Sheep farmers and industry chiefs have hit out at Natural England’s controversial decision to allow the release of 60 sea eagles on to the Isle of Wight.
The five-year project is due to kick off this summer, but the National Sheep Association (NSA) said the Government had not carried out the proper consultative procedures or impact assessments, especially with the release set in an environment with depleted natural food stocks.
Uncertainty over compensation and protection for farmers, whose stock could be killed or taken by birds, was also a worry.
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “Make no mistake – these birds are a top-of-the-food-chain predator whose behaviour will adapt relating to food needs and availability.
“We will be seeking answers to our questions over legally binding actions that livestock keepers can take and the responsibilities of Government in compensating for losses.
“We will also be asking what impacts this has on our aspirations to lead the world in animal welfare standards.”
Mr Stocker said the birds could not be released before a monitoring and management group with representation from key stakeholders and sectors has been established, but farmers were voicing concern.
A Natural England spokesperson said it had ‘carefully examined’ the potential risk of lamb predation and there was ‘no evidence of this becoming a problem where the eagles live alongside lowland sheep farming in Europe’.
NFU Scotland member and Appin farmer David Colthart, who sits on the Argyll and Lochaber sea eagle stakeholder group, said two years into the sea eagle monitor farm project, part of the Sea Eagle Action Plan, had demonstrated that ’perfectly healthy lambs’ were being snatched by sea eagles.
The initiative hopes to develop ways to minimise predation by sea eagles on livestock.
Mr Colthart said: “The promoters underplay the potential impact on sheep farms, especially on more extensive systems.
“They state it is only weak or dying lambs that sea eagles are taking, but that is a load of rubbish in my opinion.”
One of the most popular misconceptions was that there was plenty of food, ‘but not all sea eagles eat fish’, he said.
“Attacks on adult sheep have also been recorded," added Mr Colthart.
“It cannot be underestimated the serious damage that is already being caused to some hefted hill flocks on farms and crofts in Scotland.”