Ian Blackford MP (Scottish National Party) is the latest politician with a vested interest to whip up some anti-raptor rhetoric by accusing white-tailed eagles of “slaughtering” his lambs, emboldening those who have been calling for an eagle cull.
Blackford’s hysteria was published in the Sunday Times at the weekend, as follows:
With a wingspan of up to 2.5m, the majestic white-tailed eagle reintroduced to Britain from Norway is the country’s largest bird of prey.
But calls for a cull of the giant bird have grown after it was blamed for the deaths of lambs raised by Ian Blackford, the SNP Westminster leader.
Three of nearly 200 breeding pairs of the bird, also known as sea eagles, live near to the politician’s croft on the Isle of Skye, and are said to have killed up to ten of his 60 lambs in the past month.
It comes less than three years after a non-native mink killed his three-year-old ducks — named Mrs McGregor, Mrs Campbell, Mrs Morrison and Mrs McFarlane.
Last year conservationists failed in a bid to introduce 60 white-tailed eagles, likened to “flying barn doors”, to Norfolk after objections from landowners.
Blackford, who runs the smallholding with his wife, Anne, in the northwest of the island, watched from a distance recently during one of the attacks.
“Coming across a dead lamb slaughtered by an eagle it’s not a sight that you want to see. It’s an upsetting one,” he said.
“When all your efforts have gone into the lambing season, you take a pride in looking after your flock. To lose even a small number of lambs is soul destroying.”
Angus MacNeil, his neighbouring SNP MP in the Western Isles, favours a targeted cull of the eagles first reintroduced to Britain in the 1970s and again in the 1990s and early 2000s, with most in the Highlands.
Condemning “monoculture conservationists who cannot see beyond one species”, MacNeil said: “Sea eagles eat puffins and other small birds like Mars bars yet they’re heavily protected.
“A livestock law introduced last November says the owners of dogs that attack livestock can be fined £40,000 or sent to prison, but if you’re a conservationist protecting sea eagles who do the same, you’ll get a big desk in Edinburgh and a promotion.”
David Colthart, an Argyll hill farmer who represents National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) on a sea eagle stakeholder panel, suffered 135 unaccounted-for losses out of several hundred lambs last year.
There are four breeding pairs of sea eagles in his area and he says that lambs are an easy target for birds feeding their chicks.
“Many farmers and crofters have found the sea eagle reintroduction very challenging,” he said.
NatureScot, the public body responsible for Scotland’s natural heritage, has no plans to allow the killing of the magnificent birds, which emit a yelping cry which is made up of 15-30 short “yaps”.
It said: “We understand the concerns of farmers and crofters, and continue to work closely with them, and a range of stakeholders at the local and national level, to offer management support . . . and to trial management techniques which can help reduce these negative impacts.”
Ross Greer, the Scottish Greens MSP, said the return of sea eagles had been “a great success story”, with efforts by the government and conservation charities to help farmers mitigate their impact.
“If we’re to combat the nature and climate emergencies, then sustainable agriculture and nature restoration must learn to work together,” he said.
Meanwhile, Benedict Macdonald, the conservationist and television wildlife director, has made more calls for lynxes to return to Scotland. In a new book, Macdonald argues that the species, last seen about 1,300 years ago, would bring ecological and financial benefits by controlling deer and foxes. He also defends wild boar as critical to woodland wildlife as nature’s oldest rotational farmers, churning soil and encouraging plant growth.
NFUS is opposed to the reintroduction of lynxes, which has been previously proposed unsuccessfully for Kielder, an English village three miles from the Scottish border. It says they have been responsible for thousands of sheep deaths in Norway. “The Norwegians told us that to reintroduce predators into our country would be an absolute catastrophe,” Colthart said.
I find it interesting that Blackford claimed ‘up to ten’ of his lambs had been ‘slaughtered’ by eagles – how many is ‘up to ten‘? Surely he can count? Or is it a case of him seeing a sea eagle consuming an already dead lamb and he’s assuming the eagle has killed it, rather than acknowledging that eagles will readily eat carrion?
If he’s quick, he can apply to join NatureScot’s Sea Eagle Management Scheme which offers support for adapting livestock management and for trialling prevention measures (see here). The closing date for support in 2023 is 31st July 2022.