taking a trout from the water Image copyright Geoff Harries
Image caption Horn Mill was losing trout valued at about £20,000 each year to hungry ospreys before the photographer hide was set up

Wildlife photographers have been coming in their hundreds to take pictures of hungry ospreys hunting at a trout farm.

Horn Mill Trout Farm, in Exton, Rutland, welcomes up to 12 visitors a day to its osprey hide – set up after the birds of prey stole thousands of pounds’ worth of fish from the trout hatchery.

The purpose-built hide, sunk into the ground beside the pond, has attracted snap-happy visitors from across Europe who want the “thrilling” experience of being so close to ospreys.

The fee the bird-watchers pay is used to offset the trout losses – believed to be costing the farm £20,000 a year – while allowing the ospreys to continue feeding.

Osprey in flight with a trout in its claws Image copyright Peter Humphrey
Image caption Scottish chicks were introduced to Rutland Water Nature Reserve in 1996 and in 2001, a first pair bred

A decision was initially made to put netting over the ponds to stop the ospreys from stealing the fish.

After netting five of the six ponds, the farm was approached by the Rutland Osprey Project, which suggested leaving the largest pond uncovered.

In return, the people behind the osprey project built a four-person hide for photographers.

Geoff Harries, 72, from Cambridge, was one of the first photographers to use the hide when it opened in 2013.

He said: “My first experience of photographing ospreys was from the hide at Rutland Water, but the birds were always too far away to get the images I wanted.

“It was a thrilling experience to have ospreys flying towards the hide less than 10 metres away.”

Rainbow Trout Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The arrangement at the trout farm has been dubbed a “conservation win-win” by a wildlife expert

To begin with, Mr Harries said there was only one main osprey – nicknamed “Mr Rutland” – but during his visits to the county, the bird raised 32 chicks with three different females.

Several of his offspring are now breeding in the area, according to the Rutland Osprey Project.

Osprey taking a trout from the water Image copyright GEOFF HARRIES
Image caption “Mr Rutland” relocated to Rutland Water in 1997 and bred every year between 2001 and 2014

Carey Wilcox travelled to Horn Mill from Sussex and said: “It was a very early start to the day but was well worth it.

“The birds were extremely close and there was plenty of other wildlife to keep us entertained in between dives.”

Osprey in flight with a trout in its claws Image copyright Carey Wilcox
Image caption The RSPB lists the bird of prey as a conservation concern because of its historical decline due to illegal killing and low breeding numbers

Photographer Peter Humphrey, 70, from Hampshire, said the hide was “the only reliable place in England to photograph ospreys fishing close-up”.

“It is an amazing thing to see, let alone photograph,” he added.

Osprey hide Image copyright Geoff Harries
Image caption The hide is “the only reliable place in England to photograph ospreys fishing close-up”, according to one snapper

Jamie Weston, from Horn Mill, said visitors had seen ospreys at the pond almost every day so far this season – which runs from March to August.

Lawrence Ball in the osprey hide Image copyright Geoff Harries
Image caption Farm owner Lawrence Ball has rebuilt the hide to fit more people

Simon Bentley, director of Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust – which runs the Rutland Osprey Project – described the hide as a “conservation win-win”.

He said the 40 or so ospreys in Rutland generally fed at Rutland Water but nearby trout farms also offered “rich pickings”.

Osprey in the air Image copyright Geoff Harries
Image caption The osprey hide was made bigger due to high demand from photographers

Mr Bentley said: “Hiring this out to wildlife photographers ensures everyone benefits.

“The trout farm earns valuable income to offset fish losses; bird photographers get fantastic pictures of fishing ospreys and the ospreys can get an easy meal.”

As for the trout, he said they were all “destined to end up on a dinner plate” anyway – and this way “they enter the natural local food chain”.

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