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Sea eagles are bad for farming

Having been involved for several months recently explaining to everyone why sea eagle introductions on the Suffolk coast would be a bad idea, it was a relief to discover last Monday (14 June) that George Osbourne’s axe had
fallen on something we could really do without. The joyous news was somewhat shortlived as the RSPB’s Mark Avery claimed it was actively seeking private funding and may even foot the bill themselves. The £600K bill for the project would fund the release of the birds, 75 per cent of which they expect to lose. There is no compensation package, nor has there been a proper evaluation of the economic impact of the arrival of these birds.

We run Blythburgh Free Range Pork, a family farming business that employs 25 people in the fields along the Suffolk coast, producing highwelfare, high-quality meat for sale largely in independent high street butchers throughout England. We were concerned, not only for the number of piglets that would be eaten by the sea eagles, but the damage that would be done when they tried. Panicked sows can easily trample their young or miscarry. Veterinary advice has suggested that frequent disturbance could increase mortality by 30 per cent. Furthermore, around 10 per cent of the UK’s pig breeding herd is outdoors in Suffolk and that means a lot of rural jobs.

On the estate we also have 1,500 acres of National Nature Reserve which we manage with Natural England. For the past 40 years we have worked hard swiping, chopping and spraying the bracken to restore these heaths for grazing sheep. This is not a hugely profitable business, so what happens when lambing percentages start to fall? How will the grazing be sustained and who will pick up the bill?

The nature reserve is only really there because my forefathers were much more enthusiastic Shots than they were farmers. Had they been keener on carrots than partridges, the whole lot would have been ploughed up years ago. As it is, I believe it is home to the finest shoot in the county. More importantly, it provides a livelihood for a whole family, that of a gamekeeper who sank everything he had into building it up. Is a bird worth a whole family?

It is the process that dismays me the most, the subterfuge and disinformation that was prevalent throughout. The original plan was to begin releasing the birds now, it was only the mobilising of effective opposition that got the clock stopped. This was not a campaign organised by the CLA. One member allowed the use of their conference room for the first meeting, the farmers who turned up in their droves did the rest. These people represented an overwhelming percentage of the jobs and livelihoods that would be affected, not a “small minority of landowners” as they have been dismissed by RSPB’s Mark Avery.

I hope that Natural England will go away from this project and think carefully about how it operates. As the Government’s conservation body it should be impartial, objective and, above all, scientific. It is a body that should be trusted by those who make their living in the countryside. Lobbying and agendas are for the RSPB and their like, and should not be state sponsored.
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