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Final batch of sea eagles released from secret location in Fife.

05/09/2012 10:56:47

One of the last batch of Norwegian Sea eagle chicks released in Fife. Photo credit Dean Bricknell.

Six sea eagles have taken their first flight in Scottish skies, marking the end of a successful reintroduction programme.

September 2012. Over the past six years, 85 young birds have been released from a secret location in Fife in a bid to restore the species to its former range in eastern Scotland. Each bird has been fitted with a radio and wing tags so both project staff and the public can follow their future progress.

Once a regular sight in Scotland's skies, the sea eagle was driven to extinction in the Victorian era. It only returned to the UK following a successful reintroduction to the West of Scotland, on the Island of Rum in 1975. Although the majority of the Scottish population remains on the west of the country, the species is now regularly spotted in Eastern and Central Scotland too.

The partnership, which consists of RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and Forestry Commission Scotland, with additional financial support from Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Fife and Rural Tayside LEADER 2007-2013 Programme, now hope the birds will begin to produce young on Scotland's east coast in the coming years.

Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson said: "We have been pleased to support this project over the last six years. The return of sea eagles to the skies of Scotland's east coast marks an important step in ensuring we now have a viable population of these magnificent birds. As well as fulfilling a role in our ecosystems, the birds are an important feature for our growing nature -based tourism industry."

Chicks from Norway
As well as helping return the UK's largest birds of prey, the project has also strengthened links between Scotland and Norway, where the sea eagle population is strong. Since 2007 project staff have worked closely with Norwegian colleagues visiting nesting sites and selecting suitable chicks to use for the East Scotland reintroduction.

Sea eagle reintroduction

  • 79 birds have been released in Eastern Scotland between 2007-2011 of which a maximum of 56 remain alive, which equates to a survival rate of 70% in line with previous releases on the West coast.
  • The latest figures for 2011 found there are now more than 200 sea eagles in Scotland, including 57 breeding pairs on the west coast of Scotland.
  • Sea eagles mainly eat fish and waterbirds, but also take small mammals such as rabbits, as well as feeding on larger animal carcasses as carrion.

Rhian Evans, RSPB Scotland East Scotland Sea Eagle Project Officer, said: "It's been an honour to care for this all important final batch of young eagles. These amazing birds have captured the hearts of people across the country. We owe a great deal to the volunteers, farmers, landowners, partners and of course the general public for their support and enthusiasm in helping us reach this important stage of the reintroduction. Over the past six years we've had around 3000 reported sightings of birds involved in the project, including sightings from as far apart as Northumberland and Caithness. It's also pleasing to see that the east and west coast populations are mixing, which is a good sign for the future."

Ron Macdonald, Head of Policy and Advice at SNH, added: "Scotland is once again home to a healthy sea eagle population, with many breeding successfully in the west. This project in the east will help them spread to much of their former range. It will also give more people the chance to see them and allow more communities to benefit from their status as a visitor attraction. This brings the reintroduction programme to a close and it's important to acknowledge the huge amount of work by all those involved, from volunteers to land managers, who along with RSPB and FCS have made this project work. Alv Ottar Folkstead and his fellow fieldworkers in Norway deserve particular recognition for their work in providing the chicks for Scotland."

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