Proposal to reintroduce white-tailed eagles to Isle of Wight

From the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation:

White-tailed Eagles were once widespread along the whole of the South Coast of England, from Cornwall to Kent, before being driven to extinction by relentless persecution that began in the Middle Ages. The last pair bred on Culver Cliff on the Isle of Wight in 1780. Many parts of southern England remain highly suitable for the species, and following the reintroduction of White-tailed Eagles to Scotland – where there are now over 130 breeding pairs – we believe that an English reintroduction would be equally successful and the best way to re-establish these magnificent birds in their former haunts. Restoring a population of White-Eagles on the South Coast would help to link populations in Scotland and Ireland with those in the Netherlands and France.

[White-tailed eagle by Ronnie Gilbert]

Together with the Forestry Commission we have identified the Isle of Wight as a potential location for a reintroduction, and are currently working on a feasibility report. It is the last known breeding site of the species in southern England, the Solent and surrounding estuaries will provide a rich food supply, there are numerous potential nesting sites in woods and cliffs, and also good loafing areas for young birds. It is also a highly strategic location that would enable the birds to spread east and west along the South Coast.

Evidence from the Netherlands, where there is a small but growing population of White-tailed Eagles, shows that the species will readily nest in densely populated areas, close to people. The species has a broad diet and tends to favour the most seasonally abundant prey: waterbirds are important, including in summer the young of Greylag and other geese as well as Coot; fish are taken when available as well as carrion such as dead and dying birds and fish. Dutch researchers studying White-tailed Eagles have found that any disturbance to wading birds by the eagles is similar to that of Peregrine, and species get used to their presence; while breeding colonies of gulls and terns are effective at mobbing and driving off the eagles.

In addition to the conservation benefits, we believe that the project would give a significant boost to the Isle of Wight economy, including in winter. In Scotland eagle tourism is extremely popular and recent reports have shown White-tailed Eagles generate up to £5 million to the economy of the Isle of Mull each year, and £2.4 million to the Isle of Skye.

The proposed project is a partnership between the Forestry Commission and Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, with potential for other local partners to join.

If the project was to go ahead juvenile White-tailed Eagles would be collected from nests in Scotland and translocated to the Isle of Wight in late June. They would be held in special cages in a quiet location for approximately three-four weeks before being released. Food would be provided close to the release site during the autumn and winter before the young eagles become independent. Up to 60 birds would be translocated in this way over a five year period. The project requires a special licence from Scottish Natural Heritage to collect eagle chicks from Scottish nests, and permission from Natural England to release them on the Isle of Wight.

Young White-tailed Eagles do not breed until they are four or five years of age. It is hoped that a small population would become established on the Isle of Wight, with birds spreading east and west along the South Coast thereafter.

We are keen to consult with the local community, landowners and other stakeholders to encourage support and involvement with the project, and to identify and resolve any concerns.

Three drop-in sessions will be held at three locations across the Isle of Wight to enable members of the public to learn more about the proposed project. These will be held as follows:

  • Monday 12th November: 6-8pm, YMCA Winchester House, Shanklin
  • Tuesday 13th November: 11am – 1pm, 5th Ryde Scout Group Hall, Ryde
  • Tuesday 13th November: 6-8pm, Cowes Yacht Haven, Cowes

You can arrive at any time during the drop-in sessions, and the project team will be present to answer questions and to discuss the proposals. You can also provide feedback on the proposals via our online questionnaire.

For further information about the proposals check out our Frequently Asked Questions page.



34 Responses to “Proposal to reintroduce white-tailed eagles to Isle of Wight”

  1. November 1, 2018 at 8:31 am

    Sounds like an excellent scheme. The young birds on dispersal will likely be no more at risk than any from elsewhere.

  2. 2 Keith Aspden
    November 1, 2018 at 8:51 am

    What a great project!

  3. 3 Ian Carter
    November 1, 2018 at 9:05 am

    A bird that’s doing ok in the north where the potential for further increase and spread to new areas is still, sadly, constrained by illegal persecution. A great idea to restore it to the lowlands of southern England where persecution will be less of an issue and it should thrive.

