White-tailed eagle attacks on livestock to be logged in Scotland’s West Highlands

A project to record all reported incidents of attacks on livestock by the white-tailed eagle is to be introduced in the West Highlands. The sea-eagle management scheme is being established in response to growing numbers of complaints from farmers that white-tailed eagles, which were reintroduced to Scotland in the 1970s, are killing lambs. One farmer in Caithness said she could lose up to 50 lambs a season to sea eagles, which can have a wingspan of up to two and a half metres.

white-tailed eagle (1 of 1)

The Scottish White-tailed eagles are unusual in their  diet preferences, they are able to kill and carry off hogs weighing five times their own weight 

The project will be administered by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and run by a panel including members from the National Farmers Union, RSPB Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland and the Scottish Crofting Federation.

It will operate across Wester Ross, Skye and Lochalsh and Argyll and Lochaber until 2018, investigating all issues involving the impact of a thriving sea eagle population on livestock.

Reports of sea eagles snatching lambs have emerged in recent years as the number of birds has grown. Ross Lilley, SNH sea eagle scheme manager, said: “We would like to ask all farmers and crofters who experience issues with sea eagles and livestock to contact their local SNH office. The staff at the local SNH office will arrange for someone to respond and investigate on behalf of the group.” However, Fiona Gibson, of Sand Farm near Gairloch, said she had reservations about the scheme.

“You wonder if it’s just another paper exercise because SNH and the RSPB have not admitted the scale of the problem over the years,” she said. “They need to be more pro-active and work more closely on the ground with farmers and crofters.”
eaglet (1 of 1)
Throughout most eastern Europe countries the main diet of the White-tailed eagle is fish, weighing  an average of 1.5 kg
She said if it was a successful breeding year for the sea eagles and offspring survived, her farm could lose between 20 and 50 lambs in a season.

Sand Farm has tried a range of measures to deter the raptors, including putting alpacas in the fields, installing inflatable scarecrows and, this year, using a bird hide with mirrored sides.

“The financial impact of sea-eagle predation on farmers and crofters is huge,” said Mrs Gibson.

Lachie Maclean, a Mull farmer and chair of the Argyll and Lochaber stakeholder group, said: “Funding for the new scheme has been substantially increased.

“The panel is keen to record all incidents of reported sea eagle impacts as the population continues to expand into its former range. “Only by thoroughly understanding the part sea eagles play in livestock losses can we work together to develop ways to deal with any losses.”

2 comments to White-tailed eagle attacks on livestock to be logged in Scotland’s West Highlands

  • nirofo

    How many of these crofters/farmers have provided any undeniable documented proof of these huge lamb losses to Eagles, what’s that you say, none !!! Surely not, you don’t mean to say that these farmers are making up old wives tales to try to hoodwink us do you ???

    I have it on good authority from a well known west Scotland crofter that he’s witnessed first hand a Sea Eagle attack a nearly full grown hogg, rip it’s chest to shreds, then fly off with it. I mean to say, you can’t get better proof than that can you.

  • Ian Whittaker

    No doubt a sea eagle will take small lambs. But all the evidence – there have been previous studies – demonstrates that sea eagles are responsible for less than 1% of all lamb deaths. And of those we do not know how many were sickly or weak lambs that would have died anyway. To provide further context, the annual national mortality rate for all lambs is around 25%. Predation, mainly the fox, accounts for 6 – 10% of that mortality – 90% die because of disease, injury, bad weather or poor husbandry. Or put another way, predators take an absolute maximum of 2.5% of all lambs born and in most places much less than that. A study of two scottish hill farms with a very high density of foxes showed that they were responsible for only 6% of lamb deaths.To claim that predators, whether fox or sea eagle, threaten the viability of sheep farming seems to be based on very flimsy evidence.