Sea eagles ravage British lambs

Farmers are complaining they are providing free food for the UK’s newly-landed sea eagle population.

Birdwatching organisations that arranged the birds’ release on the Isle of Wight in 2019 also promised to feed them fish. However, they have been unable to do so because of the coronavirus lockdown. As a result, the birds are snatching newborn lambs instead, say farmers.

The Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, one of the organisations behind the Isle of Wight eagle release, has offered no evidence of eagle feeding stations. It is thought to have gone back on a promise on its website that it would feed fish to the Isle of Wight sea eagles during their first winter.

Screengrab from the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation website

Part of the reason is, as the bird organisation admits, the Isle of Wight birds are ranging widely across England. There is no single feeding station that will serve them all. One flew to the Peak District via Suffolk after spending the winter in Oxfordshire. Another settled in the North York Moors. In October 2019, one was found to have died and another is missing. The survivors are not expected to breed until 2024.

One eagle has reached as far north as the North Yorks Moors

Scottish conservation bodies usually feed the birds tonnes of fish – but not this year. Crofters on and near Mull say birds are sometimes taking two lambs a day to feed their young.

The largest bird of prey in the UK and the fourth largest eagle in the world, the sea eagle’s wingspan can be almost 2.5 metres, and it stands at a height of almost a metre.

Here’s wildlife manager Niall Rowantree, who looks after the Ardnamurchan Estate, talking about having sea eagles on his ground:

Strict laws preventing members of the public approaching nests means it is difficult to gather the evidence of eagles feeding lambs to their young. However, last year, a Fieldsports Channel viewer captured this series of photographs of a sea eagle carrying a lamb to a nest.

A Mull sea eagle carries a newborn lamb to its nest

Also called white-tailed eagles, sea eagles were last seen in 1780. Released on Mull in the 1970s and the Isle of Wight in 2019, the lead organisations in England are Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation. In Scotland, the partnership which runs the ‘Mull Eagle Watch’ project consists of Mull & Iona Community Trust, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry & Land Scotland and Police Scotland.

In the meantime, the sea eagle lobby continues to push lies about the birds to a credulous media. An RSPB study from 2011 claims the Isle of Mull benefits by £5 million a year from the re-introduction of the white-tailed eagle, and the birds support the equivalent of 110 full-time jobs – reported, without question, by the BBC. This survey flies in the face of the fact that there are only two eagle-watching outfits on Mull, operating just April-September and neither accepts credit cards.

While farmers suffer, UK newspapers faithfully printed a press release from Roy Dennis this week celebrating the eagles’ release. Dennis’s cheerleaders are the Daily Mail, the BBC (again), Newsweek, Mirror and Independent.

The sea eagle lobby points to footage of sea eagles taking fish. This kind of footage is shot from the two Mull tourist boats and shows sea eagles eating fish that tourists have thrown for them:

This year there will be little or no tourist money from sea eagles. Mull Eagle Watch has indefinitely postponed the opening of its ‘watching’ season following government advice about coronavirus.

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