  4. November 1, 2018 at 9:18 am

    Naturally, as a birdwatcher, a native of Southampton and one whose paternal line runs seven or eight generations deep on the Isle of Wight I welcome this news. However, to claim that “White-tailed Eagles were once widespread along the whole of the South Coast of England, from Cornwall to Kent” at least in historical times seems to me to be overstretching the available evidence. Poyser’s “Birds in England” tells me only that they may have bred in Devon (citing three possible sites) and quotes Penhallruick as saying there’s “no tradition of nesting in Cornwall”. In this context and that of the species becoming extinct in the Lake District by the end of the 18th century, the claim that they nested on the on Culver Cliff on the Isle of Wight in 1780 seems highly unlikely. Mistaken identity cannot I feel be casually ruled out. Mentions elsewhere in Saxon poetry fail to distinguish (like archaeological remains) between breeding and wintering/passage birds and may even have been symbolic as much as reflecting reality. That’s not to say that they may not have nested in the area in late Roman or early Medieval times but hard evidence that they did so simply doesn’t seem to be there. Does this, though, really matter for anyone other than pedants like me? If there’s the habitat for such a magnificent bird and its introduction will cause no real harm then why not?

    • November 1, 2018 at 10:06 am

      Hi John,

      Have a look at Evans, O’Toole & Whitfield (2012) – The history of eagles in Britain & Ireland. They reconstructed the WTE’s historical range (see Fig 3a) with a fair few data points along the south coast.


      • November 1, 2018 at 11:22 am

        It is strange that even as far back as 500 it was thought to be predominantly a west coast species.
        I suppose that it could be that that west coast was just its preference so when it had a choice it chose west coast habitat because there surely can’t be much difference between the lowlands of Scotland and countries as low-lying as Denmark. It could be that many of the young of this IOW scheme gravitate to west Scotland.
        It will be interesting to see what happens in the long term to White-tailed Eagles in Eastern Scotland (if they can survive the grouse mafia).

      • November 2, 2018 at 12:08 am

        Many thanks for the link to the article which I’d not seen before. I remain somewhat dubious how far we can confident that place-name elements can be reliably used to support the claim that the species was ‘widespread’ as a breeding bird in the A-S period. I certainly feel that the evidence to confidently claim that they bred on the IoW so relatively recently is weak.

  5. November 1, 2018 at 10:14 am

    Fantastic !
    Long overdue , like the current Osprey reintroduction to Dorset.

    Just wait for the howls of protest from the sheep farmers and shooters …………

    I hope I’m wrong !

    Keep up the pressure !

    • 9 Les Wallace
      November 1, 2018 at 11:42 am

      The absence of the eternally ‘poor’ crofter on South coast might make a difference re supposed predation and subsequent clamour for sympathy and compensation. There was a sheep farmer in Wiltshire who had a stray WTE take up residence on his land for quite some time. It never as much as looked at one of his lambs – when it left he missed it. Hopefully the hunting, fishing, shooting sector and other elements of the rural mafia have a lot less influence on the IoW.

    • 10 crypticmirror
      November 1, 2018 at 12:00 pm

      It’ll be from anglers, for “taking their fish” as per always. We’re talking about a group of people who are killing cormorants, heron, and certain duck species at rates which make gamekeepers green with envy at both the amount of kills and the unexamined impunity with which they get away with it. I see regular calls for eradication of those species coming out of certain Rivers Trusts, as well as anglers calling for culls of even osprey and otter. These eagles, if introduced, might not face the prospect of being killed by shooters as much as their northern cousins, but will be up against it from the angling community. I doubt they’d last long.

      • 11 Les Wallace
        November 1, 2018 at 3:37 pm

        You could have a point there. The anti predator hysteria has been growing in angling circles and there seem to be an increasing number of incidents of illegal persecution of otters and certainly more voices on social media saying they need to be ‘controlled’. There’s been mutterings about the dolphins in the Moray Fifth too – which didn’t surprise me when they showed footage of them eating salmon. The moment anything that turns up that might eat one of their precious fish it needs to be liquidated. This is not good at all and it’s past time when this shite from the angling sector needs to be dealt with. It looks like seven beavers including three kits have ‘disappeared’ from a stretch of the Dunkeld – salmon beats of course. I think the best way would be to show how it’s not natural predation that’s a problem it is caused by among others the ecologically illiteracy of anglers who’ve ripped out cover and reedbeds, mowed riverbanks just to make casting a line easier. It’s shocking how ignorant they really are – their representative orgs and media can make your jaw drop with their stupidity. The conservation organisations need to get together fighting this, it’s just going to crop up again and again over the field sports sector. Hopefully the WTE on the IoW will be high profile enough to escape this, but will be interesting to see the reaction from anglers.

