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Natural England drops white-tailed eagle reintroduction

Natural England has abandoned its controversial scheme to reintroduce sea eagles to Suffolk. The decision was the result of pressure on the government agency to reduce costs as part of the push to cut the budget deficit. Research on the feasibility of reintroducing white-tailed eagles to Suffolk began in 2007. If permission had been granted it was estimated the cost of the planned reintroduction of 75 sea eagles to would have been £600,000 over six years. The scheme is opposed by local farmers and shoot owners who fear the bird’s reintroduction could damage their livelihoods. Earlier this year a group of farmers, shooters and landowners made their views clear by erecting protest signs on local roads. The CLA was among several organisations that supported the protest and it welcomed the news that NE had dropped out of the scheme. CLA President William Worsley said: “This is absolutely the right decision for the rural economy and wildlife. A population of sea eagles could have had a significant economic impact on the livestock industry in East Anglia. Free-range pig and poultry producers could have been seriously affected as a quarter of the national outdoor pig herd is in Suffolk.”

As joint leaders of the project the RSPB were naturally disappointed by NE’s withdrawl. In response, Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s head of conservation, said: “This decision will disappoint all those who look forward to the return of white-tailed eagles to their rightful place in England’s skies. Righting the wrongs of the past, which saw these magnificent birds driven from our coasts and wetlands, remains a priority for conservation programmes of the future particularly when illegal persecution of birds of prey remains far too common in the UK.”

Dr Avery also indicated that the RSPB would continue with the project, calling on the CLA to work with him to bring eagles back to Suffolk. He said: “A small number of vocal opponents have campaigned against this project. We will be writing to the CLA to ask whether they could identify suitable areas for a white-tailed eagle reintroduction project where we could work together to achieve a real conservation gain.” An RSPB spokesman added, “We have funders interested in supporting the reintroduction and our carrying on with it is a real possibility.”

Dr Tom Tew, chief scientist for NE expressed his conviction that had the money not run out the project would have achieved its aim and he appeared not to have given up on its continuing. “All the evidence suggests that a reintroduction would have met all the international criteria and would have been successful. We will honour our commitment to publish the work that the project has undertaken thus far and this may inform any reintroduction project that is planned in the future.”

The rest of this article appears in 23rd June issue of Shooting Times.

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Natural England has the power to grant a licence to a private body to release the birds raising the possibility that the RSPB will be permitted to continue with the project.