Oddly Enough

Lamb-eating sea eagles upset farmers

LONDON (Reuters) - Sheep farmers in remote northwest Scotland are furious about a sea eagle reintroduction program, saying the huge birds of prey are damaging their livelihoods by killing 200 lambs in the past year.

The Scottish Crofting Foundation said some crofts, small farms producing mainly lamb or beef, had seen lamb numbers fall over the past five years because of the sea eagles’ diet.

“It’s come to the stage now that we have lost, in the whole peninsula, around 200 lambs and we believe this is solely due to the sea eagles,” William Fraser, chairman of the Gairloch and Poolewe branch of the Crofting Foundation, told Reuters.

“In a few years time there’ll be no sheep left on the hills,” said Fraser, who owns a 4-acre croft with 150 sheep.

Conservation groups began gradually reintroducing sea eagles to parts of Scotland from 1975. Britain’s largest bird of prey had become extinct there in the early 20th century.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) says the program is an outstanding conservation success story.

Three breeding pairs live in Gairloch, where Fraser has his farm.

Fraser said the sea eagles -- which have a wing span of eight feet and can weigh eight kgs (18 lbs) when fully grown -- will snatch even year-old sheep.

The crofters will meet next week to discuss the problem but Fraser suggested the young eagle chicks could be taken out of their nests and taken elsewhere. It was up to the conservation groups to solve the problem, he said.

Scottish Natural Heritage, the Forestry Commission of Scotland and the RSPB, which jointly run the sea eagle reintroduction program, were unconvinced by Fraser’s estimate.

“The number (of lambs) that they are suggesting is extremely surprising to us,” said RSPB spokesman James Reynolds.

Reynolds said that last week an RSPB team in Scotland examined a sea eagle nest on Gairloch and found their diet consisted largely of Fulmars, a sea bird, and quite large lamb bones, suggesting they were scavenged.

“We’re working with the Scottish Crofting Foundation very closely on this issue,” Reynolds said, adding that sea eagles generated about 1.5 million pounds ($2.8 million) a year in wildlife tourism for the island of Mull, where eight pairs live.

Reporting by Golnar Motevalli; Editing by Ralph Boulton