A ‘CONSTRUCTIVE’ meeting on sea eagle predation gave crofters and farmers the opportunity to voice concerns to stakeholders about the costs incurred by the birds on their businesses.

Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP, Kate Forbes, hosted the round-table discussion in Fort William, last weekend, which saw local farmers and crofters, as well as representatives from SNH, NFUS, RSPB, Forest and Land Scotland, and SRUC, discuss an action plan for the future.

Appin hill farmer, David Colthart, who chairs the Argyll and Lochaber Sea Eagle Stakeholder Group, commented: “A good constructive discussion ensued, but some of the farmers did feel that the current scheme does not cover the financial losses that have been incurred where there have been years of continual predation.

“I still feel that the current route is to continue with the action plan, but in my opinion, in cases where serious damage has been demonstrated and after all reasonable and practical measures have been tried but the killing doesn’t stop, then these problem birds need to be removed. After all it is provided for in law,” he said.

SNH policy and operations manager, Rae McKenzie, added: “It was useful to hear everyone’s views and ideas and to have the opportunity to discuss both solutions and constraints to solving the problem of livestock predation by sea eagles where it occurs.

“Through the ‘White-tailed Eagle Action Plan’, we have been working closely with farmers, crofters and other partners over the past three years to trial management techniques which can help reduce any negative impacts. We encourage farmers and crofters to contact us to find out more,” she added.

Ardnamurchan tenant farmer, John MacAuley, felt the discussion was ‘possibly another exercise in kicking the can along the road’. At his own farm in Kinlochmoidart he had recorded losses of up to 30% on his lambs and adult sheep, which have had to be destroyed, attributing the losses to the sea eagles.

“We have made the decision to transport our ewes three hours away to rented grazings for lambing, with all breeding stock returning to the hill in August after lamb sales etc.”

“I did not renew my membership of the sea eagle scheme because I was so insulted by the begging nature to claim a derisory amount that would not even achieve 10% of the financial impact on my business. I welcome the recent progress with SNH, but even after all this time they have no apparent grasp of the potential financial impact to farming of this introduction program,” he stressed.

“Looking forward, it gives little confidence in the design of future support structure of reward for public good.”

Member of the National Sea Eagle Stakeholders Group and head of SRUC’s Hill and Mountain Research Centre, Davy McCracken, added: “While it would be too much to say that the crofters and farmers left completely satisfied, I did get the impression that they did appreciate the opportunity to discuss their concerns.

“On a wider note, while there is a lot of attention given when conflicts arise, the fundamental fact that hill farmers and crofters are essential to maintaining much of the habitats and wildlife in the Highlands and Islands is often lost in those debates.”

Ms Forbes concluded: “We had a very frank conversation, as I had hoped, about sea eagle predation and how to support farmers. People shared their personal stories, and it is clear that this is an emotive issue with no easy answers. There are a number of actions to take forward but perhaps the most valuable aspect was that crofters felt there was recognition of the challenges they face.”