Sea eagles: talk of reintroduction to Norfolk & of cull in Scotland

White-tailed eagles were in the news yesterday after it emerged that the progressive Ken Hill Estate has launched a public consultation to consider the reintroduction of sea eagles to Norfolk (there’s a good article in the Guardian about it, here).

This is quite a story, as journalist Patrick Barkham points out, given that ten years ago some Norfolk pig farmers vehemently opposed a reintroduction proposal but this time a number of them are on board, no doubt reassured by their recent experiences with visiting eagles from the Isle of Wight reintroduction project.

There’s a long way to go before a decision is made, of course, and Norfolk’s appalling reputation for the continued illegal killing of birds of prey will need to be carefully considered, but have a look at the Ken Hill Estate website (here) where they’ve published useful background information and provided links to the public consultation and opportunities for people to sign up to forthcoming webinars. It’s impressive stuff.

Meanwhile in Scotland, there is still talk of culling white-tailed eagles. This isn’t anything new – there have been persistent calls for a cull from certain quarters for years, fuelled by sensationalist nonsense from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association who even wrote to the Government calling for a public enquiry about the ‘threat’ that sea eagles posed to babies and small children (I kid you not – see here).

The latest call stems from the recent news in the Scottish Farmer that Nature Scot’s sea eagle action plan review ‘may also include further licensed activities’ (see here).

Although those potential ‘licensed activities’ are not defined, and may not involve lethal control at all, the Scottish Farmer’s editor, Ken Fletcher, has written an editorial suggesting that ‘there is a growing feeling that management will, indeed, mean that in some areas a cull will have to take place‘.

Here’s the relevant part of his editorial from 14 January 2021:

Natural Balance

RE-WILDING has become a noisy topic both on-line and in the national press, but there is a temptation to argue that it’s very much a minority that is seeking to drive change.

For want of a better expression, it would appear that the Great British (Scottish) public don’t give a monkeys about beavers, sea eagles and lynx. Yes, they would probably like to see them on their way to littering our countryside, but it cannot be argued that their life would be immeasurably worse off without them.

So, it’s nice to see that there is more of a balance in the stakeholder input into curbing so-called rogue individual birds by the sea eagle management scheme. It’s now readily accepted that some birds do severe damage to livestock in certain areas and equally that farmers accept their managed right to be in their locale. The key is in the word ‘managed’.

It’s a thorny and potentially politicised subject that will probably not raise its head above the parapet until after the Scottish elections later this year, but there is a growing feeling that management will, indeed, mean that in some areas a cull will have to take place.

Some argue that this should involve relocation as being an option, instead of a lethal solution. But, in the same way the ludicrous notion that not producing beef in Scotland will save the planet thus seeing production ‘exported’, then sending difficult birds to new locations will only transpose the problem.

It’s also been hinted that beavers should not be shot – as they are allowed to be under licence at the moment – but re-located instead.

We have a ready-made solution. Send them to Knapdale, in Argyll, where the original and sanctioned re-wilding project seems to need ‘topping up’ on a regular basis as they keep disappearing. It seems that they don’t like the wild west!


21 thoughts on “Sea eagles: talk of reintroduction to Norfolk & of cull in Scotland”

  1. “They would probably like to see them on the way to littering our countryside” Wow, what an appalling attitude.
    A small percentage of selfish morons litter but every tax payer is helping to subsidise the farming industry.
    We’re all stakeholders in the countryside via taxation so if the majority people want to see wild animals in it and to be able to visit wild places then their opinion on how land is managed (at scale) is just as valid as those that own the land.

    1. It’s not as though farmers would ever leave fertiliser bags, baler twine, silage bale wrapping or other assorted detritus flapping in the wind is it? I am sure that none of us has ever seen a farmyard that remotely resembled a badly managed junk yard!

      Fletcher’s arrogant attempt to conscript the tired old countryman vs townie ‘argument’ to his case is disgraceful.

      1. And no one would dare suggest farmers on the edge of town deliberately keep their land in an unsightly state so there would be less objection to selling it for development.

    2. I was going to comment about the littering, I’d like to add occasional carelessness with barbed wire and routinely spreading hedge trimmings across roads.

  2. ‘Difficult’ birds eh….or how about inconvenient. Terms only someone who, despite purporting to be a lover of countryside and all things natural, is so far removed from the natural world and their pathetic little insignificant place in it, that the notion of cull cull cull’ is their go to solution to any ‘perceived’ problem. Such arrogance and lack of understanding.

    1. I’d ahve absolutely no problem with farmers protecting their livelihood, IF, I knew that large amounts of taxpayers money wasn’t subsidising it. Given that most of these farms and crofts are not viable without subsidy, the solution is simple, make an allowance within the subsidy for instances where White tailed eagles actually have caused economic loss.

      Though given the nature of sheep losses due to other reasons on hill farms, I’d be very surprised if the eagles impact was that measurable.

      I have links to people who farm in the area concerned and they tell me that apart from a few instances most losses attributed to the Eagles are sheep that were sick or dead anyway and there is a knee jerk assumption that where one is seen feeding on a sheep’s carcass that the eagle was responsible for its death.

      1. So the eagles presumably remove the evidence to fallen livestock, and the substantial subsidies for poor husbandry.

      2. SNH commissioned CSL to study the impact of WTE on lambs on Gairloch. The 4 month independent scientific study revealed no predation at all on lambs no lamb remains in eagle nests and no radio tagged lambs disapearing.

        Why cant these ecological illiterates ever take on board scientific fact and evidence.

