White-tailed eagles do kill healthy sheep stocks, say reports

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NFU Scotland has welcomed Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) documents on the management of white-tailed eagles.

The union says the documents give valuable insight into the work that is under way to deal with the problems caused by some eagles and states clearly for the first time that they do predate healthy sheep and lambs.

The documents recognise that since white-tailed eagles (WTEs) reintroduction there has been a growing impact of the birds on sheep flocks on the West Coast, with many farmers and crofters experiencing significant losses, particularly in areas where there is a lack of alternative prey.

One of the SNH monitor farms has demonstrated the loss of an extra 181 lambs between 2012-2018.

Post-mortem examination of a very small sample of lambs killed by WTEs also found most to have been fit and healthy when attacked rather than dead or unviable lambs, as some originally believed.

The white-tailed eagle action plan was produced by a stakeholder group following an agreement between SNH and NFU Scotland in 2014 to work together to find ways of limiting adverse impacts of White-tailed Eagles while developing the right conditions for the sustainable co-existence between them and sheep farming.

Depending on a range of factors, the WTE population is predicted to continue to expand  in the short term from its current level of 130 breeding pairs to several hundreds more over the next 20 years.

Figures on breeding pairs does not include the potential for a much larger number of juvenile birds as adult WTEs only start to pair when they are around five or six years old.

The union wants to make sure the current work of farmers, crofters, SNH and WTE monitor farms to address the issue of predation is enhanced.

It believes that as the WTE population grows, the problems for farmers and crofters will only get worse.

General public appreciation and understanding of the problem is on the increase and predation of lambs was highlighted in a presentation at NFU Scotland’s AGM in February, with the issue getting widespread coverage in  on national TV and radio and in newspapers.

NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick said: ‘We thank SNH for the publication of these documents, which clearly recognise that the diet of WTEs, in some locations, includes healthy sheep and lambs. For some of our farming and crofting members on the west coast of Scotland, predation by white-tailed eagles of lambs and, in some cases, adult sheep, is an unwelcome threat to their future viability.

‘That makes this a very emotive issue for those of our members affected by significant WTE predation on their stock and NFUS is committed through the collaborative approach with SNH and other stakeholders to identify solutions.

‘With one WTE monitor farm able to clearly demonstrate the loss of an extra 181 lambs in the period 2012-2018, it is clear to me that WTE predation could have a serious impact on the sustainability of hefted hill flocks on some farms and crofts.

‘The papers also recognise that, in areas where there is a lack of alternative prey, the predation period extends beyond lambing time in the spring and presents a threat to lambs and adult sheep throughout the year.’

He said although the successful reintroduction of WTEs has brought tourism benefits to some, the reality is that those benefits tend not to go to the farmers and crofters.

And he warned with the numbers of WTEs growing,  the impact on sheep producers will expand far wider than the current hotspots as they follow available food sources east and south.

‘All modelling on populations comes with significant caveats but one has suggested that, depending on conditions, there could be as many as 900 breeding pairs by 2040. That means the valuable work currently being conducted by SNH staff, their contractors and farmers and crofters looking for successful mitigation measures must continue as we endeavour jointly to find solutions to the predation problem.’