A move which would see golden eagles reintroduced to Wales more than 200 years after their extinction has been criticised by industry leaders.
Wilder Britain, which is heading up the proposals to restore golden eagles, said it would be ‘one of the biggest ecotourism draws in the UK’.
The first site for release would be the Snowdonia mountain range.
It follows a similar project by the Golden Eagle Trust in Ireland, which Wilder Britain project lead Paul O’Donoghue – who was also involved in the failed lynx reintroduction in Kielder Forest, Scottish Borders – said had provided ‘a successful’ ecotourism industry, as well as being welcomed by local farmers.
The organisation said Welsh farmers had come out in support of the project, with upland farmer Brian Sheldon suggesting the birds would ‘provide much needed diversification opportunities for Welsh upland farmers in what are difficult times’.
But NFU Cymru rural affairs board chairman Hedd Pugh said Wales had greatly evolved in the last 200 years, with no true wild areas left. Instead, there were only managed landscapes which had been created, shaped and maintained by farmers.
Mr Pugh said: “There is a real concern any reintroduction of this species would cause risk to animal health and welfare and have an impact on livestock production, with newborn lambs particularly at risk.
“Having a top predator, such as a golden eagle, could seriously compromise agri-environment and site of specific interest objectives.”
Farmland birds and other wildlife would be a target for the predator, he said.
The National Sheep Association said differing environmental conditions and a less-bountiful natural food supply than 200 years ago would be of concern when releasing any apex predator.
LYNX UK Trust will consult on three new sites for a trial reintroduction of Eurasian lynx, despite the Kielder Forest reintroduction being refused by Defra Secretary Michael Gove.
The areas are the Kintyre Peninsula, Argyll and Bute; the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park and Glenfeshie, both in the Scottish Highlands.
NFU Scotland vice-president Martin Kennedy said farmers in Norway had been paid compensation for 20,000 sheep lost to predators including lynx.