Crofters have their say on sea eagle attacks

Adult White-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) in flight. ©Lorne Gill

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A round-table discussion between crofters, farmers and sea eagle management experts has been organised by Lochaber MSP Kate Forbes.

Scheduled for tomorrow (Friday October 11), the meeting will be a chance for representatives from the National Sea Eagle Management Scheme panel to answer questions about the impact the birds have on livestock.

Since their reintroduction, sea eagles – also known as white-tailed eagles – have become more prevalent along the west coast of Scotland and have increasingly been targeting sheep.

Donald MacIsaac runs a croft near Glenuig with a flock of 80 sheep which was devastated during last winter.

He said: ‘It is normal to lose maybe one or two sheep from a flock over winter, but we lost 19 between October and February. Losing a quarter of my flock is not at all normal and we identified clear evidence of talon marks on some carcasses.

‘I saw a lot of the eagles over the winter and we know they nest on Eilean Shona, an island about two miles to the south of my land.

‘I have been working on this croft near enough all my life and hope to pass it down to my kids and grandchildren. Something needs to be done to manage the birds because a way of life will soon be lost.’

Ms Forbes called the meeting in response to crofters and farmers such as Mr MacIsaac who are looking for some form of deterrent.

She said: ‘I think we all agree that it is incredible to see sea eagles along the Highland coast line and the reintroduction of the species has been relatively successful.

‘Scottish Natural Heritage has been responsible for supporting crofters with sea eagles through the Sea Eagle Management Scheme, and I thought it was important to have an open discussion about the issue.’

Local MSP Kate Forbes announced the latest crofting grants in her role as Scottish public finance minister. NO F14 Kate Forbes MSP croft grants
MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, Kate Forbes.

This scheme supports livestock farmers and crofters who suffer the impacts of sea eagles across their breeding range.

The reintroduction ended in 2012 and there are currently around 130 breeding pairs of white-tailed eagles with this number expected to grow.

Under the current scheme, land managers have up to £1,500 per year available to be used for mitigating measures.

Tomorrow’s meeting will be a chance for the expert panel to give an update on methods of deterrence and for crofters to explain their concerns.

Rae McKenzie, SNH policy and operations manager, said: ‘Sea eagles were once widespread across Britain, until they were wiped out as a result of persecution in the early 20th century. The reintroduction of these native birds to Scotland has been very successful and benefited tourism. However, in some locations, sea eagles may impact farming and crofting by predating lambs. We are working closely with farmers, crofters and other partners to trial management techniques which can help reduce these negative impacts.’

Techniques currently being trialled include scaring devices and additional shepherding to increase human presence on the hill.

The National Farmers’ Union for Scotland has previously highlighted that there is not only an economic impact from sea eagles hunting sheep, but also a threat to land management performed by hill flocks.

A spokesman for NFUS said: ‘The majority of the complaints we hear tend to be around lambing time when the issue really comes to a head each year.

‘It is something which we have worked hard on this year to make sure our members’ views are heard at every possible level.’

The National Sea Eagle Management Scheme panel will have representatives at the meeting from SNH, NFUS, the Scottish Crofting Federation, Scotland’s Rural College, Forestry and Land Scotland, and the RSPB.

The meeting will be held in the Duncansburgh MacIntosh church hall at 11.30am with those who have previously made complaints invited to put their concerns to the panel.