  3. Reintroductions have always been clickbait for the “Scottish Farmer’. It’s been a slow week for news so they saw the stuff from Norfolk and they manufactured a vaguely related story with the classic introduction – ‘there is a growing feeling…..that a cull will have to take place’. A growing feeling where ? You’d doubt if there is any such growing feeling even among Scottish farmers. Then we get the old chestnut that it’s a ‘potentially politicised subject’ (not ‘political’, which it certainly is, but ‘politicised’) so shutting down any further discussion of the merits of the issue where they might have to justify their usual homespun wisdom about anything and everything. Just another lazy fake news editorial.

  4. Hard to know where to start in answering the dross from Ken Fletcher. First thing that springs to mind is the casual way the Scottish public (the non farmers who through their taxes happen to keep highly marginal farming going) are disparaged as not having any real interest in wildlife and are in fact better described as litterers rather than nature lovers – so all non farmers litter the countryside, and no farmer ever does? Imagine coming out with such a remark about the farming community, especially if you worked for a conservation organisation. Play the victim and then you can be the bully to get what you want, shout everyone else down – which is precisely my experience of the crofting community on Lewis.

    Aren’t sales of sheep really poor in Scotland and therefore it’s predominantly subsidy which keeps it going? That would help explain why mortality rates for sheep are so high here from hypothermia, parasite burden and poor nutrition – there’s not that much financial incentive in looking after them well. Ron Greer, a legendary rewilder from before the term was coined, has mentioned that way back in the 1970s Norway offered to build a demonstration sheep shelter in Scotland, a type that they use to keep their livestock healthy in an even grimmer climate. This was to be free of charge, a diplomatic gift, but it was turned down. It seems there’s not that much interest in preventing sheep deaths. For the past twenty years I’ve lived less than 150 yards away from a lowland sheep farm and I can’t say I’ve been impressed by the husbandry standards.

    Make out you’re a ‘poor’ farmer losing your income from some predator that’s been foisted upon you by those Springwatch loving townies then you might be on to tapping a compensation as well as the subsidy system. I suspect that a lot of us are thinking that, but it’s not so easy getting away with raising this issue. Last year I went to a talk about the possibility of reintroducing the lynx to Scotland and although the speaker underlined the supposedly high losses of sheep to lynx in Norway, they ‘forgot’ to mention the compensation scheme for losses to predators is notoriously lax there and there have been scandals regarding fraud. In a recent podcast lynx expert David Hetherington stated analysis suggests there’s been a nine fold exaggeration, so only one in nine cases where a lynx was blamed for killing a sheep was it actually true. Is that what’s going to happen in Scotland with the sea eagle, the Gairloch fiasco suggests so

    Of course he had to get his little dig in about beavers too. He may well suggest that they keep getting translocated to Knapdale because there’s evidence that as the population is hemmed in by mountains (one of the reasons the trial was finally allowed then and there) the young have difficulty dispersing without going into the sea and this incurs high mortality rates. Knapdale could end up being a population sink for Scottish beavers. Fletcher never mentions that higher grade agricultural land in Scotland is valuable because it covers only about twelve percent of the country. That means there’s a far, far higher amount of low grade land where if beavers could get on and do their thing then they would significantly reduce flood risk to homes, businesses and that very same better quality farmland it’s being ludicrously claimed the beavers are destroying. Maybe the fact that this would mean change for less productive, heavily subsidised farming in the uplands and indeed for other vested interests leads to this getting swept under the carpet to the cost of wildlife and the greater public interest.

    Fortunately there’s a new Scotgov petition asking that in obtaining the proposed licence for grouse shooting flood prevention measures will have to be adopted and this could be the starting point for them being implemented across the uplands which is long overdue. In terms of grouse moors this will involve reduced/ending muirburn, blocking drainage and targeted tree planting principally riparian and on contours. In addition large woody debris could be added to watercourses to help form natural dams that would hold water back and in the longer term there’s scope for the return of the beaver to amplify this effect quite dramatically. Incidentally all of this would reduce the fire risk and spread on the moors they are always talking about, a relief to the emergency services. The petition is a wee rebuke to the crap conservation efforts have been getting, who can legitimately argue that stopping families from losing their homes to floods should be compromised so some people might have a few more birds to shoot for fun? In signing the petition please remember (not all do) to click on the small black ‘Sign This’ box after and below clicking on the ‘I am not a robot’ bit. Many thanks in advance, nice to tighten the screws for grouse shooting and promote beavers at the same time

  5. WTEs in East Anglia would be marvellous and with luck would eventually spread to other suitable areas. Yet in Scotland we have the predictable nonsense about the need for a cull. It is probably beyond time that we had a cull of all those farms and crofts that cannot sustain themselves viably without our taxes being used as a subsidy. Rewilding would be a better way and of benefit to more in the West of Scotland as much as in the English Lakes and mid Wales uplands all currently impoverished by sheep and in Scotland also deer.

  6. It’s absolutely laughable that the old Eagles carrying babies away line is still trotted out now and again, does anyone seriously believe this ?

  7. I would love to see WTEs in Norfolk, however I’m surprised that nobody has yet pointed out just how close Ken Hill is to Sandringham. If I were an eagle I wouldn’t be volunteering for that job!

  8. The Scottish Farmer has always led the charge up there with its anti-eagle nonsense. Earlier this year they seemed upset to find “no reports of eagle damage this spring” But still gave the species a good kicking

  9. Scottish farmers are no different to their English counterparts, in that they are still living in the Edwardian era. And they and their ” Game ” farming/shooting interests struggle to progress to the 21st century. They are keen to grasp all of the latest technology advancements, but still rely on subsidies/grants and wildlife culls to support, what often is, a financially/feasibly/environmentally unsound business. Only sustainable if governments allow for them to continue leeching off the public/tax payers. Thumbs up to the Ken Hill Estate for breaking out of the centuries old tradition and seeking a better future for people /farming/ and wildlife too.

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