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Sea eagles targeting lambs a 'major problem' for farmers

The sea eagle problem in the Highlands and islands is becoming more pronounced as the numbers of the birds increase.

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Since the first introductions were made back in the 1980s on the island of Rhum the population has increased mainly across the west coast to an estimated 105 pairs.

On Mull alone it is believed there are 21 pairs. Add in juveniles and that could equate to 100 of the ’flying barn doors’ at work on the island.

David Colthart farms on mainland Argyll, and is chairman of the Lochaber and Argyll Sea Eagle Management Group, one of a number of the stakeholder groups across the Highlands and Islands which has been feeding information to Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).


Action plan

A new SNH action plan is expected to be published within weeks but farmers said sea eagle predation of lambs had become a major problem.

On Sunday evening (May 14) Mr Colthart came across a lamb which had been killed in an attack.

“It is not the birds’ fault. They are only behaving naturally in looking for food and with so few rabbits about, lambs are the easiest prey," said Mr Colthart

"Scotland has changed a lot since they were last common here. It is really a misnomer to call them sea eagles because they hardly ever catch fish. We have had a pair here for six or seven years and I have only once seen a fish carcase in the analysis of prey remains collected from its nest."

He believed it could often be the juvenile birds which caused the problem.

They do not pair up and find a territory until they are about five to six years old. In the meantime, they hunt extensively and make no distinction between carrion and live lambs.

Mr Colthart, who runs 600 ewes, added: “In this part of the world we are used to the ups-and- downs of hill sheep farming but as soon as sea eagles arrive the line on the graph goes steadily down.

“There are limited payments under the present scheme to fund mitigation measures such as liming to improve more easily supervised low ground but most of us would far rather not have had the sea eagles at all than the money.”

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