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15 November, 2017

SNH and partners testing new ways to protect lambs from sea eagles

Trials are underway by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and its partners on how to reduce the impact of sea eagle predation on sheep farming.

Removing trees where sea eagles nest next to lambing areas and new scaring methods are two techniques being tested on a small number of 'monitor farms' in west coast locations. These methods are being trialled in places where other management measures, such as extra shepherding, have failed to prevent loss of livestock.

SNH granted a licence this week to Forest Enterprise Scotland (FES) to fell two trees where sea eagles have nested previously. The trees are on the National Forest Estate, north of Oban, next to a farm where losses of lambs from sea eagle predation has been thoroughly investigated and demonstrated.

It’s hoped that removing nest trees will encourage birds away from areas where they’re feeding on lambs, as eagles can move nest locations when nests are destroyed by natural causes. The licence will only be granted for periods outside the breeding season to ensure that nesting birds aren’t disturbed. The effectiveness of these techniques, and the response of the sea eagles, is being closely monitored by SNH contractors.

New scaring techniques are another method being researched, including audio or light-based scaring methods.

If successful, these techniques could be used in the future as one of a range of options to protect livestock where impacts are thoroughly demonstrated.

This work is part of the Sea Eagle Action Plan, managed by the National Sea Eagle Stakeholder Group. The plan pinpoints a number of monitor farms in Argyll and Skye to look at sea eagle activity in more detail and test actions aimed at reducing the impact of sea eagles on livestock.

Ross Lilley, SNH Sea Eagle Project Manager said:

“We recognise the serious concerns that some farmers and crofters have about the impact of sea eagles on their livestock. We’re working closely with farmers and crofters, National Farmers Union Scotland, RSPB Scotland, Forest Enterprise Scotland and others to thoroughly understand the part sea eagles play in livestock losses. The trial is about finding a balance between livestock farming and wildlife and recognising the benefits that each brings to us all. This is a great example of working together to tackle issues faced by farmers and crofters whilst ensuring healthy populations of this spectacular species.”

John Taylor, Environment Forester, Forest Enterprise Scotland, West Argyll Forest District said:

‘’Pro-active management is sometimes needed to resolve conflicts between land managers and protected species. FES is always keen to work with farmers and other partners to develop solutions to such issues.’’

Andrew Bauer, National Farmers Union Scotland said:

“NFU Scotland welcomes the continued commitment of SNH and other organisations to find ways to reduce the risk of sea eagle predation of lambs and sheep. Farmers and crofters affected by sea eagles will be hoping the trial is a success, but can be reassured that regardless of the outcome, their plight is recognised and work to remedy it will continue”

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management for RSPB Scotland said:

“The sea eagle is an important part of our natural heritage and a considerable benefit to the tourism economy in Scotland. The population of sea eagles is increasingly healthy, and this species is expected to re-colonise its former range over much of Scotland in the coming years. We accept that non-lethal management approaches may assist with resolving conflicts with livestock, whilst also ensuring suitable safeguards are in place for a species, which rightly receives the highest level of legal protection. An effective partnership approach is working towards shared outcomes.”

There is a healthy population of sea eagles in Scotland. A 2016 SNH report predicted that the number of sea eagles, also known as white-tailed eagles, is likely to be around 221 pairs by 2025 with potential for a much larger population by 2040.

There have been three release phases to re-establish the eagles, which went extinct in 1918. Two releases occurred on the west coast of Scotland from 1975-85 (Rum) and from 1993-98 (Wester Ross), and one on the east coast (Fife) from 2007-12. There were a minimum of 113 pairs of white-tailed eagles in Scotland in 2017.

The current sea eagle management scheme is operating from 2015 to 2018 and is investigating all issues involving sea eagle impacts on livestock, with local stakeholder groups set up across the sea eagle range in Argyll & Lochaber and Skye & Lochalsh. Other groups are being established where the demand arises.

The stakeholder groups are represented on a national panel with members from SNH, National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS), RSPB Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS), Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate (SGRPID) and Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF).


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Notes to editors

The sea eagle reintroduction is an ambitious, large-scale partnership project that helped inspire many of the priority projects in Scotland’s Biodiversity: A Route Map to 2020. The Route Map is focussed on conserving Scotland’s most important wildlife.

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