Eagle Owl-International Owl Society, Letter of Concern!

Raptor Politics has just received a copy of a letter sent by the International Owl Society (IOS) to Mr.Richard Benyon, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State enclosing their concerns about the possibility of any cull of Eagle Owls in the UK. The content of the IOS letter is published below in full.

Dear Mr. Benyon,

As you are the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs may I in this letter raise the concerns of both the committee and membership of the International Owl Society that once again the status of the Eurasian Eagle Owl in the UK is again subject of review by as we understand it DEFRA (Animal Health) and FERA, as to whether the species should be classified the as an invasive species under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act. At the moment DEFRA is again assessing the impact that the UK’s small population of Eagle Owls may be having on our native wildlife.

The IOS and other interested organisations including the World Owl Trust and the Hawk Board objected to the FERA sponsored risk assessment that was carried out only last year and we had hoped that the matter had been resolved pending any balanced and scientific study into the effect (if any) of the species becoming established within the UK.

While we understand that no decision has yet been made we are led to believe that again the species is subject to a further risk assessment which will no doubt be published in due course, previously the RSPB had chosen not to become involved.  I am pleased to see that Mark Avery of the RSPB has now entered the debate stating the following,

“The RSPB does not support a cull of eagle owls in the UK.  At present we cannot see that there is a strong case for intervening at all.  However, if there were stronger evidence of conservation harm then taking some birds into captivity would be the first option. We believe that all the eagle owls in the UK derive from escapes from captivity and none is a ‘natural’ immigrant from the continental population.  We might be wrong about that, but that’s what we think – although I really don’t think it is the most important issue here.

But what Defra certainly should be doing, is taking greater steps to prevent non-native species escaping into the wild from captive populations.  A properly strategic approach to non-native species doesn’t start with dealing with those cases where problems are caused (and it’s not clear that the eagle owl is one of those) but by preventing problems from arising in the first place. That’s what the RSPB would like to see.”

The RSPB can as of this year speak from a position of experience and sound knowledge in that a pair of Eurasian Eagle owls has bred successfully on one of their reserves this year and a study into the prey species taken by the birds has shown once again that where they are available rabbits make up in excess of 90% of the species food requirements.

The debate over where the UK population of Eurasian Eagle Owls originated from is still open to debate and study, while we accept that there are escaped and even deliberately and illegally released Eurasian Eagle Owls in the UK, we contend that it is feasible that with the marked increase and spread of the species throughout continental Europe that birds originating from the continent are now reaching the UK and in turn are breeding with the birds already established here.  Either way the species and in particular the birds that have been bred and reared in a wild state should be given full protection and in fact are given full protection under European legislation in the UK.

While we understand that government bodies have a duty to review a wide range of situations we cannot but feel that the Eurasian Eagle Owl is receiving more official attention than is reasonable or warranted given the risk assessment carried out only last year. What we ask,  has changed to bring the species under the spot light in such a short period of time?

The species clearly has a fearsome reputation however more recent studies both in the UK and on the continent are slowly developing new information and knowledge which show that much of the older information on this species does not match the newly evidenced facts that are developing in respect of this species.

Birds of prey in general are still subject of persecution within the UK as can be seen by recently published RSPB figures, the official figures are we believe only the very tip of the iceberg. We have documented evidence of two Eurasian Eagle Owls being shot and killed in the UK in recent years and given the small numbers of birds that are living in a wild state in the country even two birds being killed is a significant number.

Regardless of any legislation in force you can be assured that the Eurasian Eagle Owl population will be reduced continuously for example by game keepers who feel that the birds presence is at odds with their interests and this action alone will unofficially keep the numbers in check and at a low level.

May I thank you for your consideration and time over this matter, I understand that you have received a number of communications relating to the Eurasian Eagle Owl and would trust that you are now in a position to develop a balanced and informed opinion.

Yours faithfully (On behalf of the International Owl Society)

 Steve Hopper

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