Go-ahead for eagles to be reintroduced to Norfolk
- Credit: Ainsley Bennett
Plans to reintroduce eagles to the Norfolk coast have been given the go-ahead.
Natural England has agreed conservationists can release 60 young birds at Wild Ken Hill, between King's Lynn and Hunstanton, over the next decade in the hope of establishing a breeding population in the region.
Eagles were persecuted to extinction in England by the early 19th Century.
In recent years, the species has been reintroduced to Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Wight, from where young birds released by the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation have ranged as far as Norfolk, visiting locations in the west and north of the county including Heacham and Holkham.
Dominic Buscall, manager at Wild Ken Hill, said, “We are delighted to have the go ahead to bring back white-tailed eagles to eastern England, and overwhelmed by the support we have received from all sectors.
"We have also carefully been listening to concerns where they have arisen, and we are now committed to delivering this important conservation project and working with all of our stakeholders to ensure its success.”
Roy Dennis, who has been instrumental in the recovery of the species in the UK, said:, “This is the next logical step to restore this magnificent bird to England and compliments efforts across Europe to help the species.
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"We have carefully considered the potential ecological and socio- economic impact of the project and initial results from the Isle of Wight, and evidence from across lowland Europe, shows that this is a bird that can live successfully alongside people and fit into the East Anglian landscape very well.”
Dave Slater, director for wildlife licensing at Natural England, said: “After thorough consideration, we have granted a licence allowing the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation to release white-tailed eagles at Wild Ken Hill in Norfolk.
"Our experts have carefully assessed the project against guidelines for the reintroduction of species, as well as the potential environmental, social and economic impacts. And we are satisfied that there are no significant risks associated with it.
"We’re content that the applicant’s experience, as well as our expertise and licensing process, ensures the project will be carried out in a responsible, well-managed way that takes account of concerns and makes a positive contribution to both people and wildlife.”
White-tailed eagles usually do not breed until they are five years of age, and so it will take some time for the population to become established.
The juvenile birds will be translocated from Poland, where there are over 1,000 pairs of white-tailed eagles. The first are expected to be released next year.
Mr Dennis said: “The breeding biology of White-tailed Eagles means that although young birds range extensively in their early years, they usually return to their natal area to breed.
"However, if, in the future, young birds from other populations encounter a small breeding population of white-tailed eagles in East Anglia, they may be encouraged to stay.”
An earlier bid to reintroduce the eagle to Norfolk, which was abandoned through lack of funding, drew an angry response from some sections of the farming community who feared the birds could pose a threat to free-range poultry and livestock.
But a feasibility study carried out by Wild Ken Hill found white-tailed eagles are opportunistic predators with a preference for fish, waterbirds, and for carrion.
No issues with conservation sites or farming systems have been recorded with any of the 13 birds released on the Isle of Wight to date.
Some 83pc of 1,839 people who took part in a public consultation exercise earlier this year said they were strongly supportive of bringing eagles back, while 63pc of the 216 farmers who took part were also in favour.
Wild Ken Hill was chosen for the next phase of national efforts to bring back the bird because of its coastal location as well as its quiet woodlands, which provide ideal nesting spots. More than 1,000 acres of farmland, heath, marsh and woodland are being given back to nature. Beavers have already been reintroduced to the estate.