Eagles seen in Norfolk skies as success of reintroduction project is hailed

Embargoed to 0001 Saturday November 22 Undated handout photo issued by the RSPB of a adult white-tai

White tailed sea eagles have been seen on a number of occasions in Norfolk during 2020 - Credit: RSPB

The first white-tailed eagles in southern England for centuries have been spreading their wings far and wide, making several visits to Norfolk.

A five-year reintroduction programme on the Isle of Wight led by the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation began releasing young birds in 2019.

This spring, the birds of prey began making their first major exploratory flights, tracked by solar-powered satellite tags and spotted by nature lovers as they ranged as far afield as Norfolk, Yorkshire and Scotland.

A bird was seen flying over Heacham in March, while in May an eagle spent time hunting in South Norfolk, near Lakenheath Fen.

Over the summer there were also sightings around Shouldham, Marham and Cley, while an eagle later spent a number of days around farmland between Snettisham and Heacham.

White-tailed eagles, nicknamed "flying barn doors" because of their huge 8ft wing spans, are the biggest birds of prey native to the UK.

The birds became extinct in Britain in the early 20th century but they were reintroduced from Norway to Scotland from the 1960s onwards.

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The reintroduction project to bring them back to the south coast, where they were once widespread, involves releasing up to 60 birds taken from the wild population in Scotland as youngsters, over five years.

Four of the six released in 2019 survived their first year, and it is expected birds in the project will settle within 30 miles of the release site on the Isle of Wight when they breed at around four to five years old.

Roy Dennis said it had been a "very encouraging year" for the project.

"We've been particularly pleased that some people have viewed eagles flying over from their gardens during lockdown and to have received so many enthusiastic and supportive messages," he said.

"The project is still in its infancy but sea eagles have again become part of life in southern England."

Tim Mackrill, an ornithologist with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, said the satellite tags had delivered fantastic data including where the birds were ranging, and how much of the time they were on the wing or resting.

He said eagles were known to wander widely during their early years, until they reached breeding age at four or five.