Study clears sea-eagles in lamb deaths

White tailed sea eagles have a minimal impact on lamb mortality according to the results of a scientific study published this week.

The study, undertaken by the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) on behalf of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), recorded the fortunes of lambs in the Gairloch peninsula, Wester Ross, from April to mid August last year.

Radio tracking technology, the experiences of shepherds, fieldworker observations and examination of debris in nests were all used in the study. It found that sea birds, such as fulmar, were the main source of food for the sea eagles and that less then two per cent of mortality among lambs could be directly attributed to the raptors.

Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham said:
“This is a very timely and valuable piece of research. The sea eagles are a wonderful part of our natural heritage and their reintroduction has been an outstanding success.

“But we also recognise that farmers and crofters are rightly concerned about their livestock and it is important we develop our knowledge and understanding of this issue.

“Where there are problems with sea eagles predating on livestock we will look at maintaining and improving schemes to find ways to help farmers manage their stock to co-exist with these magnificent birds.”

Ron Macdonald, Head of Policy and Advice for SNH said:
“FERA has produced a detailed scientific assessment of the impact and behaviour of white tailed eagles in the context of different sheep management methods in this area. Their findings are in line with those of previous studies carried out on Mull and data collected across other areas where white tailed eagles are present.

“This work was supported by crofters who allowed their flocks and holdings to be the focus of surveillance for the period of the study. They also contributed knowledge, observations and shepherding experience.

“We will continue to support ongoing surveillance of sea eagle presence in the area, as recommended by the study and will work closely with the crofting community and other partners to take forward the good work of the steering group.”

Ewen Mackinnon of the Scottish Crofting Federation and member of the project steering group said:

“The findings provide very useful information on the behaviour of white tailed eagles and give a detailed assessment of their impact on lamb flocks during the 2009 season.

“Lamb mortality in this area was significantly down on previous years and the evidence from the study indicated that sea eagle predation impact on the lamb flock was minimal. This is good news for the year 2009 but also leaves open to question what might be the yearly variations in predation impact.

“Although we would hope that this would remain minimal continued vigilance will be necessary.

“We all share the objective of minimising lamb losses to ensure the economic sustainability of sheep management in the area, and this study gives us a useful reference for future monitoring and investigation of sea eagle predation issues that local experience suggests may arise.”

George Campbell of RSPB Scotland said:
“The balance of the study’s findings reflect the knowledge we have gained over the past twenty five years since the birds were first reintroduced on Rum – that their primary source of food is almost exclusively focused on sea birds.”

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