Another MP fuels anti-eagle hysteria with calls for a cull

In February this year, Dorset MP Chris Loder astonished us all with his [unfounded] anti-eagle hysteria about white-tailed eagles, stating on Twitter:

I don’t want eagles in Dorset, killing our lambs and plaguing our farmers” (see here and here).

It is widely suspected that Mr Loder’s views have influenced Dorset Police’s decision to prematurely end an investigation into the poisoning of a white-tailed eagle found dead on a shooting estate in January (see here) but I’ll be writing more about that shortly because the search for evidence to support this theory is being somewhat hampered.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the country and perhaps emboldened by Mr Loder’s comments, another MP has emerged from the woodwork to stoke even more anti-eagle hysteria by calling for a cull of white-tailed eagles in Scotland.

This headline comes from today’s edition of The Times (Scotland) here. The article is based on a series of tweets posted over the last few days by Angus MacNeil, SNP MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar covering the Outer Hebrides, including:

The ignorance on display about the reintroduction of white-tailed eagles in Scotland and the species’ ecology and biology is nothing new; we see this rhetoric pretty much every year from some parts of the Scottish sheep-farming sector, supported by the National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS). For those new to this topic may I suggest you read this stunningly dreadful ‘Sea Eagle Action Plan’ published by the NFUS in 2014 (see here).

It’s no surprise to learn that, according to The Times article, Mr MacNeil keeps 33 ewes.

Of course eagles (both white-tailed and golden) will eat dead lambs – both species have broad, generalist diets that includes carrion (e.g. see the results of a dietary study of both species in Western Scotland here). And, no, Angus, there isn’t any scientific evidence that white-tailed eagles are ‘persecuting’ golden eagles (e.g. see here).

This is a long-standing and controversial issue that has attracted a lot of attention over the years with several variations on the demonisation of this species. Isn’t it funny though that video evidence of sea eagles actually killing live healthy lambs never seems to emerge, only photographs of bloodied carcasses?

However, it would appear that if farmers/crofters want to deter sea eagles there’s a simple solution which doesn’t include culling – attach a small black plastic box (about the size of a matchbox) to the lamb’s neck. Why? Because a load of lambs were radio tagged during an earlier study into alleged lamb-killing eagles and the results showed that not one single lamb was killed by an eagle. The crofters claimed the eagles had been ‘put off’ because of the radio collars/tags. (They also claimed that the eagles had been given supplementary food during the study period, and that some eagles had been ‘bird-napped’ to remove them from the study area!).

The Times article includes a quote from NatureScot:

Nature Scot said that a cull was not being considered, adding: “We understand the concerns of farmers and crofters, and continue to work closely with them . . . to trial management techniques which can help reduce these negative impacts.”

Fortunately, not everyone shares Mr MacNeil’s ignorance as demonstrated by the recently-commissioned study showing that white-tailed eagles are bringing in between £4.9 million and £8 million to the tourism sector on the Isle of Mull, supporting up to 160 jobs (see here).

UPDATE 28th July 2022: Ian Blackford latest MP calling for a cull of sea eagles (here)

24 thoughts on “Another MP fuels anti-eagle hysteria with calls for a cull”

  1. There’s absolutely no evidence of a White-tailed Eagle attack on the lambs just as there was no evidence of the Lynx attack on 7 dead sheep in Wales, it’s just rhetoric trying to appeal to his ignorant supporters.

    With 6.83 million sheep in Scotland, if anyone’s having roast lamb for Easter you’re part of the problem not part of the solution. Own it.

  2. What is this MP’s position on fox snaring up there, I genuinely wonder? Across the UK snaring has an annual ‘bycatch’ of hundreds or likely thousands of healthy lambs and healthy deer and healthy dogs, badgers, otters, cats, etc, etc. I bet vastly more healthy lambs will be lost to snaring than to eagles in his constituency.

    1. ‘The news where you are’ is that ‘up there’ is not part of the UK range of the fox. If you mean his constituency and even if you don’t.

      1. Hi BSA, I’m happy to be corrected. My confused geography – somehow thought his constituency was be bigger and included Skye and possibly parts of the mainland. Living without any foxes knocking about would be very strange indeed for me, but living without snares nearby would be an absolute joy. Thanks & ps. no offence intended to a very special part of the country.

