LASERS could soon be used as part of the effort to stop sea eagles from attacking lambs on farms and crofts in the Highlands and Islands.

The move is being considered by Scottish Natural Heritage in response to farmers' concerns following research indicating that the population of sea eagles could double in the next ten years. Since reintroduction began, there are already 106 breeding pairs of white-tailed sea eagles established around the country.

Lasers are already being used as a harmless way of scaring wildlife away from livestock in the context of keeping potentially disease-carrying wild birds away from free-range poultry flocks in England, while in Scotland, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust is involved with the EU-LIFE funded Laser Fence project, which aims to use lasers to scare away mammals like rabbits, rats, and Roe deer, thus providing an alternative to shooting production-damaging wildlife.

SNH’s sea eagle project manager said: “At this point, no trials on laser scaring deterrents for sea eagles have been undertaken. They are under consideration along with other options. A carefully monitored trial will be critical to make sure lasers are a safe and effective method before we proceed any further.

“We understand the serious concerns some farmers and crofters have about the impact of sea eagles on their livestock," said Mr Lilley. "Therefore, SNH, in agreement with the national sea eagles stakeholder group, has begun trialling a number of techniques to find a balance between livestock farming and wildlife, recognising the benefits that both bring to us all.”

The National Sheep Association’s Scottish chairman John Fyall commented: “With SNH now publicly acknowledging that sea eagles are having an impact on livestock farmers, I see this as a step forward.

“I await the most recent studies but we are seeing a steady increase in numbers and territories with an ever growing burden on sheep farmers, many of whom are in the severely disadvantaged farming areas already, without predation impact,

“The trials are welcome, but SNH and the Scottish Government also must acknowledge any extra management measures and losses farmers bear in order to work with the stakeholder group trial techniques, and must also recognise and help the many affected farmers outwith the study areas who are suffering undeniable losses," said Mr Fyall.

“While the project has looked to Mull and Skye, the eagles are throughout the Hebrides and there are now white tailed eagles being sighted in the Moray Firth, off the South-west coast and as far north as Hoy, Orkney.

“So far schemes have been extremely limited both geographically and financially and whilst we cannot put the eagle back in its eggbox, we must ensure that business viability is not threatened by the reintroduction programme; success should not just be measured on numbers but also on how the birds settle without harming existing species, including indigenous working people," he stressed.

“There are also issues with habitat sharing with the Golden Eagle and other successful predators putting pressure on stock.”

RSPB Scotland head of species and land management Duncan Orr-Ewing said: “We accept that non-lethal management approaches may assist with resolving conflicts with livestock, whilst also ensuring suitable safeguards are in place for a species which rightly receives the highest level of legal protection.”