The news of the first successful sea eagle breeding attempt in East Scotland in over a century has finally been announced today.
The breeding pair, both four years old, have managed to raise a single male chick on their first attempt, which is quite an achievement. It’s not unusual for young pairs to fail at their first attempt – a combination of inexperience and immaturity. The successful nest was in a secret location on Forestry Commission ground.
The pair were reintroduced to East Scotland in 2009 as part of a six-year reintroduction project (2007-2012) which saw 85 young eagles, donated by Norway, released into the wild from a secret location in Fife. At least 24 of those birds didn’t survive (cause of death included poisoning, shot, accidentally electrocuted and hit by trains). The East Coast reintroduction was the third phase of a national reintroduction project that started back in 1975 on the west coast of Scotland, after the species was extirpated from Britain thanks to persecution in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
This first successful breeding attempt marks an historic milestone in the project and hopefully is the beginning of a new and vibrant population in the east, mirroring the successful population growth in the west.
Although many people and organisations have been involved with this project (notably RSPB Scotland, SNH and Forestry Commission Scotland), massive congratulations are due to two key individuals who have been at the very heart of the work – soundbites from their boss might be what we read in the media but it’s the efforts of these two that really should be recognised here: take a bow Project Officer Claire Smith and her successor Rhian Evans. Really well done. If you want to learn about the challenges they’ve had to endure throughout the project, check out the East Scotland Sea Eagle Project blog here.
The news of this chick is superb – far more interesting and important to some of us than the Royal baby hype – but the story is marred by the secrecy that has surrounded it. This breeding attempt has been kept tightly under wraps for months, and the news has only been released now that the chick has safely fledged. It’s incredibly sad that the general public has not been allowed to follow this pair’s breeding attempt, sharing the drama as the season unfolded and feeling connected to the story, just as the public have been able to do with the first successful breeding attempt of reintroduced sea eagles in Mountshannon, Ireland this year. The interest is there, of that there’s no doubt, judging by the huge number of people who religiously log in every day to watch various nest cameras up and down the country, as well as those who make the long trek to Mull just for the chance of spotting the resident celebrity sea eagle pair from the purpose-built viewing hide. Not being able to share in that is a bit like being told Andy Murray has won Wimbledon, three months after he did it. It’s great news but not quite the same as watching and getting involved and feeling all those emotions.
Why has the breeding attempt been kept secret? Well that should be obvious – the threat to these birds is still incredibly high, as seen in January this year when ‘somebody’ took a chainsaw to a sea eagle nest tree on Invermark Estate in the Angus Glens and felled it (see here). Needless to say, Police Scotland are still ‘investigating’, 7 months on. If somebody can act so brazenly to go as far as felling a nest tree, then obviously the sea eagle project staff are going to do all they can to keep the news of a breeding pair under wraps until it’s safe to release it, no matter how much the public want to know.
Will it be like that next year? And the year after that? When will it be considered safe to tell us at the beginning of the breeding attempt rather than at the end? Probably not for a long, long time yet, thanks to illegal egg collectors, illegal poisoners, illegal shooters, illegal trappers and illegal tree-fellers. God this is a backward country.
Here’s hoping this year’s pioneering young male manages to stay alive (keep away from grouse moors) for long enough to raise his own family – the next big milestone for the East Coast Project will be Scottish-born sea eagles rearing their own young. Good luck kid.