In January this year, the National Farmers’ Union (Scotland) called for ‘action’ against Scottish sea eagles, and although they weren’t explicit about what that ‘action’ might be, they did mention [unspecified] ‘control measures’ (see here).
SNH responded quite strongly by saying ‘no’ to control measures (see here).
In February, a former Crofting Commission rep said that “Nothing short of complete eradication will do” and that sea eagles “should be absolutely destroyed” (see here).
In May, NFUS launched its ‘Sea Eagle Action Plan’, which laid out the usual unsubstantiated accusations that sea eagles are responsible for a loss of biodiversity and have detrimental effects on golden eagles, mountain hares, lapwings, curlews, black grouse, otters and rabbits, and of course, sheep farming. For a species that they claimed to know so much about, it was quite surprising to see the front cover of their report – it was apparent they couldn’t even tell the difference between a golden and a white-tailed eagle (see here).
A couple of days ago, it was reported (sensibly here and here but with a hysteria-mongering headline here) that NFUS and SNH had signed a joint accord to work towards a new ‘Sea Eagle Management Scheme’. This will include a new scheme to start in Spring 2015 to compensate farmers and crofters for loss of stock to eagles (a continuation of a previous scheme) subject to funding approval, and the development of a new sea eagle ‘action plan’ to be published by September 2016 and implemented by March 2017.
Whilst it’s encouraging that NFUS and SNH have agreed to work cooperatively, we can’t help but be suspicious of the term ‘management scheme’. What does that mean, exactly? We often hear the term ‘well-managed grouse moor’ used to describe practices that include the systematic eradication of all predators, just so there are more grouse for the guns to kill. That’s not our definition of ‘well-managed’. The term ‘management’ was also used by DEFRA when it tried to implement its controversial ‘Buzzard Management Scheme’ a couple of years ago – in that case, ‘management’ meant removing buzzards so that there were more pheasants for the guns to kill.
Hmm. Hopefully the NFUS and SNH are not planning on ‘removing’ sea eagles as a ‘management’ strategy (the NFUS has previously suggested this could be an option). At least for now, the NFUS has stated that ‘management’ in this case does not mean shooting the eagles (see the BBC report).
The BBC’s report on the new accord does reveal some of the proposed management strategies. One of them is this:
‘Contractors will also be available, free of charge, to record incidents of eagle predation and to offer advice on how to scare away the birds’.
That doesn’t seem to have been thought through very well. The sea eagle has extra special protection as it’s listed on Schedule 1A of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) – that means it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly harass this species at any time of year, not just when it’s close to or on its nest (see here). The NFUS and SNH will need to be very careful indeed if they’re planning on ‘scaring away’ sea eagles.
Thankfully, not everyone shares the NFUS’ view of sea eagles. The Mull Eagle Watch Project (based around the island’s thriving sea eagle population) has just been awarded VisitScotland’s prestigious 5 star Wildlife Experience rating for the third year running (see here). Congratulations to all involved.
White-tailed eagle photo by Mike Watson