[Young golden eagle, Getty Images]
The most serious effort, in our view, to examine whether this might be feasible and appropriate was/still 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’s approach 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 group has also been building partnerships with local stakeholders.
The other organisation is called Wilder Britain (website here), whose sole director is Dr Paul O’Donoghue, who according to Companies House is also a Director of six other companies, some of whom blog readers may already be familiar (Lynx UK Trust Community Interest Company (CIC), Wildcat Haven Enterprises CIC, Wildcat Haven CIC, Paul O’Donoghue Consultancy Ltd, Specialist Wildlife Services Ltd, and We Rescue Animals CIC). Some of you may know Dr O’Donoghue’s name as being behind the failed 2018 application to reintroduce Lynx to Kielder Forest (see here) and earlier this year he lost an outrageous defamation claim against Andy Wightman MSP (see here).
In a blaze of publicity and fanfare in February 2019, it was claimed that Wilder Britain’s plans to reintroduce ten golden eagles to Wales were ‘well underway’ and that a licence application would be submitted to Natural Resources Wales (NRW) by July 2019.
However, at that time there was very little detail available about any research that may or may not have been completed to support such an application. We were also interested in any modelling work that would be needed to understand how many young eagles would have to be released to establish a self-sustaining breeding population. Many previous studies on raptor reintroductions have demonstrated that long term success is largely dependent on releasing a sufficient number of birds, which is calculated by considering a wide variety of demographic factors. And that’s assuming that the habitat and prey has been deemed sufficient to support any reintroduction and that illegal persecution isn’t a threat. One thing’s for sure, any viable project is going to need to release significantly more than ten birds, which according to Dr O’Donoghue are being sourced from ‘Europe’ and will all be satellite tracked. We’re talking serious funding requirements here, that are unlikely to be met by Wilder Britain’s requests to ‘sponsor an eagle’ on its website.
Curious to find some answers, in November 2019 we asked NRW, via a freedom of information request, for copies of all correspondence it had had with Dr O’Donoghue/Wilder Britain, including any licence applications. NRW responded by stating it had received no correspondence from Dr O’Donoghue/Wilder Britain relating to a proposed golden eagle reintroduction (see here). Hmm.
Fast forward to August 2020 and amidst another blaze of publicity, which just happened to coincide with the news that a golden eagle that had been living in the wild in Wales for several years had been found dead (here), and up pops Dr O’Donoghue again, this time announcing (here) a public survey and consultation to support a proposal to ‘release five pairs of golden eagles’ in Wales in 2021.
This afternoon, Dr O’Donoghue is hosting the first of several public meetings in Wales to answer questions about the proposal. Should be interesting.
Here is a tweet from @WCRCUK who attended this meeting: