RESPONDING to concerns ra-
ised by its members, the National Sheep Association is challenging proposals to release white-tailed sea eagles on the Isle of Wight, off the south coast of England. NSA understands the Roy Dennis Foundation and the Forestry Commission have formally lodged an application to Natural England to release birds during the summer of 2019.
NSA is concerned about any plans to release large apex predators into the UK environment when habitats and food availability have changed immeasurably since when the species may have lived in this country before its extinction.
NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker commented: “The idea of releasing these large predators into our environment may sound very appealing – but as any livestock farmer will tell you, you don’t buy a batch of animals without first being confident you have the right conditions for them and you can feed them. It would be completely irresponsible to do so otherwise. We are told the white-tailed sea eagle was last present in the early 1800s, some 200 years ago, and no one can dispute our environment has since changed to the extent that it would be unrecognisable now.”
NSA feels strongly the birds, if introduced, would prey on sheep and affect the livelihoods of many farmers and small-scale businesses due to a lack of wild prey. NSA believes this to be important, not just because of the livelihoods of sheep farmers, but because successful sheep farming is essential in maintaining grassland environments and their related ecosystems.
NSA’s opposition to the proposals is based on the work of NSA Scottish Region over many years with sheep farmers on the west coast of Scotland struggling with high lamb losses from the white-tailed sea eagles, with some saying they question the viability of continuing farming sheep. Farmers and other land managers are restricted from making noise or disturbance around these birds and the compensation scheme is not the answer, as even if it does cover the cost of losses, it does not prevent attacks or allow shepherds to operate to the high sheep welfare standards they strive to maintain.