Lamb kills by Sea Eagles to be monitored

Sea Eagle on Skye

Sea Eagle on Skye

In response to crofter’s concerns that Sea Eagles are killing a large number of lambs in north west Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is to undertake a study into the causes of lamb mortality. The study, which is now underway, will monitor the activity of predators and the well-being and mortality of lambs in an area where a significant number of lambs have been lost in previous seasons. Last year crofters in the Gairloch peninsula reported that over 200 lambs had been lost between May and September and that they believed the majority had been killed by hungry Sea Eagles.

The project will closely track the movement and health of lambs in parts of the Gairloch Peninsula in Wester Ross, from birth until weaning. Radio tracking technology and fieldworker observation will be used to follow the fortunes of sixty lambs on two holdings in the area and an additional holding will be used for visual observations on hill ground.

The study aims to deliver a scientific measure of the true level of lamb mortality directly attributable to sea eagle predation as opposed to other causes. The information will be gathered via radio transmitters attached to the lambs to track their movements and signal any mortality rapidly after the time of death. Each death will be mapped and the carcass traced and recovered to allow post mortem tests to ascertain the exact cause of death.

SNH Head of Policy and Advice Ron Macdonald said, “Following our discussions with crofters, farmers and land managers SNH has responded to concerns about levels of lamb mortality in areas with sea eagles present by establishing this study. The project will deliver an unprecedented level of detail for mapping the extent and cause of lamb mortality in typical highland conditions which in turn will provide an assessment of sea eagle impact. The study will also provide recommendations on the management of stock and sea eagles so as to reduce potential conflict”.

The project aims to involve the local crofters as much as possible and will be dependent upon their help for aspects of shepherding. Willie Fraser, a local crofter and member of the project steering group said, “We welcome this study which we expect to provide a clear picture of the true impact of sea eagle predation on lambing flocks and the ratio of lamb losses which can be attributed to sea eagles in the Gairloch area. The most important outcome for crofters will be to help minimise this problem in the area and ensure the continued viability of sheep rearing as an economic activity in the west highlands.”

“We look forward to the conclusion of this study which should clarify the levels of lamb losses caused directly by sea eagles and enable appropriate measures to be drawn up to reduce the impact on crofting viability in this and other areas of the highlands.”

Funded by SNH, the study has been designed and agreed by a Steering Group consisting of local crofters, the RSPB, Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate, the State Veterinary Service and SNH. Its findings will provide robust scientific evidence alongside other SNH funded historic studies to establish the likely impact of sea eagle predation on lamb populations in the West Highlands.

SNH is also funding a programme of enhanced sea eagle nest surveillance to identify the type of prey being carried by adult birds to feed their chicks. The FERA study’s detailed mapping of lamb deaths will dovetail with this work being carried out by RSPB Scotland on behalf of SNH.

RSPB Scotland’s Alison MacLennan, conservation officer for Skye, Lochalsh and Wester Ross, said, “We hope that the study will shed light on the causes of lamb mortality in the Gairloch peninsula, address the worries and concerns of the crofting community, and help ensure that crofting continues to have a sustainable future.”

It will build on the valuable recent study also funded by SNH on the island of Mull – the most densely populated area of Scotland for sea eagles – which showed that a fraction of one per cent of all lambs that died were due to sea eagle predation.

“Going forward the results of this study will help us manage the range of factors that cause lamb mortality in Wester Ross and ensure that the right measures are put in place to underpin the vital contribution crofting makes to the economy and wildlife.“

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