Shoot owners and farmers who fear that controversial proposals to release up to 120 sea eagles on the Suffolk coast could damage their livelihoods have made their views clear by erecting protest signs on local roads.
If scientists from Natural England (NE) and the RSPB receive permission, 20 young birds a year will be released over six years at a cost of £600,000.
Signs bearing the slogan Say No To Sea Eagles have been put up in fields alongside main roads in north Suffolk, including the A12 south of Lowestoft and the A146 near Beccles in a bid to raise awareness of the proposals as meetings between stakeholders and NE get under way.
Local shoot owner Andrew Blois is the vice-chairman of the Suffolk branch of the Country Land & Business Association (CLA).
He said he is worried about how the raptors will impact on his pheasant and partridge shoot: ?The plan to introduce sea eagles is nothing more than an expensive indulgence of the Government. It has not properly addressed the implications for local people. That is why a group of shooters, farmers and landowners clubbed together to buy the signs.?
Mr Blois added he has signs on his land next to the A12 Lowestoft to Ipswich road.
?The signs have brought the debate into the public domain. NE was keen to keep their raptor reintroduction plans quiet, but these signs have attracted a lot of attention. They are a cost effective way of getting the message across that the birds are not welcome here.?
The Countryside Alliance?s Jill Grieve said she supported the move: ?Not enough consideration is being given to the local shooting industry and we would echo the concerns of land managers and shooters in the area. Adding a new species into the biodiversity mix will always have an impact on wildlife and therefore a knock-on effect on businesses and the economy. I hope local shooters make their views known to NE ahead of any final decisions, as they are the ones at the sharp end,? she said.
Richard Rafe, NE?s sea eagle project manager, defended the plans: ?NE and the RSPB have been looking at the feasibility of reintroducing the sea eagle to the Suffolk coast. As part of this work we are in discussions with a wide range of stakeholders, including the CLA and the NFU.?
Mr Rafe said decisions will not be made without proper consultation: ?It?s essential for us to have information from interested parties in detail so that we can discuss and consider any concerns. The task now is to ensure an open and informed debate about whether and how to move forward. Decisions about whether to proceed will not be made until all the evidence has been gathered and carefully considered.?
If you have any comments about the Suffolk sea eagle reintroduction project, email firstname.lastname@example.org