When I was a small boy camping and learning about the countryside I came across a remarkable sight. A blackthorn bush with nestling birds, baby mice, newts, beetles and other creatures neatly impaled on the long thorns.

It was the larder of the red backed shrike – the notorious butcher bird. Over that week’s holiday I watched the tiny bird come and go, depositing and removing its grisly bounty to take to its nest and feed its young.

Today the red backed shrike is virtually extinct in Britain – it certainly doesn’t breed here any more and other birds are threatened too.

One of our most spectacular raptors, the osprey – an amazing fish eagle has had to fight for survival here in the British Isles.

It was always such a sad story. The young osprey makes its first four thousand mile journey from West Africa only to end its short life in a trap or eating a poisoned bait set by some over-zealous water bailiff or gamekeeper on a Scottish river.

Fortunately he osprey had some human assistance in its fight for survival. Organisations like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) – Britain’s biggest conservation organisation is working hard to ensure we don’t lose any more breeding species like the proud osprey.

Today thanks to the work of the RSPB we can all follow the fate of individual ospreys via their electronic tracking devices on radio and TV nature programs as they make their almost unbelievable migrations around the globe.

Today ospreys fish and breed all over Britain and at RSPB centres like the one in Loch Garten in Scotland you can watch the adult birds fly, fish and raise their young.

Eagles too are threatened and the RSPB is helping eagles in their struggle to survive. The golden eagle is the undisputed monarch of the Scottish glens and sightings anywhere else are rare – indeed they are quite rare in the highlands unless you have good advice on where to look.

The white tailed sea eagle was once much rarer that its golden brother but now sightings are increasing all along the British coastline even along the south coast and in East Anglia.

The RSPB Eagle Watch Centre on the isle of Mull is one place to see both wonderful creatures and to learn much more about these awesome masters of the sky.

The bird’s enemies have not gone away. Egg collectors, those who steal eggs and young birds for the illegal falconing trade as well as owners of private salmon and trout fishing waters, shooting estates and their staff still wage war on ospreys and eagles and indeed on other raptors.

These despicable criminals are tracked down and prosecuted by the wildlife detectives of the RSPB and this valuable work makes the survival of some of our most spectacular birds of prey much more likely.

You can find out more about the work of the RSPB at http://www.rspb.org.uk

This article first published in the Morning Star, 2013


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