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