Farmers worried over bid to reintroduce sea eagles to Norfolk

A rare white-tailed eagle has been seen over Norfolk Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Neil_Burt

A new bid is being launched to reintroduce the white-tailed sea eagle to west Norfolk - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Farmers have aired concerns for their livestock and other wildlife after proposals were announced to reintroduce white-tailed sea eagles to Norfolk.

A public consultation has been launched on proposals put forward by the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and the Wild Ken Hill estate at Snettisham, to establish a breeding population and "reinstate this native bird to its former range".

The west Norfolk estate was chosen because of its coastal location and quiet woodland nesting spots.

But some farmers are worried about the potential impact on East Anglia's large numbers of free-range pigs, poultry and lambs.

About 40 farmers discussed the plans with project partners at an online seminar hosted by the National Farmers' Union (NFU).

NFU East Anglia environment adviser Rob Wise said the concerns were not just about livestock being taken, but also the "worrying" effect of large aerial predators with an 8ft wingspan.

"It is fair to say there is a fair degree of scepticism among most farmers about some of the claims being made that these birds wont predate either livestock or significant numbers of other species of conservation interest, such as breeding waders and ground nesting birds," he said. 

"Our members are concerned about the impact on pigs, poultry and lambs, but this is not just about the taking of livestock, but the worrying of livestock too. Poultry, pigs and lambs could take flight from big birds of prey overhead, and if they come down to take some carrion it sends them into a panic.

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"There has been little research on the negative productivity effects of livestock worrying by these birds, but we are pleased that in the course of this discussion Wild Ken Hill committed to work with us to do more research on that."

The project team says there have been no incidents of predation of livestock or poultry by any of the 13 birds released on the Isle of Wight since 2019, including one bird  which spent over five months in west Norfolk, around many outdoor pig farms.

The team also visited the Netherlands where a growing Dutch white-tailed eagle population breeds in areas grazed by sheep, but the researchers have "recorded no cases of eagles taking lambs or any other livestock and there is no conflict with farming". They said this was due to an abundance of wild prey, particularly water birds and fish, which would be similar in west Norfolk.

sea eagle

An aerial view of Ken Hill, where conservationists hope to start releasing sea eagles - Credit: Wild Ken HIll

A statement on the estate's website adds: "A key element of the project is to liaise closely with the farming community from the outset, and respond to any local issues immediately should they occur."

More than 20 landowners, farmers, and countryside organisations including the RSPB have already pledged their support for the project.

Dominic Buscall, manager of the Wild Ken Hill estate, said many farmers had expressed their backing for the reintroduction of sea eagles.

"Well-over two thirds of farmers we have spoken to one-to-one support this project, and 17 have written to the government in support," he said.

"The online survey is currently indicating even stronger support among farmers who have responded with almost 90pc in favour."

For the reintroduction to go ahead, the project must receive approval from Natural England.

The online consultation runs until Sunday, February 14.