White Tailed Eagles Reintroduced To England

The white-tailed eagle, once driven to extinction in the UK, have now returned.

The last pair of known white tailed eagles bred on Culver Cliff on the Isle of Wight in 1780, although these birds were spotted in Scotland up until around 1916. A combination of hunting and extensive habitat destruction wiped these creatures out. Now, thanks to a joint project from the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, and Forestry England, they are being reintroduced back into England.

Following the reintroduction of White-tailed Eagles to Scotland – where there are now over 130 breeding pairs – permission was obtained to reintroduce them back into the UK. The first group were released onto the Isle of Wight last year. Conservationists who have been tracking the group have seen them travel to areas such as Norfolk, Somerset, and Kent as the weather has grown warmer, with a large number of sightings being reported this Spring. They are known to explore widely in their first two years before returning to their natural area to breed.

According to the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation website, Juvenile White-tailed Eagles are collected under licence, issued by Scottish Natural Heritage, from nests in Scotland and were translocated to the Isle of Wight in late June of last year. They are then held in a quiet, confidential, location for approximately four-eight weeks before being released. Food (mainly fish) was provided close to the release site during the autumn and winter before the young eagles become independent. The Natural England licence permits the release of up to 60 juvenile eagles on the Isle of Wight over a five year period from 2019. This means that this first release may very well not be the last.

The Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation is urging anyone who spots one of these creatures to record their sighting via an online form which can be found on their website here.

The white tailed eagle is the UK’s largest bird of prey, with a wing span of up to 2.5 metres. Their wings are broader and more rectangular than that of the golden eagle, with feathered tips. Their tails are short, white in colour, with a distinctive wedge shape. In young eagles, the tail is ridged with black stripes.

Young white tailed eagles have dark brown necks whilst the adults have pale heads and necks. The young birds usually don’t attain their full plumage until they are between 4 and 5 years old.

Like many eagles they have a hooked, yellow beak, although their is much more prominent that the golden eagles. Their legs and talons are also yellow in colour.

Often called the ‘sea eagle’, these birds will eat fish – as such, they can often been found along rocky coastlines, estuaries and lochs near the sea. Before they were hunted to extinction they were noted as being found along the South Coast of England, from Cornwall to Kent. Sometimes they will plunge right into the water to catch their prey. As well as fish, the white tailed eagle will also feast on other birds, mammals and carrion.

Not everyone is happy about the reintroduction of these species however. Farmers have voiced concerns about the impact it could have on their livestock. With the white tailed eagle being a protected species, and facing a fine of up to £5,000 or six months in jail for injuring or killing one of these birds, there are no real measures they can put in place against them. However, public support for the project is extremely positive, and it is expected to help boost the Isle of Wight’s economy, especially during the winter months. Recent reports have shown White-tailed Eagles generate up to £5 million to the economy of the Isle of Mull each year, and £2.4 million to the Isle of Skye.

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Jessica Howard

Jessica Howard

31 years old, currently living and working in London, UK.

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