Conflicting approaches to reintroducing golden eagles to Wales

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)

26 thoughts on “Conflicting approaches to reintroducing golden eagles to Wales”

  1. As soon as I saw the name of the other person I thought “oh no”. This is the clear difference to an academic way to reintroduce Eagles using charitable organisations or the other way is via a “For Profit” company.

    [Ed: Although a CIC is ‘for profit’, those profits have to be used ‘for the public good’ to meet the requirements of registering as a CIC]

  2. I already have my pins in the map of game shooting estates in Wales / north England where the first of the eagle sat tags will disappear….. mysteriously. The sweepstake will be announced soon.
    That is of course if they are ever re introduced given the uproar that the potential presence of any apex predator in the heart of totally unsustainable,ecologically threadbare,publicly funded sheep [ woolly maggot ]- infested north Wales will cause.
    The betting will open shortly and a quick look at the recent killings of Hen harriers there will shorten the odds !
    The UK is one of very few countries where a raptor that can survive happily as a generalist predator of corvids, foxes, rabbits and carrion etc is not generally welcomed by landowners in our enlightened age…..
    The UK is one of very few countries where publicly funded driven game shooting and upland livestock farming threatens them.
    Just look at the continued attempts by a small minority of sheep farmers to insist that WTE are serious predators of live lambs.
    The hills of Wales are often thick with dead lambs in spring because of poor husbandry.
    Yes GE are still persecuted in a diminishing way across their range, but the UK Government[s] should hang their heads in shame.
    Anyone would think that the overgrazed, burnt, drained and deforested English and Welsh National Parks were already ecologically rich rather than the sheep – knackered, grouse slaughtering dumps that they really are……
    Travel broadens the mind so visits to real National Parks in Europe and elsewhere are always enlightening !
    Having seen with my own eyes the range expansion of wolf in north west Spain over the last 40 years and the massive general increase in their large raptors I despair of our so called UK conservation agencies.

    They really should get out more !
    Oh….and enforce our laws….

    Keep up the pressure !

  3. I’d like to talk about the reintroduction programs, their relative merits and whether either or both are likely to get the chance to proceed.
    I assume that one or both of them are looking for funding, but I’ll not discuss that issue but state that I will not contribute on this occasion.
    Since I have, however, no desire to be the subject of a claim for defamation by either of the bodies proposing a reintroduction, I think on this occasion that I will pass on the opportunity even to talk about either reintroduction.

    1. Hi Alex,

      The Cardiff team isn’t yet advocating a reintroduction – it is mid-way through a three-year scoping/research phase. It is, though, planning to open a donations line in Feb 2019, according to the ERW website:

      The Wilder Britain team has apparently already decided that a reintroduction is viable and is actively fundraising with an ‘Adopt an eagle’ scheme on its website:

      1. Thanks for the clarification. I’ll remove my tongue from my cheek and confirm that i believe that the EDF final proposal is likely to be somewhat better thought out.

  4. Thanks for clarifying RPUK. I was baffled & bemused by the 2 clips on breakfast i viewed this morning. Two guys, one a falconer, both lacking an understanding of geography or ecology. Extremely unprofessional presentations.
    Looking forward very much to the results of the study by the ERW in due course.

  5. Oh God! Not PO’D!

    Is there nowhere safe from this man and his wonderful CICs?

    Its almost worth setting up crowdfunding to pay him to p*ss off out of it.

  6. When talking about the Golden Eagle population, it was interesting to hear the presenter’s take on the issues surrounding range expansion, when he uttered “however, they’re refusing to budge from their strongholds”, and that persecution was largely a historical matter.

    Obviously, this was complete and utter bullshit, and it should come as no surprise to anyone, that the BBC Countryfile team is deliberately misrepresenting the real situation where raptors and the shooting industry is concerned.

  7. Interesting that they refer to a licence to release birds as they don’t actually need one – perhaps they don’t realise. Of course a licence would be needed to collect young from the wild if that is their intention. But releasing captive-reared offspring can go ahead with no real restrictions. To stop a whole range of inappropriate, poorly-planned, vanity-led reintroductions the legislation really needs to catch up.

  8. Sorry for being an old and disillusioned man, when it comes to reintroducing “lost” wildlife species to Britain. My belief is that the bird or mammal to be brought back, should have its case considered in the light of its subsequent welfare, particularly into some, what should be suitable, part of Britain. I think it cruel and a waste of resources and time to bring creatures back into a world that would be hostile to them; a world of deadly poison, snares, traps and guns. From what I gather from various sources, and reading the comments in RPS, I would discourage over-cited academics and “experts” from having their persuasive way in raising funds and public support for such re-introductions. The Press has had articles on Lynx and Beaver introductions, which were negative in outlook.

    I despair over the treatment/suffering of our Birds of Prey, along with other wildlife which allegedly impact on the welfare of game birds. Fortunately, there is a growing number of concerned people world wide, who are demanding governments take more action to conserve species and their habitats. The recent protest marches by school children, objecting to the lack of real action by governments, about climate change, may develop into a broader interest movement, encompassing species extinction, and the pollution of the oceans. As long as wildlife crime is not being dealt with quickly enough, and taken more seriously with stronger sentencing, there will be the same response by those responsible for illegally killing protected species. The stranglehold of “country ‘sports’ practitioners” and their dead hand on the proper legal response to such crime, has effectively given us the present impasse. Like in a war, we, the conservationists, cannot leave redoubts of the enemy to robustly resist with their frei corps/partisan tactics. We need a drawing together of all individuals, groups, charities, sympathetic maverick politicians, international support and whatever it takes, to produce the ineluctable argument to justify a whole change in the management of the British Isles marine and terrestrial environments. Such a task has to be undertaken world wide, for what we are witnessing is a massive eradication of the planet’s essential forest cover, and the concomitant wildlife and plant species. In addition, poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking is destroying many species of bird and mammal. The recent news that world insect population will halve due to loss of habitat and the effects of pesticides and herbicides, bodes ill for fruit crop fertilisation, and for birds dependent on them as part of their food supply. Plastic waste in the oceans and its effect on life forms there, have shocked many. All of this careless stewardship of the Earth has to be challenged as a whole. Our education systems, religious and political outlooks should come together and focus on the reality of the situation for humanity. When a policy to address the saving of Life on Earth and a strong enforcement for it, has been set in motion, then, and only then, can we hope to re-introduce on a vast planetary scale, the creatures necessary for balanced ecosystems blending with new forms of agricultural practice, and the resourcing of raw materials. Britain has a depleted and lethal environment, with the wrong people in many areas, not managing it correctly, but serving selfish and damaging vested interests. At least, in Scotland, we do know at whom we can point the finger of complicity of having such a mess.

  9. And further to my comment about Countryfile presenters, we have Matt Baker with the following comment aired on The One Show on Wednesday 20th February 2019, when speaking about crows;

    “They are incredible birds. Honestly, nightmare at lambing time, for horrible reasons that I won’t go into now, eh but, yeah, fascinating”

    I wonder if the Countryside Alliance will be aiming to have Matt Baker removed from all of his positions at the BBC, for using “a public service broadcaster to promote an extreme agenda” or using the corporation to air “blatant political propaganda”?

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