New bid to reintroduce eagles to Norfolk


A new bid is being launched to reintroduce the white-tailed se eagle to Norfolk - Credit: Ainsley Bennett

Conservationists are launching  a fresh bid to reintroduce the white-tailed sea eagle to Norfolk.

Plans to release the birds of prey in the county were shelved in 2009 after an outcry from some landowners, who feared eagles would feed  on their livestock and poultry flocks.

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A white-tailed eagle which took up residence on the Ken Hill estate at Snettisham last summer - Credit: Wild Ken Hill

But a bird from a group released on the Isle of Wight in 2019, which has been seen around West Norfolk since August, has debunked the claim by feeding on gulls and carrion.

Now a farmer who is returning part of his land to nature and a conservation charity are launching a consultation over plans to  release six-12 young birds a year over a five-year period, with the aim of establishing a breeding population between 2026 and 2029.

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

Dominic Buscall, manager at the Ken Hill estate at Snettisham, said: "We are bringing forward these proposals not only to reinstate this native bird to its former range, but also to inspire people with nature and drive wider nature recovery in East Anglia.

“It is vitally important that we give local people and interests a meaningful opportunity to have their say on these proposals - that is why we are launching the public consultation and asking people to learn more about the project and take our survey."


Young eagles shortly after being released into the wild on the Isle of Wight - Credit: Forestry England

Roy Dennis, from the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, which has led the birds' reintroduction on the Isle of Wight, said: " “This is the next logical step to restore this magnificent bird to England and compliments efforts across Europe to help the species.

"The initial results from the Isle of Wight project, and evidence from across lowland Europe shows that this is a bird that can live successfully alongside people.”

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Young sea eagles in a nest in Scotland - Credit: Forestry England

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Steve Rowland, area manager at the RSPB for Norfolk and Lincolnshire, said: “The RSPB are strongly supportive of the principle of restoring white-tailed eagles to their former range and so we welcome this proposal by the Ken Hill Estate and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation to investigate the feasibility of a reintroduction to west Norfolk and this public consultation is an important next step in the process."

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


Eagles being released on the Isle of Wight - Credit: Forestry England/Roy Dennis Foundation

But Nick Sandford, acting regional director for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) said: “The CLA’s view on species reintroductions has always been nuanced, given the range of views of our members.

"There are conservation, social and economic advantages to moving or reintroducing species in certain circumstances, however any change in ecology brings a risk of harm to the environment, land use and people.

“It is vital that the full range of potential impacts on local businesses and communities, as well as local ecology, is understood before any project progresses.

"We are in the process of studying the Ken Hill proposals and will be guided by the views of members in the area. Affected landowners must have an opportunity to engage at an early stage with any consultation and to ensure that good practice is followed.”


A sea eagle flying over Norfolk dwarfs a red kite - Credit: Tim Smith

For the reintroduction to go ahead, the project must receive approval from Natural England, the Government’s wildlife licensing body, which will assess the views of local people and interests alongside the environmental merits of the proposal. 

Supporters say birds released as part of the Isle of Wight project have not troubled livestock or fisheries, but have remained elusive, often feeding on fish in The Solent. 

Also known as the sea eagle, the White-tailed Eagle is a native bird of prey, and the UK’s largest, with a wingspan of 8ft (2.4m). It was hunted to extinction in Britain in the early 20th Century.

Ken Hill was chosen for the proposed reintroduction because of its coastal location as well as its quiet woodlands, which provide ideal nesting spots. Last year beavers were released onto the estate to naturally manage wetland habitats.

Consultation papers are available online here. The online consultation runs until Sunday, February 14.