Conservationists vote against sea eagles being released

Chris BishopConservationists have voted overwhelmingly against proposals to release sea eagles in East Anglia, after hearing the latest research behind the project.Chris Bishop

Conservationists have voted overwhelmingly against proposals to release sea eagles in East Anglia, after hearing the latest research behind the project.

More than 100 people packed Hunstanton Methodist Hall for the AGM of the North West Norfolk branch of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, on Thursday night.

Rob Lucking, the RSPB's area manager for The Wash and North Norfolk, explained why the society and Natural England wanted to re-introduce the species to the Suffolk coast.

"There's a proposal going around to re-introduce the species to England, and East Anglia has been selected as the best area," he said.

While sea eagles were not endangered in international terms, they were as deserving of conservation as species such as the bittern, skylark and corn bunting.

Left to their own devices, sea eagles might one day find their way to East Anglia from either Scotland or Europe, where there are breeding populations, he said. 'We could wait for them to get here under their own steam,' said Mr Lucking. 'But we've got a conservation tool, re-introduction, we could use to get them here much faster.'

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Mr Lucking said studies showed sea eagles bred most successfully in lowland, wetland habitats. He also outlined research carried out in Scotland and Poland, which showed the birds were unlikely to predate heavily on healthy livestock, preferring to feed on carrion.

'I couldn't put my hand on my heart and say the white-tailed eagle wouldn't take livestock in East Anglia, but what I can say is its unlikely it's going to cause problems for livestock farmers,' he added.

Rabbits, ducks, gulls, game birds and cormorants are among the birds' favourite prey, along with fish. Mr Lucking said release proposals now centred on Suffolk, because the RSPB believed sea eagles would not pose a threat to the recovery of the bittern.

Mr Lucking outlined a timescale leading up to the first releases next summer, provided the necessary consents could be obtained. He said the first eagle chicks could be purchased later this year.

Questions from the floor included what would be done to compensate shooting estates for game bird losses. Mr Lucking said the birds would be more likely to take road kill and shot birds which had not been picked up.

'You've done a wonderful Max Clifford job on the eagle,' said one man in the audience. 'My fear is in some ways, the RSPB is punting them like Katie Price, like Jordan - the big birds are what brings the punters in, the tourists.'

When chairman Dr Clive Wakes-Miller called for a show of hands, the vote was overwhelmingly against. Three years ago, on the last occasion the North West Norfolk NWT discussed the issue, the outcome was the opposite.

'Everybody was given the opportunity to talk,' he said after the meeting. 'We're trying to find out what people think and we're waiting for some more scientific evidence.'

Nicola Currie, regional director of the Country Land and Business Association, said: 'The overwhelming vote against the introduction of the sea eagle to East Anglia, confirms our findings when talking to the general public.

'People do not support the introduction and see no reason for it when we have such a wealth of birdlife already in this region.

'We are dismayed of the continued stance of both the RSPB and Natural England that the introduction will go ahead, with dates for licences and releases being stated when they are still supposedly in consultation with farmers and landowners.'

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