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Suffolk coast could be home to eagles

Last modified: 24 September 2009

Adult white-tailed eagle in flight

Natural England, and the RSPB, assisted by the Forestry Commission, have been looking at the feasibility of re-introducing the white-tailed eagle - also known as the sea eagle - to East Anglia, and the Suffolk coast is being considered as a possible future home for white-tailed eagles

A three-year study of eastern England between the Humber and the Thames has identified the Suffolk coast as offering the best opportunities for enabling the white tailed eagle to re-establish itself in England.

The Suffolk coast is favoured because of its location at the centre of a string of wetland habitats stretching from The Wash to the Thames Estuary, which could provide a suitable home for white-tailed eagles. Elsewhere in Europe, white-tailed eagles thrive in similar lowland wetland habitats.

Mark Avery, the RSPB’s Director of Conservation, said: “These birds belong to lowland England as surely as they belong to the sea cliffs of Scotland. Man is the reason they are missing and it is for us to put that right.

“It is also why we must do this properly and with regard to people and wildlife nearby. The RSPB want eagles back, but without a return to the conflicts and misunderstandings that led to their extinction.”

Natural England’s Chief Scientist, Tom Tew, said: “Our analysis of the Suffolk coast has produced encouraging results in terms of identifying potential sites that could form the base for a future re-introduction. The task now is to ensure an open and informed debate about whether, and how, to move forward.”

The white-tailed eagle’s huge wingspan, shock of white tail feathers and bright-eyed glare were once much more common sights. Once widespread in lowland England, the species was persecuted to extinction by the early 19th century. By the early 20th century, they were also extinct in Scotland.

The bird has now been successfully re-established on the west coast of Scotland after two earlier releases, and a third series of releases is underway in eastern Scotland.

Birds could take decades if not centuries to spread from Scotland without assistance and a Suffolk release program presents the best prospects of enabling the bird to re-colonise parts of England. Re-introduction could also be expected to deliver significant economic benefits for tourism and related businesses as has been the case in Scotland.

Tom Tew added: “Previous surveys have shown that the vast majority of the public strongly support the idea of the re-introduction of white tailed sea eagles to East Anglia, but we recognise that there are some people who are opposed and others who wish to understand more about how a re-introduction program would affect them. It is important we continue to gauge views and address concerns – a project of this type has to be right for the area as well as for the ecological needs of the birds themselves.”

In addition to conducting feasibility studies about suitable sites, the re-introduction project is looking to canvas the views of local landowners, livestock farmers, conservation organisations, experts and the general public. Over the next few weeks, a series of local opinion surveys will be conducted in Suffolk to gauge initial local reactions in advance of more extended dialogues with landowners and other stakeholders that will continue throughout the rest of 2009.

 

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