  3. There is ample evidence of the diet of white tailed eagles, especially from around their nest sites where the bones of their prey are scattered around. It would be very interesting to know what percentage of these bones are lamb. I suspect it would be a big fat zero.

      1. I’m a farmer albeit south of the border and want to make this probably controversial point. I’m sure you’re absolutely right that white tailed eagles eat dead lambs and sheep as carrion, they probably take a few lambs too. However, I think it is fair to place greater value on a white tailed eagle than a lamb. Farmers rightly deserve to be compensated for their losses and this should be calculated as their average deadweight carcass sale price over the year plus 25%, based on a claim that could be submitted alongside other sheep subsidy claims. Evidence could be photos from losses found on the farm or photos taken of nests by authorised persons. That way nobody can argue sheep farmers are suffering and the eagles are allowed to thrive and others are allowed to derive profit from running white tailed eagle related enterprises. Enterprising sheep farmers may well be able to also derive diversification income from the white tailed eagles either directly or via joint ventures.

    1. I have been closely involved with a pair of White-tailed Eagles on Skye for several years. Because of crofter claims of significant lamb losses being associated with these birds, annual nest vicinity prey remains analysis has been carried out. Lamb remains have consistently formed a very small proportion, with, typically, sea birds predominating. While some of these very few lambs could have been healthy, all carrion is readily taken, as are weak animals.

  4. Time to ask the Scottish Govt if he’s presentintg SNP policy, as he’s tweeting with SNP in his name

  5. I’d have thought that Angus Brendon MacNeil would have been beyond such shenanigans but given a lot of his island constituents no doubt have a few head of sheep it’s not entirely surprising. This likely has more to do with the local council elections than anything else. Disappointing all the same though.

    Anyone still think that the SNP are going to do anything about wildlife crime?

  6. Honestly if most farmers, and shooting estates had their way there would be no wildlife at all. Anything that interferes with their profits is deemed vermin that needs to die. But it’s not just about that, since these people get tax payer subsidies for any livestock that is killed by these eagles, so it is clearly about a combination of money and a deep hatred of wildlife in general. They show pictures of dead lambs as if they have some moral high ground even though the lamb would ultimately have be killed by them anyway. The worst part is that the tax payer subsidizes these people who clearly hate wildlife. There would be no sheep farms and far fewer shooting estates, if it were not for tax payer subsidies propping up their unprofitable business. The overwhelming majority of the British public would choose to protect wildlife over protecting sheep farmers or shooting estates, yet because the clear conflict of interests between the people in power and the ownership of these businesses, they get away with killing wildlife on a massive scale all throughout the country. I can only hope that one day the country will elect a government that actually puts wildlife and the state of nature in this country before the interests of a tiny minority that only want to trash nature.

  7. As ever, a loud-mouthed hysteric shows photos of scavenged carcasses and claims that they were healthy specimens killed by a predator. One thing these people NEVER have is film of an actual attack. Famously, (or should that be “infamously”?) the film that is always trotted out purporting to show Ravens attacking a lamb show a ewe a lamb and several Ravens in close proximity, with no evidence of attack, no evidence of alarm from either the ewe or the lamb. Nobody is going to pretend an eagle with an 8′ wingspan is not going to take the occasional lamb but I have little doubt that the number is infinitesimally smaller than those lost due to weather, illness and just plain bad husbandry.

  8. A very irresponsible comment from MacNeil which will only be translated by some as an excuse to persecute Sea Eagles.
    How will the deeply ingrained prejudice against birds of prey ever be eradicated when there are fools in positions of public responsibility making comments like these?
    Is it any wonder there has been so little progress on implementing new raptor licensing legislation in Scotland when such biased, uneducated individuals are able to get elected to the Scottish parliament?

    1. “Is it any wonder there has been so little progress on implementing new raptor licensing legislation in Scotland when such biased, uneducated individuals are able to get elected to the Scottish parliament?”
      The SP has a plethora of these Neanderthals and undesirables.

  9. Hi Ruth,
    Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 today at 12noon covering something about the above Angus and his views on Sea Eagles and lamb predation. If you have time to listen?

  10. Do they not get compensated for ever lamb they lose?,Am sure that’s what the set up is!!,There is no pleasing these types of people if they had it there way there would be no animals left for anyone to enjoy!!,These beautiful Majestic eagles belong here!,They were here befor us and hopefully they will be here for generations of our family’s to enjoy…!,
    Save the wildlife and all its glory from Mps like these idiots,

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