Photo by Chris Gomersall
Britain’s largest bird of prey, the sea eagle, may be re-introduced to England next summer, nearly a century after being persecuted to extinction.
Natural England, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and Anglian Water, have been investigating the feasibility of re-introducing the bird, also known as the white-tailed eagle, to East Anglia, a part of England rich in wetlands adjacent to the North Sea.
The fourth largest eagle in the world, the sea eagle is a scavenger and generalist predator that feeds on fish, birds and rabbits.
Two centuries ago there were more than 200 pairs of sea eagles across the UK, but by 1916 they had been driven to extinction, according to Natural England, a UK government agency.
Sea eagle chicks collected from nests in Norway were re-introduced to Scotland in 1975 and by last year there were 42 breeding territories. Eagles released on the Isle of Mull in Scotland are a major tourist draw, generating revenue for the island.
To enable re-colonization of other suitable coastal habitat, a new re-introduction project began in eastern Scotland in 2007.
But persecution, including egg collecting and deliberate killing, remains a serious threat to their recovery, since the rate of population growth is naturally slow, Natural England says.
The birds could take decades if not hundreds of years to spread to England from Scotland without assistance.
“Before attempting to return a species that has been lost for so long, it is important to understand its potential effect on both wildlife and people,” Natural England’s chief scientist, Tom Tew, said. “We are consulting widely in order to make a fully informed judgement as to whether, through this ambitious project, there is an opportunity to return one of the UK’s rarest and most spectacular birds to England.”
In a recent opinion poll, 91 percent of the residents of Norfolk said they would like to see a bird like the sea eagle in their region.
Rob Lucking, RSPB area manager for The Wash and North Norfolk, said: “The sight of birds of prey like the white-tailed eagle is a sure sign of a strong and healthy environment. Without them our ecosystem is disfigured, our natural and cultural heritage diminished and we are all the poorer.
“England has been without these magnificent birds for too long. Such a re-introduction must be done properly and with due regard to the people and wildlife nearby but, if it can be done, then the sight of eagles soaring over Norfolk would give a huge lift to people’s spirits and to the local economy.”
It is hoped that a firm decision will be made in spring 2009 on whether the project should proceed. If approved, the first releases could take place in summer 2009.
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