Regular blog readers will know there are currently two ‘competing’ organisations working on a potential reintroduction of golden eagles to Wales.
[Young golden eagle, Getty Images]
One of the groups, called the Eagle Reintroduction Wales Project and affiliated with Cardiff University, is taking a well-considered and thoroughly-evidenced approach to evaluate the feasibility of reintroducing golden and white-tailed eagles to Wales. They have an active crowdfunder at the moment to help support their ongoing research (see here)
The other organisation is called Wilder Britain and its sole director, Dr Paul O’Donoghue, appears to be quite good at media soundbites but has been less forthcoming, so far, about the actual details of his grand plan.
Earlier this month Wilder Britain held the first of several planned public consultation events hosted by Paul O’Donoghue (see here).
The second such event is due to take place this evening:
This evening’s event comes after some unfavourable commentary about the proposed reintroduction in the media and inside the Senedd, the Welsh Parliament.
Last week, Welsh politician Sian Gwenllian raised the issue with Lesley Griffiths, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs (and also the Species Champion for Raptors in Wales).
Their conversation went as follows:
This was then followed up by unfavourable press coverage in The Bangor Aye, which read as follows:
Siân Gwenllian, the Member of the Senedd for the Arfon constituency and Shadow Minister for Plaid Cymru has joined a number of figures to express her concern about a possible reintroduction of eagles to Snowdonia.
Golden eagles have been all but extinct in Wales and England since 1850. Wilder Britain has launched a public consultation following a feasibility study.
In 2019, Cardiff University researchers said Wales was home to “large expanses of potentially suitable eagle habitat” but reintroduction was not likely to happen “for some time”.
Siân Gwenllian MS has said: “There are many reasons to oppose this plan, but the interests of local farmers are undoubtedly a priority.
“I have been in discussions with local farmers, and with the local branch of the FUW, and I share their concerns that these plans could pose an additional danger to local agriculture, an industry which is already facing countless challenges.
“The likely reason that the species disappeared from the area in the first place is insufficient subsistence in the Snowdonia area. This could mean that if reintroduced, local farmers’ lambs would be easy prey for them. That is very worrying. ”
Wilder Britain, the organisation calling for the reintroduction of eagles to Wales, held a public meeting to discuss the plans in Betws-y-Coed in early September.
There is concern that Wilder Britain is interfering with the rigorous research project carried out by the Eagle Reintroduction Wales (ERW) project, led by Cardiff University. That project undertakes careful and detailed research into the environmental and ecological impact of eagle reintroduction.
Siân Gwenllian MS added: “Dr Paul O’Donoghue, director of Wilder Britain, claims that eagles in Snowdonia were culled, but there is ground to believe that their disappearance was due to lack of subsistence for the species.
“This could be a major threat to the area’s wildlife and agricultural stock. We know that eagles can carry the weight of other animals, putting Snowdonia’s biodiversity at risk. ”
Siân Gwenllian raised the issue in a plenary session of the Senedd today with Lesley Griffiths MS, Minister for the Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs. Ms Gwenllian asked the minister to ‘state clearly that the Welsh Government will not support these recommendations, and that they need to be put aside as soon as possible.’
Lesley Griffiths MS responded by saying that she appreciated that such proposals were ‘controversial’ and that there were polarised views’, and she noted that all points of view on the issue needed to be considered.
Siân Gwenllian MS said: “It is important that we listen to the voices of farmers who are expressing great concern about this scheme.
“I appreciate RSPB Cymru’s statement that any proposed reintroduction of the species would have to come following thorough research, local consultation, and widespread support from local communities.
“According to my conversations with the FUW, there is reason to believe that that local support does not exist.”
It seems that Sian Gwenllian is not a big fan of any proposed eagle reintroduction as she seems to think that golden eagles ‘would put Snowdonia’s biodiversity at risk‘. It’s probably fair to say, based on that statement alone, that Ms Gwenllian’s comprehension of what biodiversity actually is is quite limited, but that’s not necessarily an unsurmountable problem that couldn’t be addressed by some gentle education.
However, it appears that Ms Gwenllian is using the approach of Wilder Britain as reason enough to dismiss any thought of a reintroduction. That was always the danger of having two conflicting groups taking different approaches, and is what we feared might happen as a result.
Thankfully, Environment Minister Lesley Griffiths seems a lot better informed and has a sensible approach to how a proposed reintroduction will be assessed by the Government. In that sense, the Cardiff University-based Eagle Reintroduction Wales Project looks set to tick all the right boxes in terms of its background research, ecological feasibility studies, partnership development and planned public consultations.
Incidentally, in mid-August an FoI was submitted to the Welsh Government’s statutory nature conservation agency, Natural Resources Wales, to find out what correspondence had been received from Wilder Britain about a proposed eagle reintroduction. NRW’s response is now overdue.