Seven more white-tailed eagles released on Isle of Wight

Following the recent news of a young white-tailed eagle being found dead on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park, killed after ingesting a banned poison (see here), here is some some more positive news for the future of this iconic species.

Press release from Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation (18th August 2020)

Successful second release of White-tailed eagles takes place in landmark English reintroduction project

The return of white-tailed eagles to England has reached its next key milestone with the successful release of a further 7 birds on the Isle of Wight. The five-year reintroduction programme now in its second year is led by Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, and aims to restore this lost species after an absence of 240 years.

Over five years, up to 60 white-tailed eagles will be released with the aim of establishing an initial population of 6- 8 breeding pairs on the Isle of Wight and along the mainland coast. The first six birds were released last year. It will take several years for the young birds to become established and breeding is not expected to start until at least 2024.

[Juvenile white-tailed eagle, photo by Robin Crossley]

Each bird is fitted with a satellite tracker to enable the team to monitor and track their progress. Evidence from similar reintroductions suggests that the rate of survival to breeding age is around 40%, and four of the six birds released last year have survived and are doing well.

As they mature the released white-tailed eagles have, as expected, begun to explore widely. Their journeys have taken them across much of England as they explore and learn about the landscape for the first time. Between these explorations, the birds have regularly been seen fishing for Grey Mullet in the estuaries of the Solent and observed in the skies over the Isle of Wight.

Bird enthusiasts and members of the public across the country have supported the project by reporting sightings of the eagles and sharing these via @seaeagleengland on social media and via our online sightings form.

Roy Dennis, Founder of the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation said: “We are delighted that we have been able to release this next group of birds this year as planned. We have seen from other reintroduction programmes that returning lost species offers real benefits for the health of our environment, and to people and local economies. This is particularly important at these difficult times as people rediscover nature and its benefits.”

“It has been very exciting to follow the exploratory flights of the birds we released last year and to see how they are learning to live successfully in the English landscape. We have been particularly encouraged that the birds have been catching Grey Mullet in the estuaries of the Isle of Wight because we believe this will become an important food source as the population develops, and is one of the key reasons we considered the Isle of Wight and the South Coast suitable for a reintroduction.”

“A project like this relies upon the involvement and support of many, many people. I would like to thank everyone who has helped us again this year including the local organisations and individuals on our steering group. We look forward to the day when these amazing birds become a regular feature in the skies above us.”

[One of this year’s juvenile eagles at the release pen. Photo via Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation]

Steve Egerton-Read, White-Tailed Eagle Project Officer, Forestry England, said: “We are now a year on from the release of the first white-tailed eagles and it’s very encouraging to see them doing well. We have been following their movements closely using the satellite monitoring, field visits and reports from members of the public.”

“It will be fascinating to see how the young birds released this summer explore and how they interact with the slightly older birds released in 2019. Thank you to everyone who continues to support us by reporting observations and photos of the birds as they travel around the country, we are always keen to hear about your amazing sightings.”

The reintroduction of Britain’s largest bird of prey is being conducted under licence from Natural England, the Government’s wildlife licensing authority. All of the young birds involved in the project are collected under a Scottish Natural Heritage licence from the wild in Scotland and brought to the Isle of Wight.

Natural England Chair, Tony Juniper, said: “Today is an important landmark for the conservation of these spectacular birds, and I am delighted that we have played our part by licensing this trailblazing project. A key condition of our licence was the involvement of stakeholders and ongoing monitoring, and Roy Dennis and his team have worked hard to involve local groups which has been critical to the success of this project.”

“It’s been thrilling to see last year’s birds travel across England. I hope this project sets a blueprint for further successful species re-introductions in England, which are a vital part of achieving our overarching goal for nature conservation and recovery.”

The Isle of Wight was chosen as the location to reintroduce the white-tailed eagles, also known as sea eagles, as it offers an ideal habitat for these coastal loving birds with plentiful sources of food in the surrounding waters. It also offers a central position on the south coast allowing the birds to disperse and link with other populations in Scotland, Ireland and on the continent.

The project is also expected to make a significant contribution to the local economy. A similar scheme on The Isle of Mull was found to have boosted its local economy by up to £5 million a year, demonstrating the interest in this iconic bird.

A comprehensive feasibility study and public surveys were conducted prior to reintroduction and a steering group made up of local organisations and members of the community are helping to guide the project.


11 thoughts on “Seven more white-tailed eagles released on Isle of Wight”

  1. Brilliant stuff, I had thought this had been cancelled this year because of the pandemic – absolutely delighted that I was wrong, hopefully the Poole osprey translocation is still on this year too. Great that the UK finally seems to be catching up on reintroductions for decades we were dreadful. There’s even one for the burbot, a freshwater cod, on the cards and it’s believed that the habitat created by beavers will be ideal for them one day no doubt a sea eagle will catch a burbot from reintroduced stock like itself. The sea eagles in the Solent may also have to share the fish with another new arrival. A few weeks ago I saw a rather convincing account of a night time inshore fishing boat there that caught a very large shark in its nets before it managed to jump out on to the adjoining shore right next to the wheelhouse before thrashing back into the sea. The skipper got a good close look at it and is convinced it was a great white. There’s a seal colony nearby and there were other eyewitness accounts of the seals being very apprehensive and a big dorsal ‘jaws’ fin occasionally cutting the surface. It seems even the south coast is getting wilder. As ever bloody well done Roy and team.

    [Ed: Hi Les, the Poole Harbour osprey reintroduction had to skip this year due to issues relating to monitoring suitable donor sites in Scotland, but hopefully will be back on track next year]

  2. This will outrage one Robin Page – according to his recent blog page bringing back this “savage bird of Prey” to Southern England is like bringing back the “Hippo” to the Thames – and they will have nothing to eat bar lambs and piglets, bless

    1. Oh but he’s wrong they will be too busy gorging themselves on babies snatched from their mothers arms, to be bothered chasing piglets and lambs

    2. Yeah, his face’ll be even redder! I’ve told this on before on another site (several years ago), but it’s worth a re-run.

      Seated in East Hide at Minsmere one early summer day, I pointed some bird or other out to a group of three people next to me. A conversation began which led to a comment from one of the group about “too many hawks” or words to that effect (you know the type, folks, we’ve all had them). It was all too obvious that they didn’t know their arses from their elbows, but thought themselves authorities because they were “country people”, who wore the right type of coat.
      I (politely, I might add, as I’m really a very nice man) laid it all out for them, especially the complete absence of scientific evidence in support of their claims, and how nature just doesn’t work that way blah de blah. When I finished speaking, the lady of the trio piped up with…

      “Well Robin Page says so, and he knows!”

      Occupying the bench on the other side of these folk was a well-known, highly respected environmental journalist, who sat silently grinning to himself throughout this exchange. By now, I’d caught his eye, and we exchanged a mutual look of pity for these poor saps. The trio left shortly afterwards the two of us briefly discussed the (non) issue. The gentleman (and he is one) very nicely complemented me on the way I dealt with the claims, saying that he no longer had the patience to bother with such people, and when the conversation turned to Mr Page, he summed up with a perfect “mike drop” moment..

      “The man’s an idiot!”

      Nuff said.

  3. Good news I look forward to the day when I have a reasonable chance of seeing a wild WTE in here Wales.

  4. Great news and good luck to all involved hope we can soon see our golden eagle back in mardale in the lake districts haweswater

    1. Sad to say – No Golden Eagles for the South of Scotland project! [The likely way birds will return to the Lakes] Can any one tell me how a Scottish project with full ‘lock down’ can not progress when an English one taking birds from Scotland actually goes a head? Remember we talking human health here not politics!

      1. Probably the same way Scottish keepers still went out to burn the moors and kill as many Raptors as possible whilst every one else was in lockdown it isn’t rocket science.

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