Autobiography of a Scottish osprey set be best seller

BOOKSHOP shelves are already groaning with life stories of the likes of Katie Price, Susan Boyle and even fictional Russian meerkat Alexandr Orlov.

But an eagerly awaited celebrity biography set to hit the high street soon is the dramatic tale of a 25-year-old Scottish osprey with a worldwide fan base.

Billed as "one of the great environmental success stories of our age", Lady Of The Loch: The Incredible Story Of Britain's Oldest Osprey is about the bird known simply as "Lady" and is expected to sell many thousands of copies around the world.

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At an estimated age of 25, the osprey has found fame thanks to a webcam that allows an international audience tens of thousands strong to observe her in her annual breeding ground in Scotland.

When it seemed Lady would not recover from a mystery illness last summer, hundreds of messages and poems poured in from as far afield as Finland, Canada, and the US as onlookers took part in what they thought was a death-bed vigil.

But she staged a remarkable recovery and set off from her nest overlooking the Loch of the Lowes in Perthshire bound for her wintering grounds in Africa - a journey the rare raptor has been making every year since 1991. She has hatched and fledged no fewer than 46 chicks, feeding them fish from the nearby waters.

Author Helen Armitage said: "Lady is a magical and compelling bird. The journey she has been on seems to offer inspiration to people not only in Scotland but all around the world."

Armitage, from London, drove north last year to the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) reserve near Dunkeld to research Lady's story after learning of the osprey's global fame.

"When I found out there were 55,000 people watching her dying in her nest in June, I realised people were interested and there was a story to tell," she said.

"As a writer, I was very drawn to the life of Lady and to the return of the osprey as a breeding bird in Scotland in 1959.

"I drove up from London in August and the most amazing thing happened. She had been there since the end of March, and I thought she might be gone. But we got there on 4 August and we saw her on the nest, and she left on migration the day after. It was brilliant timing."

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For Armitage, the widespread interest in the bird is indicative of a growing interest in wildlife conservation and she hopes her book will strengthen that support for endangered species.

She said: "There's been a real turnaround in how people approach wildlife over the past 50 years. We're allowing the birds to thrive and not pointing a gun for them to drop out of the sky.

"Hopefully Lady Of The Loch will draw attention to ospreys and make people more familiar with them."

The publication was welcomed by RSPB Scotland. Spokesman James Reynolds said: "Lady's story is incredible, especially when you consider that every year she migrates to Africa to places like the Gambia, and she's had to navigate a lot of hazards on the way. It's testament to the survival instincts that are hardwired into ospreys."

Given her age and her bout of ill health in June, when she stopped eating, no one can be certain that Lady will have the strength to make her perilous journey back to Scotland next spring. Her many well-wishers, Armitage among them, can only wait and hope.

"I wouldn't be so bold as to predict what will happen, but people who have worked with her for years and years at the SWT give a 40 to 50 per cent chance of her returning next year," the author said.

"We'll know quite quickly as ospreys are creatures of habit, and if she comes back she'll arrive when she always does in March or early April."

Peter Ferns, the SWT's visitor centre manager at Loch of the Lowes, said: "The drama witnessed live online in 2010 was particularly poignant as our female osprey showed worrying signs of ill health which experts predicted could be fatal.

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"Thankfully our osprey made a remarkable recovery and left us in August to migrate back to West Africa. However, the outpouring of emotion which followed around the time of the bird's illness to date proves that this one wild bird has captured the hearts and minds of a global audience."

• Lady Of The Loch: The Incredible Story Of Britain's Oldest Osprey, will be published by Constable & Robinson in March.