First White-tailed Eagles released on the Isle of Wight


The first White-tailed Eagles to be reintroduced to England have been released on the Isle of Wight this week.

The six young birds are the vanguards of a five-year programme – led by Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation – to restore the species to southern England after an absence of 240 years.

The young birds were collected from nests in Scotland under a Scottish Natural Heritage licence and, after being brought to the Isle of Wight, they were fed and monitored by a team of experts and dedicated volunteers while becoming familiar with their new surroundings. All six birds made good progress and have now been successfully released, although the team will initially continue to provide feeding sites for the birds to encourage them to settle along the south coast.

One of the six White-tailed Eagles to be released on the Isle of Wight this summer (Robin Crossley / Isle of Wight County Press).

Before being released the birds were fitted with small satellite trackers, so their progress can be closely monitored. Data on their movements will be available on the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation website and, once the birds are well established, it is hoped that they will become a familiar sight across the island and the adjacent south coast of England.

Roy Dennis commented: "I have spent much of my life working on the reintroduction of these amazing birds and so watching them take to the skies of the Isle of Wight has been a truly special moment. Establishing a population of White-tailed Eagles in the south of England will link and support emerging populations of these birds in The Netherlands, France and Ireland, with the aim of restoring the species to the southern half of Europe. The team is pleased that the project fulfils one of the specific aims of the Government's 25-year Environment Plan.

"We have seen from other reintroduction programmes that returning lost species offers real benefits for nature and the health of our environment, and to people and local economies. I would like to thank everyone from the local community who is working with us to support and manage this project including our volunteers and project officer, who are all Isle of Wight residents. We are also very grateful to the private donors who are supporting the project."

The Isle of Wight was chosen as the location to reintroduce White-tailed Eagles as it offers an ideal range of habitats for the species, which favours coastlines: the network of cliffs and woodlands provide many potential nesting sites, while The Solent and surrounding estuaries will provide a rich food supply, with fish such as Grey Mullet and large numbers of waterbirds providing the bulk of the eagles' diet. The island was also identified as the ideal location given its central position along the south coast, which will allow birds to disperse both east and west.

Further releases of the birds will take place annually as part of the five-year programme, with at least six eagles released each year. It will take several years for the young birds to become established and breeding is not expected to start until at least 2024.

One of the young White-tailed Eagles at the release site (Forestry England).

The project is expected to make a significant contribution to the local economy. A similar scheme on Mull was found to have boosted its local economy by up to £5 million a year, demonstrating the interest in this iconic bird.

Tony Juniper, Chairman of Natural England, said: "The return of these spectacular birds to England is a real landmark for conservation. I very much hope that it will also provide a practical demonstration of the fact that we can actually reverse the historic decline of our depleted natural environment.

"It will also show how helping the recovery of our wildlife can be done at the same time as bringing benefits for people, in this case by offering a boost to the local economy through wildlife tourism, as has happened in Scotland after these birds were reintroduced there back in the 1970s.

"As with all applications to restore lost native species, Natural England carefully considered the short- and long-term impact of reintroducing the eagles on the environment, including implications for local communities as well as the impacts on the animals themselves.

"Everyone at Natural England is delighted to see this project reach this stage and I know just how excited Roy Dennis and the Forestry England team are about this reintroduction. I'm sure the local community will share their passion and excitement and look forward to seeing these magnificent creatures return to our skies."