White tailed Eagle reintroduction to the Isle of Wight?
A personal reflection.
I was pleased to be able to get to one of the consultation meetings over the proposed reintroduction of the White-tailed Eagle onto the Isle of Wight in 2019. The project is certainly ambitious and one that might be expected of wild remote coasts rather than a lowland Island off the busy English south coast.
Fourth largest Eagle in the world.
The White-tailed Eagle or Sea Eagle as they are often called is undoubtedly an impressive bird. The adult has a 2.5 metre wingspan with a white head and tail. Their current range covers northern and eastern Europe and was largely lost as a breeding species in England by the end of the 18th c. It was in the mid-1970s that Sea Eagles were successfully introduced into Scotland on the Isle of Rum. And as it happens, I was working on Rum at the time and among my other duties, I helped build the cages to keep the young in before they were fledged and released into the wild.
Some years later whilst still on Rum, I had the fortune to watch their courtship display when high up in the sky, the birds locked talons in mid-air and cartwheeled down earthwards before releasing themselves only to fly up skywards again. This courtship display was quite a few decades ago now, but I still clearly remember it – it was spectacular!
The potential reintroduction of the Sea Eagle to the Isle of Wight is being proposed by the Forestry Commission and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation. Both organisations have a good reputation for wildlife management and for species introductions and more can be found about the plans, along with an online questionnaire at www.roydennis.org/isleofwight .
Top species predator
So, do we really want a top species predator to be introduced to the Isle of Wight and the Solent? Is the UK conservation movement (or even the Island conservation movement) at one in wanting this reintroduction? Well, I would say probably not – there are reservations, some would argue that we need to ensure existing species and habitats are in good order first before reintroducing species that were here hundreds of years ago.
Others will argue that we need a full time Forestry Commission Wildlife Ranger on the Island instead or that scarce environment funds should go towards maintaining our AONB, country parks and nature reserves.
Yet, notwithstanding the careful preparation work to be completed before any permission is given for reintroduction, this initiative might just be that special thing that highlights the Island’s natural beauty, encourages visitor spend in the local economy, links in with the new Coast Path to be established around the island and balances the current proposal to establish the Island as a Biosphere Reserve. And if the Sea Eagles are allowed to fly? Then perhaps I might once again see the remarkable courtship display above my head – this time on the Isle of Wight.