        • 12 crypticmirror
          November 1, 2018 at 6:25 pm

          The less competent the anglers, the greater the bloodlust for river wildlife. It cant be that they are not good at fishing, it has to be there is a great conspiracy by the animals to steal the fish that they think they ought to have caught in their overinflated, ego-puffed, imaginations.

          The beavers are getting it all ways, of course; the incompetent farmers who have not fenced off the water margins to keep their cows and sheep breaking the banks down, or who have ripped up the trees whose roots hold the banks together, or who have planted crops all the way down to the waters edge, or even have relied on fields which are below the level of the river and only used loose earthwork banks to stop rising water levels; are all blaming the beavers for having banks collapse and fields flood because they don’t want to admit that their style of farming is just plain bad and incompetent; and refuse to change.

          The beavers are a handy scapegoat for the incompetent angler who is certain that despite all the evidence the beavers eat “their” fish, or despoil the river and cause an impenetrable barrier to fish passage, a scapegoat for the farmer who claims to be the true steward of the land intune with all the seasons but is weakening their own land and farming on land that is not suitable for modern agriculture, and of course our old friends the gamekeepers who are just xxxxx xxxxx one and all and just like having something to shoot at. The poor bloody animals are getting it in all directions.

          • 13 Les Wallace
            November 1, 2018 at 9:50 pm

            Spot on!! There are umpteen good reasons to have a strip of riparian vegetation along riverbanks rather than farm right up to them – buffer to stop agricultural chemicals going straight into the water, reduces flooding because land not compacted by livestock and that has got trees on it directs water down into the soil, and of course great for wildlife and forms a wildlife corridor. It should be one of the things that’s mandatory and once done beavers are a hell of a lot less of a supposed problem. Re anglers making excuses I once encountered a pissed one on my local stretch of the Union Canal who told me hadn’t caught anything because the Poles had caught and eaten all the pike and perch.

      • 14 David Jardine
        November 1, 2018 at 6:55 pm

        If established, the WTEs will also eat the cormorants, herons and fish eating ducks…….

        • 15 Les Wallace
          November 2, 2018 at 6:26 am

          Another good point. Pointing out to anglers that returning otters depress mink numbers and they are also partial to signal crayfish – is like hanging your head against a brick wall.

  6. 16 workshy333
    November 1, 2018 at 11:11 am

    What! With all those Pugs and chiuwahwahs, (how do you spell that?), on display! There would be an outcry. All those lap dogs going missing? Actually yes; a great idea.
    Seriously, fantastic plan. The more widespread, the more the average person will get used to large raptors and other wildlife and we will, again, learn to live with them. (Not you or I but the wary doubters).

    • 17 crypticmirror
      November 1, 2018 at 12:01 pm

      Maybe they’ll get a few of the feral roaming cats, anything that makes the free range moggie brigade keep their pets on their own properties is fine with me.

      • 18 Mike Haden
        November 1, 2018 at 1:28 pm

        I think this is where the friction will come from, I once had a local buzzard showing remarkable interest in my young puppy whilst out on a walk. It’s only an issue if small pets are left to roam free without any large apes to act as a protector.

        • 19 crypticmirror
          November 1, 2018 at 2:03 pm

          Nothing is so resisted by the average Englishperson as minor changes in their lifestyle to accomodate something or somebody else. Just look at the foofaraw that erupted over the return of boar in the Forest of Dean. Put a small fence around your garden, outrage! Learn to close gates, uproar!! Dogs on leashes during walks, near revolution!!! Cyclists slowing down on curves, JIHAD!!!!!!!!

          I shudder to think of the nightmare that some people will plunge themselves into over looking after their pets for the sake of nature and magnificent birds that improve both ecology in general, the economy in particular, and the uplifting of the human soul as it comes in contact with nature, it will be indignation beyond measure.

          • 20 Mike Haden
            November 1, 2018 at 4:52 pm

            As John Denver once said,

            “I know he’d be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly”

            Hopefully with this we can make many people richer

  7. 21 Dougie
    November 1, 2018 at 11:34 am

    Cracking idea – thousands of people would get to see these birds on a frequent basis and could not help being highly impressed. Many would go on to ask questions about killing them elsewhere in the UK is tolerated.

