“ Address: Aviemore/ Highland / Scotland / Telephone: 01479 831476 „
Ospreys were extinct in Britain in 1916 due to persecution by humans. There followed an absence of over 40 years where ospreys were only seen occasionally. Then in 1959, a pair arrived in Scotland and stayed to breed. The location they chose was Loch Garten, in the spectacular Abernethy forest in the highlands. Ospreys have returned to breed there ever since.
Since that pioneering single pair, the population of ospreys in Scotland has risen to about 200 pairs. There are now a few in England and Wales, too.
Despite the increased population, their original breeding site at Loch Garten remains one of the most impressive places to see this fish-eating bird of prey.
Abernethy forest is owned and managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Their stewardship of this area ensures that the forest remains suitable habitat, not just for the ospreys, but for other rare native birds and animals such as wildcat, pine martin, and capercaillie.
The site is well signposted, and boasts a large car park close to the entrance. There's a small entry charge (£3 adults, 50p children), but RSPB members get in free. The path to the viewing site is 350m long and suitable for wheelchairs. Entrance to the viewing area is via a ramp.
The RSPB has recently built a new visitors centre at Loch Garten, overlooking the osprey's nest (but at a safe distance to avoid disturbance). This impressive looking building is made from local wood, and designed to blend in with the forest.
The centre has telescopes and binoculars available for use, as well as a video camera focused on the nest site. This video camera is also, in the breeding season, available for viewing over the internet.
With the viewing facilities available, you're guaranteed of getting a really good view of these impressive, large birds of prey. The staff at the centre are very helpful and will explain what's going on as things happen. There can actually be quite a lot happening. Last year, a rival male was present and driven off by the 'old' male. Seeing the male bringing food to the female and chicks is always impressive, and sadly, not all of the chicks always survive. The ospreys are usually there from late March to late August.
There's also plenty of bird feeders dotted around. These attract crested tits which, in Britain, live nowhere else but the Highlands of Scotland, as well as the beautiful red squirrels. These seem quite tame and allow close approaches from people.
There's a small shop where you can get the usual feeders, books and DVD's as well as some light refreshments. Prices are, as is usual in RSPB shops, not the cheapest.
As well as looking at the ospreys, the spectacular local scenery is well worth exploring. The RSPB have several paths for you to follow, and you can get down to the shore of Loch Garten itself.
The forest is a remnant of the ancient Caledonian pine forest that's existed since the end of the last ice age. It was much bigger until humans decided to decimate it. Luckily, the RSPB is in the process of regenerating the forest to increase its size (a process that will apparently take 200 years!). There's a real sense of wildness about the place even close to the car parks. It's easy to imaging wolves and bears roaming the paths looking for prey. Nowadays, however, the largest predator here is the Scottish wildcat, and there's little chance of seeing one of these as they're shy and nocturnal.
The Scottish Highlands is an amazing place to visit, and if you're going to be in the area, I can recommend Abernethy Forest and the osprey visitor centre for spending a few hours in the company of one of Britain's most impressive birds of prey.
There can be few people in Britain who have not at least heard of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, or the RSPB as they are more commonly known. Many people will also know sufficient information about them to know that they are primarily involved in the protection of British birds, which involves the undertaking of conservation work to ensure that rare species survive for future generations to enjoy.
Loch Garten in the Scottish Highlands is one of over 200 reserves managed by the RSPB. It is especially famous for its breeding Ospreys, a magnificent bird of prey driven to extinction in Britain at the early part of the 20th century. By the middle of the 1950's a handful of these birds had returned to the remote areas of Scotland and one of these pairs was at Loch Garten. Careful protection by the RSPB ensured that these birds bred successfully and in 1959 an observation hide was built where visitors could watch these birds from a distance that would not disturb them. In the first 6 weeks of opening this observation had received over 14,000 visitors.
The idea behind this observation hide was actually quite ingenious. As more pairs of Ospreys returned from their African wintering grounds each Spring these were largely left undisturbed since anyone wishing to seek out this bird could do at Loch Garten, where views were guaranteed.
I still remember my very first visit to Loch Garten, even though I would have probably only been about seven years old. At that time my parents had a VW Campervan and our summer holidays were spent tourist around the UK, many of these holidays were in Scotland. We had taken out an annual RSPB family membership that allowed free access to all of their nature reserves so needless to say whenever there was a RSPB reserve in the locality we would pay it a visit
I can even remember what the weather was like that first time that I came here. It was a scorching hot day and the track into the car park from the main road was very dry and dusty. I am guessing that it was probably late July or early August since my dad always had this time off work as these were the traditional works weeks, when the Sheffield steel industries where he worked closed down for two weeks. This usually happened during the last week of July and the first week of August, which was also conveniently right in the middle of the school holidays too. Obviously my other memories of that day are less clear and have doubtless been blurred by other subsequent visitors.
Close to the car parking area there is a visitor centre and observation hide from where you can view the Ospreys at their nest in the distance. This hide is equipped with telescopes and binoculars as the nest is probably a kilometre or more away. In addition to this equipment there is now also a TV monitor screen where visitors can watch close up images of the nest beamed via a camera positioned in the adjacent tree to the nest.
Ospreys are one of the largest European birds of prey and are rather unusual in the aspect that they are primarily fish eaters, plunging into water to catch salmon and trout. At Loch Garten one would assume that most of their fishing would be done there but an Osprey will actually travel up to 150 kilometres from its nest to find food, their huge wingspans enabling them to cover vast distances quickly. That said however, Loch Garten is well very stocked with fish so the breeding pairs here do spend quite a lot of their time fairly local. If you are lucky you might see one out fishing.
If you want to try and see the Ospreys away from their nest then it is necessary to leave the comfort of the observation hide and explore the reserve on foot as the hide does not overlook the water .
Loch Garten is set within the Abernethy Forest, which is one of the last remaining remnants of the Caledonian Pine Forest. This in itself makes it a unique habitat and even without the presence of the Ospreys here it is highly likely that this important habitat would have still been designates as a nature reserve. Other endangered wildlife here include Capercaillie, Scottish Pine Crosbill, Crested Tit and Pine Martin.
Loch Garten, like all other RSPB reserves is free to visit if you are a member of the society, but there is a charge for non-members. This charge helps to go towards the upkeep of the reserve, which is staffed entirely by volunteers.
The admission charges for non members are:
Adults - £3.00
Concessions - £2.00
Children (under 16) - 50p
Family ticket - £6.00
A family ticket admits 2 adults and 2 children.
RSPB Loch Garten
Boat of Garten
Tel: (01479) 831476
Fax: (01479) 821069
Home of the osprey in Scotland. Enjoy the antics of these famous Scottish birds with expert staff help and a combination of available binoculars, telescopes, CCTV cameras.