Lady of the Loch: The Incredible Story of Britain’s Oldest Osprey by Helen Armitage | 240 pages | Constable Robinson Publishing | Softcover | 2011 | ISBN 9781849017022

During the last decade, the osprey has risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes – once extinct in Britain, now returned as a powerful symbol of hope. The opreys’ story is a moving tale of triumph over adversity. Their slow but sure resurgence has attracted huge public interest and support; that of one bird in particular, Lady, at 25, Britain’s oldest breeding osprey, has tugged at the world’s heartstrings.

For the past twenty years, Lady has made the 3000-mile journey from Africa back to Scotland, her nest and her mate. In March 2010, she produced an egg for a record-breaking 20th year; despite her weakened state throughout that summer, and with the stalwart assistance of her youthful mate, the chicks fledged successfully. But how many more times can Lady defy the odds; will the spring see her return, as, happily, it will so many other ospreys?I’m in danger of repeating myself when I say… ‘normally I’d run a mile from anthropomorphism’. I am no fan of Disney and its propensity to name every critter in order to make their stories more ‘accessible’ and acceptable to young people or ignorant adults. I find such documentaries usually include another pet hate – totally inappropriate music; well, any music actually as I think it seldom enhances. I see it as dumbing down and ‘popularising’ often at the expense of accuracy. Bears are not cuddly, wolves seldom attack people and cats in the wild are serious pests no matter what individual name you give them. So seeing an individual female osprey referred to as ‘Lady’ set my hackles ready to rise and every prejudice I have ready to take control.

As it turns out Telling the story of Scottish osprey re-colonisation through a single bird is not a silly device and works well, principally because the author doesn’t overdo it, gets her facts straight and imparts so many incidental facts as to keep the least sentimental among us (and I count myself in that number) entertained and informed. The best compliment I can give is that it never got so mawkish and maudling as to annoy nor so syrupy as to make me want to throw up.

The first book I ever read from cover to cover was Jack London’s White Fang. Not only did it try very hard to see the world in a wolfish way, but it was supremely well written. Jack London is not a classic writer but he is certainly in the reserves and so managed to tell a damn good yarn simply without ever making the mistake of talking down to nor buttering up his audience. Helen Armitage has done a good job here too. This is not just a good read as we come to care about the individual bird surviving two decades of potential persecution and the perils of migration, but it also tells the tale of the resilience of a species taking back lost ground. Ospreys are virtually ubiquitous and by no means uncommon over much of their range, but like all species at the top of their food chain a good environmental indicator and a good measure of how far we are prepared to go in the pursuit of bio-diversity. Nice one Helen.


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