Action needed to stop high lamb deaths by white-tailed eagle

Action is needed now to stop white-tailed eagles causing carnage in farming communities, says NFU Scotland Photo: David Colthart, Appin hill farmer

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Urgent action is needed to stop lambs being killed by Mull’s growing population of white-tailed eagles.

Farmer Fiona Boa recently lost five lambs in just one week to the rewilded birds that she and others say have become ‘far too densely populated’ and are damaging their livelihoods.

‘It’s not just the dent to income it’s all the hours of extra work it causes to keep our stock safe. It’s getting out of control now. There’s another farm over at Treshnish, they’ve lost about half a dozen lambs so far. There’s also worries about other wildlife they are harming,’ she said.

Appin hill farmer David Colthart with one of his lambs killed by a white-tailed eagle
The pair of white-teailed eagles are nesting close to Craignure Golf Club on Mull.
White-tailed eagles lambs on Mull, say farmers and crofters suffering losses

A recent Facebook photograph posted by Pennyghael Stores showed 16 of the predator birds sitting outside the shop.

White-tailed eagles were reintroduced 40 years ago on Rum but have made their way to Mull. They are also one of the island’s big tourist attractions.

Dave Sexton RSPB Mull Officer said the recent gathering outside Pennyghael Stores was ‘like a glimpse from the distant past when such a sight would have been normal across the UK’ and he said it will ‘hopefully also become a more common sight in the future.’

‘We are just not used to seeing sights like this since man wiped them out last century. It doesn’t mean there are too many of them as some like to claim; it’s just what they do and as the population slowly recovers, it will become one more amazing wildlife spectacle that Scotland has to offer.’

But Fiona, who farms at Dervaig, added: ‘Even many of those for whom tourism is their main income would agreed that Mull now has too many of them. When they were first introduced there must’ve been a plan of what to do if it got too successful. I’d like to know what that plan was.

‘It needs managing now, even if it is just the problem birds that are dealt with. Once they get a taste for killing, they will keep at it.’

David Colthart Chairman of the Argyll and Lochaber Sea Eagle stakeholder group says ‘it is not fully appreciated by the public the negative impact of the reintroduction of White tailed Eagles  has had, adding ‘in some hill flocks the level of killing by some of these birds is unsustainable.’

‘As a farmer like others  I have experienced first hand the devastating impact that these birds can have on your flock and personally feel that is not acceptable that we as Farmers and Crofters are paying the price of a species reintroduction were the impacts weren’t fully thought through,’ he said.

NFU Scotland says more needs to be done to deliver a revised White-tailed Eagle Action Plan being led by NatureScot.

The union has written to NatureScot voicing frustration that despite efforts to try out ways to deter predators, lambs are continuing to be lost with some farmers and crofters experiencing substantial impacts on their flocks.

An escalating range of licensable actions on birds which habitually target livestock now need to be ‘a more accessible option’, says NFU Scotland, with humanely killing problem birds as the last resort.

But Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management for RSPB Scotland said the comments from NFUS  are ‘disappointing’  seeing as a new White-tailed Eagle Action Plan 2021-4, which NFUS were involved in, is about to be published by NatureScot.

He said: ‘We do not accept that lethal control or removal of some white-tailed eagles or their eggs will provide a genuine solution to livestock issues, as these birds will simply be replaced by other birds in the population, so other avenues clearly need to be explored.’

And also said: ‘This plan committed all partners to continuing to explore white-tailed eagle management options within the context of the evidence around livestock predation; licensing requirements; and the need to protect the population of these wonderful birds – important in their own right but also for local economies through green tourism. The scheme also commits NatureScot to the continuation of public payment to agricultural producers – currently running at £300k per annum – through the Sea Eagle Management Scheme.

‘While there is some localised evidence of livestock predation involving a relatively small number of white-tailed eagle breeding pairs, serious agricultural damage is very hard to establish in practice, and this subject is therefore not as clear cut as NFUS assert. This is a complex issue requiring thorough research and careful consideration.’

NFU Scotland president Martin Kennedy said when a joint agreement with NatureScot and NFU Scotland was reached in 2014 promising action on white-tailed eagles ‘most farmers and crofters put their faith in it and were optimistic, but now says members are ‘frustrated by the lack of progress to date, particularly in relation to the management of the birds – we need urgent delivery and implementation of key actions’.

NatureScot says the reintroduction of these native birds to Scotland has been successful and benefits tourism but accepts in some locations sea eagles impact farming and crofting by preying on lambs.

‘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 through the Sea Eagle Management Scheme and to trial management techniques which can help reduce these negative impacts,’ said a NatureScot spokesperson.