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Sea eagles: no decision yet

PUBLISHED: 11:45 08 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:51 06 July 2010

The protest signs on farmland at North Cove. Picture: ANDY DARNELL

The protest signs on farmland at North Cove. Picture: ANDY DARNELL

CONTROVERSIAL plans to release sea eagles on the Suffolk coast will not go ahead this year to allow more time for consultation, it has emerged.

Livestock farmers feared the proposals - a joint venture by Natural England and the RSPB - would damage their livelihoods.

CONTROVERSIAL plans to release sea eagles on the Suffolk coast will not go ahead this year to allow more time for consultation, it has emerged.

Livestock farmers feared the proposals - a joint venture by Natural England and the RSPB - would damage their livelihoods.

They even went as far as putting up signs bearing the slogan “Say No To Sea Eagles Here” along main roads, including the A12 south of Lowestoft and the A146 near Beccles.

Andrew Blois, who owns hundreds of acres of grazing marsh and farmland in Walberswick and Blythburgh, said that introducing a large predatory bird could cause problems for his free-range pork business.

He said: “My main problem with the idea is that such a large bird could easily spook a sow, causing her to roll on to her piglets, or even take or kill a piglet itself.

“It's not just my livelihood which I'm concerned about, but also the 42 people I employ. There are also 50 or 60 butchers and restaurants who buy our meat, so damaging the industry will have widespread effects and the impact could be huge.”

But conservation chiefs confirmed they would continue to gather evidence during the rest of this year - entering into a formal consultation with farmers and landowners and other interested parties in the second half of 2010.

Natural England had considered introducing the birds, also known as white tailed eagles, to north Norfolk, but after a wave of anger from farmers, the government body announced in September last year that it had changed the proposals back to the original idea of locating the eagles on the Suffolk coast.

Alex Dinsdale¸, NFU East Anglia countryside adviser, said: “Members were expressing increasing concern about the costs involved with this project and the potential impact the sea eagle could have on local wildlife and livestock farm businesses.

“The project seemed to be rushing forward without proper consultation with those most likely to be affected. We're pleased that the brakes have now been applied and we look forward to meeting Natural England at the earliest opportunity to take this forward.”

Nicola Currie, regional director at the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), added: “This is exactly what we have been asking for since the autumn when the project was announced.

“We congratulate Natural England on being willing to delay the programme until 2011. This will give us all the opportunity to step back a pace, and for land managers, conservationists and property owners to make their concerns understood.

“There is great need for a comprehensive study of the effects these very large predators might have upon a livestock industry of outdoor pigs and poultry such as we have in the proposed area of introduction.”

Natural England said a number of meetings had already taken place and it would be wrong to say the project had been postponed because there was no set timetable.

Chief scientist Tom Tew said: “The project partners remain committed to the feasibility study and we look forward to further engagement with interested groups to help assess whether a reintroduction should take place.

“A project of this type would only go ahead if it were right for the area as well as for the ecological needs of the birds themselves.

“We will continue to compile evidence in the months ahead and will rightly ensure that this work has been completed before seeking a determination of the licence application, and making decisions about whether to proceed with a reintroduction.”

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