SEA EAGLES have once again hit the headlines with a rash of reports appearing on social media of them allegedly targeting and killing larger mammals.

Britain’s largest bird of prey – since their reintroduction usurped Golden Eagles from that position – sea eagle numbers are predicted to double in the next decade, causing hill farmers a serious headache as their stock becomes a regular food source.

Awkward questions are now being asked of the Scottish Government and Scottish Natural Heritage, with some in the industry saying they are failing to deliver an acceptable management plan for the reintroduced species.

National Sheep Association chairman John Fyall said: "I see a lot of people on Facebook telling their stories but many are reluctant to make their reports official because they are in talks with SNH – which is working with local farmers, but its compensation packages are aimed at helping with mitigation measures, not for losses."

SNH and RSPB Scotland are also being queried as to why they have failed to monitor the impact of the sea eagle population on native avian and mammal species in the release areas, amidst reports that the supposedly pescatarian predators are eating anything they can catch.

Mr Fyall continued: "When it was implemented, we were told that the sea eagle population would be managed, but there are 200+ breeding pairs in circulation, and they are impacting other raptors and predators.

"They are now as far and wide as the Black Isle and Orkney, so it's a great worry for sheep keepers. On Skye, during gathers, the damage they had done could be seen. People said that they wouldn't go for larger lambs, but they are going for fully grown ewes. They aren't hunting at sea, and they have no fear of humans, so are taking the weakest targets on land. No controls are allowed, so they have no fear of managed areas," he reported.

"The way things are going, there will be less West Coast sheep keepers than there will be sea eagles."

Appin hill farmer and chairman of the Argyll and Lochaber Sea Eagle Stakeholder group, David Colthart, has first hand experience of the trouble that sea eagles can bring: "We have had sea eagles kill lambs in our area for more than 12 years and have personally experienced the serious damage over a number of years that they can cause to a hefted hill flock.

"I totally understand the strength of feeling there is on this and it’s not acceptable the level of sea eagle predation some farms and crofts experience – its ruining the viability of their flock and this is not sustainable, but we are half way through the first three years of an action plan on a selection of farms where there has been sea eagle predation. Unfortunately it takes time to trial methods to stop predation."

He continued: "SNH have been carrying out observations over the last two years to build up a picture of birds' activity and observe their reactions where methods of scaring have been tried and nest trees been felled. They also report where they have found the remains of lambs that are suspected of being killed. So far some methods work at some sites but not at others and this presents the greatest challenge.

"It has to appreciated that not all sea eagles predate lambs but where some do it can be a real issue," said Mr Colthart. "In my opinion there is currently no other option but to go through this process to try to get a result that avoids lethal control."

SNH’s sea eagle scheme manager, Ross Lilley, commented: “We understand the concerns of farmers and crofters, and continue to work closely with NFUS, RSPB Scotland, the Forestry Commission Scotland and others to trial ways that help reduce sea eagle impacts on lambs and sheep.”