Threats and conservation
White-tailed eagles continue to be deliberately killed and their nests targeted by egg-collectors, which for such a small population can be critical.
White-tailed eagles are particularly at risk of illegal and lead poisoning due to their scavenging habits on carcasses. Some of this may be deliberate and targeted, but some may be incidental due to poisons illegally set for foxes and crows. Young birds, wandering before establishing their own territories, can be particularly hard hit.
Protection and surveillance of the nest sites is of extreme importance, to prevent illegal disturbance or nest robbing. Larger fines have reduced the incidents of nest egg collecting, but the threat remains. Any nest losses have a direct impact on their population.
Because the birds range over extensive areas, it’s difficult to protect their habitat. This is best done through general land-use policies which include a provision for the birds, and ensure that key feeding and nesting requirements are not compromised. Much of the white-tailed eagle monitoring is carried out under NatureScot licensing by members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group, alongside RSPB Scotland in some places, and who contribute data to the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme.
The vast majority of wandering immature and nesting adult white-tailed eagles in Scotland do not post a significant threat to livestock. However, individual birds have been known to present a local problem in some cases. NatureScot has recently accepted serious agricultural damage at one site. Impacts of white-tailed eagles on livestock are hard to establish in practice, with several extensive studies suggesting low levels of lamb predation, and observational monitoring witnessing few, if any, incidents. However, we accept that in some places, livestock predation incidents can occur. We are committed to working with other partners to resolve the concerns of livestock producers.
There are some successful measures in place to counteract this, including scaring devices, diversionary feeding and other licenced activities. NatureScot contractors and RSPB staff liaise closely with farmers and landowners on issues relating to eagles and livestock. In addition, NatureScot offers positive management payments through the Sea Eagle Mangagement Scheme to farmers with white-tailed eagles on their land in Scotland. See details here.
The RSPB also participates in the Sea Eagle National Stakeholder Panel along with colleagues from NatureScot, National Farmers Union Scotland, Scottish Crofting Federation and others. A white-tailed eagle Action Plan was first agreed in 2017. A review of the Plan in 2021 has looked at the progress and developed new recommendations to help farmers and crofters deal with any impact of sea eagles on their livestock.
Once again, white-tailed eagles are an established and welcome part of our native wildlife. Whilst this may be challenging for some, for others they bring great joy and excitement. For some fragile local economies, especially on islands like Mull and Skye, they can also bring a significant economic benefit through ‘eagle tourism’.
By and large, white-tailed eagles have settled back into our landscapes and can adapt well to busy, populated areas. They can nest and roost successfully in commercial forestry plantations, and have received much help and support from Forestry and Land Scotland, Forestry England and private forestry firms.
As one of the world’s most successful conservation projects, the RSPB is proud to be part of this important species restoration project, and we thank everyone who has played their part along the way. But we’re not there yet. New, exciting projects and a bright future for the white-tailed eagles in the UK lies ahead.