The prospect of potentially reintroducing golden and white-tailed eagles to Wales has been on the cards for many years.
The most serious effort to examine whether this might be feasible and appropriate is being undertaken by a team of researchers at Cardiff University under the auspices of the Eagle Reintroduction Wales (ERW) Project (view their website here).
The ERW team’s approach to considering an eagle reintroduction is exemplary. It has involved several years of carefully conducting a scoping exercise, to properly consider all the factors that need to be addressed before a reintroduction licence would be granted, e.g. biological and environmental considerations, social and political considerations, and comprehensive risk assessments and an exit strategy.
The project lead is a 2nd year PhD student, Sophie-Lee Williams, who spent her first year researching and mapping the core historical ranges of both species in Wales and is currently habitat mapping and assessing prey availability etc. She has a cracking powerpoint presentation available here from a talk she gave last summer at an environmental management conference. Not only has Sophie-Lee been coordinating the research, but she’s also been busily building a genuine partnership approach, working with Wildlife Trust Wales and the highly experienced raptor reintroduction expert, Roy Dennis. This is exactly how proposed reintroductions should be managed, especially when the species is an apex predator that is likely to be both welcomed and despised in equal measure by different members of the local community.
You might have seen news of the ERW’s work in the media yesterday (e.g. BBC news here and Wales Online here). It was all over the place, and we couldn’t understand what the hook was. There was nothing new to report, other than the research project was ongoing but still a long way from drawing any conclusions, so a news release seemed a bit premature.
But then late last night we received an embargoed press release, via a colleague, about another, different project that was planning on reintroducing golden eagles to Wales. Suddenly it was clear why the ERW team had wanted to talk publicly about their own research in this area, because here comes a ‘Johnny-come-lately’ whose involvement doesn’t appear to include working in partnership with the ERW team.
The new guy on the block is Dr Paul O’Donoghue, who is apparently working under the name of a newly registered Community Interest Community (CIC), ‘Wilder Britain‘ (and see website here) and whose press release made it to publication this morning (e.g. see here). Of course, Dr O’Donoghue isn’t really a ‘new guy’ at all – he’s been around for several years and many will know of him through his connection with Wildcat Haven and the Lynx UK Trust. We don’t intend to comment further on either of those two projects for reasons that should be obvious if you know some of the history (if you don’t know, google it).
We’re not aware of Dr O’Donoghue’s experience or expertise in ornithology or in the field of raptor research and conservation.
Dr O’Donoghue was featured on BBC Breakfast this morning (see here, at various points through the programme – only available until 09.15hrs Weds morning) and again on the BBC’s Countryfile Winter Diaries this morning (see here, starts at 02.17hrs, available for 29 days).
[Screengrab from Countryfile Winter Diaries]
Dr O’Donoghue talked about the need to consider the concerns of local landowners and farmers and the need to undertake research to inform a decision about the feasibility of a successful reintroduction but it was suggested in the programme (by the presenter) that the hope was to have golden eagles back in the wild in Wales by 2020, and in the Wilder Britain press release it was stated that a licence application to release eagles would be submitted this summer.
That sounds particularly premature, and unless Dr O’Donoghue has already completed a lot of the prior scoping research required for such an application, it may well lead to a resounding refusal on similar grounds to those cited by the UK Government when it recently decided to refuse an application for the reintroduction of Lynx to Kielder Forest (see here).
This looks set to become messy.
For the sake of the eagles and a viable long-term future in Wales, let’s hope the ERW team’s efforts have not been in vain.
UPDATE March 2019: More on proposed reintroduction of golden eagles to Wales (here)
UPDATE November 2019: No application lodged to reintroduce golden eagles to Wales (here)
UPDATE March 2020: Andy Wightman successfully defends defamation case (here)
UPDATE June 2020: New paper documents history of eagles in Wales (here)
UPDATE 4 September 2020: Proposed golden eagle reintroduction to Wales: genuine intent or just a publicity stunt? (here)