Talking point: Trouble with sea eagles

Written by on 3 February 2014

For an animal so keen to maintain its privacy, sea eagles certainly seem to have been doing their best to court controversy in recent weeks.

First, Jackson Carlaw used a portfolio question in the chamber to ask the Government if it had any plans for dealing with the birds – which are thought to have taken livestock – beyond “chucking a pot of mint sauce among the lambs and telling sea eagles – enjoy!”

Next, Euan Warnock, of NFU Scotland, followed up by calling for control measures to be introduced.

Asked if he was suggesting a cull on the birds, which were only recently reintroduced to Scotland, he said: “I don't think we are at that stage, but we might need to look at the possibility of relocating individual birds where they're having a disproportionate impact on local farms.”

The RSPB responded, with spokesperson James Reynolds saying: “Sea eagles are mobile. They fly and will go where they wish. They will make sure they can set up home in habitats that can support their numbers.”

With a population of around 80 breeding pairs growing by 8-10 per cent per year in Scotland, any impact on farms could become more pronounced.

Of course, the sea eagles themselves have stayed characteristically quiet on the issue, maintaining their preference for isolated outcrops over environmental politics.

But despite the raptors’ media silence, the debate is likely to continue. With the two camps at odds, the issue could easily turn into a stalemate between environmentalists and those profiting from the money they bring in tourism on one side, against the farmers, who must watch as the birds – operating with legal impunity – damage their livelihoods by snatching lambs.

I have been one of the tourists that the eagles have helped attract. My girlfriend and I spent a day in Skye last summer, taking a wildlife boat tour from Portree harbour around the coast.

The boat weaved around the jagged cliffs while we, the hushed group, sat in hopeful expectation, trying to remind ourselves you are never guaranteed to spot anything on wildlife trips.

Eventually though, we rounded a corner and there she was – a full-grown breeding female, perched halfway up a cliff, fixing us with a beedy, watchful eye.

But after only a few minutes of showing off, she left, allowing me to attest to the fact that the birds were much less interested in me than I was in them. Though of course, depending on who you ask, things may have been different had I brought a lamb.

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