Eagle chicks arrive safely

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A quarter of a century after the first wild bred white-tailed sea eagle chick, since UK extinction, hatched in the west of Scotland, a reintroduction project is continuing its aim to bring the bird back to the east of the country.

Now in its fourth year, the East Scotland Sea Eagle reintroduction programme is a partnership between RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and Forestry Commission Scotland.


A quarter of a century after the first wild bred white-tailed sea eagle chick, since UK extinction, hatched in the west of Scotland, a reintroduction project is continuing its aim to bring the bird back to the east of the country.

Now in its fourth year, the East Scotland Sea Eagle reintroduction programme is a partnership between RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and Forestry Commission Scotland.

Part of Scotland’s Species Action Framework, which sets out a strategic approach to species management in Scotland, the partners are reintroducing the species, Britain’s largest bird of prey, to Eastern Scotland. The long-term hope is to help the population to thrive and restore the birds across the full extent of their former range, where they disappeared due to historic human persecution.

After travelling from nests in Norway on Friday, the latest batch of chicks was welcomed at Edinburgh Airport by Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham. The young birds were then taken to purpose-built aviaries at a secret location in Fife, where they will remain until they are strong enough to fledge.

Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham said: “The white tailed sea eagle was lost to Scotland in the past and we have a duty to re-establish its presence here. The East of Scotland project is building on what has already been achieved in the west for this amazing species, where it has become a huge tourist attraction.

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All of this is of course about protecting and restoring our biodiversity; something that is everyone’s responsibility and to everyone’s benefit. And I am particularly pleased to welcome the chicks during what is the International Year of Biodiversity.”

Affectionately known as ‘the flying barn door’ due to its massive 8 foot wing span, Scotland’s breeding population of white-tailed sea eagles has risen to its highest number since the reintroduction programme began on the west coast more than 30 years ago. Its presence on the island of Mull is currently worth over £1.5 million to the local economy alone. A 2009 survey showed that there are 46 territorial breeding pairs and probably over 200 individual white-tailed eagles in the country. The species is now being spotted in eastern Scotland too.

Claire Smith, RSPB Scotland sea eagle project officer, explained: “Since the project started in 2007 we’ve had over 2000 sightings of these wonderful birds. Our chicks from 2009 have been spotted across North East Scotland, as well as Fife, Angus, and Tayside, while earlier this year, much to the delighted of visitors to our Vane Farm nature reserve, 3 sea eagles spent three months roosting on islands on Loch Leven. We’re also thrilled to learn our populations are starting to mix, not only with birds in the west of Scotland, but also those who are part of the Irish reintroduction.”

Susan Davies, SNH’s director of policy and advice, who was also present to see the eagles touchdown said: “There’s always a thrill in the air when the young eagles arrive in eastern Scotland. We are so grateful to the Norwegian people for helping us boost our numbers of these fantastic birds. These new eaglets will quickly adapt and will soon become part of the biodiversity of eastern Scotland, giving pleasure to locals and tourists alike.”

Charlie Taylor, for the Forestry Commission Scotland Tay Forest District, added: “Managing forests to provide a wide range of habitats is an important part of the Commission’s work and being able to contribute to the successful reintroduction of these awe inspiring birds really is something special. We are very pleased to welcome this year’s new arrivals and hope that they take to life in the east of Scotland.”