  8. 22 Richard Pegler
    November 1, 2018 at 11:48 am

    Another fabulous project from the inspired and excellent team of Roy Dennis and Tim Mackrill.

  9. 23 Bill Siviter
    November 1, 2018 at 3:41 pm

    They will probably do better away from the Scottish gamekeepers on the grouse shooting estates.

  10. 24 Alister J Clunas
    November 1, 2018 at 8:38 pm

    I think this is an excellent proposal but I do wonder whether we should be sourcing birds from lowland populations such as Estonia and the Netherlands rather than from Scotland. The populations of sea eagles in these countries are used to hunting over flat coastlines and estuaries rather than rugged coatlines and upland areas used by Scottish birds.

    • 25 Jimmy
      November 1, 2018 at 10:48 pm

      Sadly on this very day the “Scottish Farmer” paper up North has resumed its anti- sea eagle campaign with a front page article claiming they are now carryin away “adult” livestock. The basis for this as ever is little more than pub talk. Of course add in beaver hysteria and calls for culls for both species – standard MO for this rag sheet

  11. 26 Eagle Watch
    November 2, 2018 at 8:34 am

    Any expansion of the range is to be welcomed.
    A reintroduction to England is over due.
    The IoW is a a suitable location.
    Not so convinced on using birds from Scotland’s West coast.

    What is required is an urgent revival of the floundering East Coast of Scotland scheme which is on the edged of extinction.
    Following the decade long releases on Rum (1975-1985) it was realised in the early 90’s that the productivity was insufficient to maintain a viable population and there was a subsequent release for several years in Wester Ross, which proved the turning point.
    There is a desperate need now for a further release over several years of birds into Scotland’s east coast. This time it is important that they are fitted with satellite tags.

    • 27 N Deacon
      November 2, 2018 at 11:05 am

      There does seem to be something that is being missed in these discussions. The historical WTE population of the UK was predominantly cliff nesting. The reintroduced birds are predominantly tree nesting, which allows them to occupy habitats where they did not historically occur – provided that there are suitable trees and that persecution is not a problem. It may be encouraging to see how remarkably well the red kite has done in southern and central England (compared to the still beleguered birds in Scotland and Ireland).

    • 28 Greengrass
      November 2, 2018 at 11:46 am

      After some early, though limited success with the East birds it appeared complacency set in. Last years a male sharing 2 females nesting 30 miles apart was portrayed like a celebration when it should have been sounding alarm bells! It would appear that the Golden Eagle release in to the south of Scotland became a distraction and there is a need to refocus on the runt in the east before all the the great work over previous years is squandered.

    • 29 Bimbling
      November 2, 2018 at 4:54 pm

      Along with Alister Clunas above I do wonder if the environment and topography/geography of the source population region affects where young bird finally settle and wondered if birds sourced from the southern Baltic states might have hung around on the east coast as was expected in the ESSE project proposal: the Tay/Eden, Forth estuaries and Montrose basin seemed obvious homes for resettlement yet birds have gone west. Perhaps the social habits of the species trump (sorry for the swear word!) other factors like habitat availability?

      • 30 Eagle Watch
        November 3, 2018 at 8:26 am

        Yes some birds went west Bimbling , but far too many went missing in areas intensively managed for grouse shooting. Unfortunately satellite tagging was not adapted at the time.

  12. November 2, 2018 at 8:10 pm

    Raptors often imprint on their natal sites – tree nesting eagles’ chicks will often favour trees for nesting, cathedral nesting Peregrines’ chicks will choose buildings.
    There is some flow between natal site types and change dependant upon habitat and food supply in some species.
    Hence the historical tree nesting Peregrine populations and current urban Goshawks.
    The key is increasing their range and providing a range of nest sites.
    Raptors that are shot, poisoned and trapped never get the chance to choose !
    Only when the UK is safe for all raptors will they have the chance to occupy their favoured niches.
    Witness the English and Welsh Kite, Buzzard, public forest – nesting Goshawk and all Peregrine populations’ exponential rise over the last few decades.

    Keep up the pressure !

  13. 32 Bob Russell
    November 3, 2018 at 9:32 pm

    It is a brilliant idea; anything that will benefit the Isle of Wight economy and enrich our environment is welcome.
    While we are at it, why not introduce Tawny Owls. There is enough woodland and ‘rough country’ to sustain them, but they will not cross large bodies of water, so the Solent acts as a barrier.
    I believe that once introduced they would thrive in this wildlife rich environment.

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