Will Cumbria be the new release location for the White-tailed Eagle?

Following Natural England’s decision to with draw funding for their controversial reintroduction of the White-tailed Eagle into East Anglia, a leading Cumbrian conservationist has now spoken out about his dream to bring back this iconic raptor to Cumbria. Mr John Miles, former warden on the RSPB Geltsdale Nature Reserve, has always maintained the landmark scheme planned for Suffolk was totally wrong and inappropriate for that region of England.

[singlepic id=115 w=320 h=240 float=left]Mr. Miles based in Castle Carrock near Brampton, now believes the time is just right and is firmly convinced the White-tailed Eagle should be the next in line for reintroduction after the Red Kites return to the county this summer. Mr. Miles is now calling upon his former employer the RSPB to focus their attentions to Cumbria where he is confident the species would not only be welcomed, but would increase eco-tourism throughout the county benefiting everyone.

The White-tailed Eagle, or “Erne” the local name, was once a common sight in Cumbria (Cumberland and Westmorland). Breeding pairs were resident almost to the end of the 18th Century but had become extinct by the early 19thCentury following their persecution. Records show that the last breeding attempt in Cumberland took place in Eskdale, possibly in Upper Eskdale on Heron Crag,  in 1791 when the pair were destroyed. Following this event odd birds were observed passing through Cumberland up to the early 1800’s. An interesting observation in 1934 records a single adult female passing across Coniston Lake.

Information contained in Macpherson’s Fauna of Lakeland records that  a gamekeeper named Gill shot and winged a young sea eagle near Alston in 1834 . A second bird was again observed near Alston in the early part of 1844. A shepherd captured another sea eagle on the top of Black Combe in 1838. The bird lived for several years in the possession of the Lewthwaite family.

More recent records show observations of single passage birds visiting the county occurring in both 2009 and again in May 2010. Wallow Crag in the Haweswater Valley, Mardale near Shap is perhaps the best  know historical nesting site tenanted by the White-tailed Eagle into the middle of the 18thCentury. Other nesting sites are know to have existed in the remote Ennerdale Valley, Erne Nest Crag – Deepdale, Eagle Crag – Patterdale, Burtness Combe, (between High Crag and High Stile) – Buttermere, Eagle Crag – Borrowdale and Buck Crag -Martindale during this period.

The RSPB although disappointed at the cancellation of the Suffolk project have insisted it remains committed to returning White-tailed Eagles back to England and will begin to investigate other methods of funding a reintroduction scheme, including looking at a number of other release locations in England.  Mr. Miles remains convinced that the only clear choice outside Suffolk is Cumbria. Mr. Miles has been campaigning for the White-tailed Eagle to be reintroduced into the county for many years, maintaining that such a project would bring millions of pounds to the local economy through the thousands of extra visitors.

“We have the perfect habitat in Cumbria. I’ve looked into this and have already identified three possible sites that would be ideal – Coniston, Ullswater or the very wild Ennerdale region”.

“In Cumbria there’s no reason why we can’t have farming, tourism and other industries all working together – it makes fantastic economic sense for our county”.

John Miles comments follow the news that the Lake District has been chosen as the location for the Red Kite reintroduction scheme beginning this year. The first 30 birds taken from donor nests in Northamptonshire will be brought to Grizedale towards the end of June or beginning of July, at which time their reintroduction will begin. These birds will add to the small nucleus of Red Kites already breeding in the southern part of the county in the Newby Bridge area, where it is rumoured the first successful nest  fledged young in 2001.

Undoubtedly campaigners like Mr. Miles regard the Red Kite project as a major triumph for Cumbria, building on the success of the Ospreys, which returned to breed at Bassenthwaite Lake in 2001 bringing thousands of visitors to this scenic region every year. Just consider what nesting White-tailed Eagles would do for the region in terms of eco-tourism claims Mr. Miles.

White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), Breeding Records Cumberland 1713-1784

The enclosed historical details are taken from Crosthwaite (Keswick) parish records.

The parish records show that the church wardens of Crosthwaite parish paid sixpence for all young eaglets and up to two shillings for adult eagles killed throughout the region. The entries of bounties  paid for eagles in the parish book began in 1713; the details showed that bounties terminated in 1762. During this period of fifty years many years passed in which no claim was made upon the wardens for slaughtered eagles. However upwards of thirty dead eagles were paid for. Of these, ten were adult specimens and fourteen immature eagles. The age of a number of eagles for which four shillings was paid in 1759 has not been recorded in the records. Several additional eagles were paid for in 1763 and 1765, though the records lacked detailed particulars. After this date the shepherds seem to have found that it was more profitable to take young eaglets alive  from their eyrie’s and sell them on rather than kill them as proscribed vermin. The records do not show for what purpose these birds were then sold alive.

The poet Gray records that a single eaglet and an addled egg were taken from the nest at Eagle Crag in Borrowdale in 1768. Gilpin saw a young eaglet, nearly the size of a hen turkey, which had just been removed from the same eyrie (no date given). This may however have been the same bird that was later sent to Bishop Law from Borrowdale in 1774. In any event the records go on to say, that if it was not that same bird taken in 1768, the eaglet was taken from the same eyrie. It was also recorded that a carpenter named John Youdall killed a eaglet in Borrowdale in 1763. There is also a further record indicating that eagles also nested about 1784 in Wything’s Crag.

Red Kite (Milvus milvus), breeding records Cumberland 1856-1891

The last Red Kite actually killed in the county was shot near Carlisle on November 13th, 1856. But others were seen, though not obtained[singlepic id=151 w=320 h=240 float=right] (shot), in more recent years. A Red Kite was observed near Lorton in1873, and two additional birds were seen by the Rev. H. H. Slater in Patterdale, in the autumn of 1880, another was seen near Renwick in 1881. Excellent view of a Red Kite were obtained when this single bird passed over Carlisle on September 9th, 1891. Earlier in the same year, it is recorded a number of Red Kites were studied together on the wing for days but no location given. Earlier in the century, a small number of Red Kites nested at Castle Head near Keswick, at Priest’s Crag and at Birch Crag. The last breeding of a single pair of Red Kites in the county, until the Newby Bridge success in 2001,  occurred around 1856 at Armathwaite above the river Eden.

MBE Awarded to Cumbrian Owl Campaigner

While talking about Cumbria, Raptor Politics would like to congratulate Mr Tony Warburton, President of the World Owl Trust for his MBE award. Well done Tony. The award has been given in recognition of Mr. Warburton’s work to promote owl conservation throughout the world.

1 comment to Will Cumbria be the new release location for the White-tailed Eagle?

  • Wholehearted agreement with Mr Miles view re finding potential sights in Cumbria for the whitetailed eagle. Not long returned from Scotland holidays taken there primarily due to opportunities to see Golden and sea Eagles. Please do contact me if I can offer any support or assistance.