`FOLLOWING the spate of reports of sea eagle predation on livestock and what some people are describing as 'the abandonment of the Scottish Uplands', the actions of RSPB and SNH have been called into question.

Crofter Alastair Culbertson, from Sleat on the Isle of Skye, a former member of the Skye and Lochalsh Sea Eagle Stakeholder Group, complained that he has spent considerable time trying to highlight the issues he, and others, experience as a result of the predators: "Throughout the four years I've been in the group, representatives of crofting and farming interests have repeatedly raised the issue of the year-round predation by sea eagles on all classes of sheep up to and including adult ewes."

Mr Culbertson firmly believes that the needs of farmers and crofters are being overlooked by both RSPB and SNH: "Concerns have repeatedly been rejected by RSPB’s local representative, who puts all livestock loss down to crofters' ignorance and their failure to manage their livestock. This position is frankly offensive and has only increased the division between RSPB locally and the crofters and farmers affected here.

"Many crofters believe that our local RSPB is a direct threat to them and that at the national level, crofters concerns are nothing more than an irrelevant inconvenience."

He continued: "SNH, on the other hand, have acknowledged year round predation takes place and can only escalate as the population expands, but they have failed to trial any of the non-lethal breeding control methods that the crofting stakeholders here have proposed.

"This failure coupled with the longstanding mismanagement of both the stakeholder group and the management scheme by SNH led me to resign a year ago. Several of the other members stepped down around that time with the group going into abeyance," said Mr Culbertson.

"In the subsequent year, the situation escalated, with SNH's only solution being the farcical laser proposal that had been consistently rejected by the stakeholders here as being entirely unsuitable for dealing with year-round predation on some of the most remote and extensive areas of land in Scotland."

Mr Culbertson suggested that, despite efforts by local NFUS to drive forward concerns, NFUS nationally has been a 'lone voice' on the matter and hasn't yet been able to hold SNH to account for what he described as its 'failures'.

He also believes that, whilst the recent intervention of the National Sheep Association was welcome, it had been a long time coming – and may have to do with the realisation that the species, which is projected to expand from its current population of 130 to 700 breeding pairs by 2040, is likely to spread east and south.

"On the other hand, the Scottish Crofting Federation, despite requests to increase the federation's involvement in the Skye and Lochalsh group, have not been able to work with their fellow crofters here and their continual appeasement of the environmental lobby at a national level has only allowed SNH and RSPB to continue to ignore the grass roots here by claiming to be working with stakeholders," continued Mr Culbertson.

"It is time these three organisations presented a united front on this issue to the Scottish Government in the interests of all crofters and farmers. Anyone who believes crofters have a voice in sea eagle management is deluding themselves," he said.

"When crofters are driven to take direct action to protect their livestock and livelihoods – and it is a matter of when, rather than if under this current regime – the blame will be laid squarely at the door of Holyrood for failing to hold the Scottish Government to account for the failure of SNH to put in place species management plans that address fairly the impacts on crofters and farmers."