What a week! To spend a week photographing in April in west Scotland and to not have any rain is good going, plus to see six white-tailed eagles and interraction between pairs at three of Mull’s nesting sites was something special!
The white-tailed eagle (also known as the sea eagle) is the UK’s largest bird of prey and the 4th largest eagle in the world. While I’m used to photographing large birds in Africa like the martial eagle, let me tell you…these birds are huge!
White-tailed eagles were persecuted to extinction in England 200 years ago and the UK’s last bird was shot in Scotland in the early 1900’s. It wasn’t until 1975 that a reintroduction programme in Scotland’s western isles was implemented using birds from Norway.
Ferries carry hundreds of thousands of visitors to Mull each year and with eagle watching related tourism generating upwards of £1million annually for Mull’s economy, the reintroduction programme is clearly economically viable.
After the success of the eagles on the west coast, a project to develop a population in East Scotland is now also underway. However, it seems that the English public will have to wait for further consultation and debate to conclude before they get the chance to see white-tailed eagles fishing Norfolk’s waters after plans for a reintroduction programme there were met with resistance.
It is the threat to livestock, especially lambs, and amber conservation status birds like the avocet that concerns those opposed to the planned reintroduction in Norfolk. However, white-tailed eagles enjoy a varied diet, eating mainly fish and carrion. Based on experience of eagle management in Scotland, there is also a belief that wild eagles can be tought to feed on rabbits and other food rather than lambs by carrion being carefully situated.
Despite their green credentials, the threat wind turbines pose to white-tailed eagles is a concern to conservationists and with further wind farms planned for the North Sea and east coast, any reintroduction of eagles to Norfolk could be affected.
Having seen how communities in developing countries in Africa deal with the very real threat of losing livestock to lions, leopards and wild dogs, I would really hope that the landowners, gamekeepers, conservationists and government of a modern, wealthy and forward-thinking country would be able to reach a responsible agreement over the reintroduction of a bird species. But you tell me…are white-tailed eagles too big for our skies? Cast your vote…