FURTHER LICENSED activities to reduce serious agricultural damage by White-tailed Eagles on hill sheep flocks will be considered by the National Sea Eagle Stakeholder Panel.

A review of the work undertaken over the first three years of WTE action plan has just been released and recommendations will now be taken forward to be discussed by stakeholders as part of an extension to the action plan – due to be released this Spring.

“This is not the case of one plan ending and another one beginning, this is a progression,” NatureScot’s Policy & Operations Manager Rae McKenzie told the SF. “We are learning from our feedback from farmers, what works and what doesn't work and using this information to shape a more detailed action plan for the next three years.”

Stakeholders have worked closely with individual farmers and crofters on ‘monitor farms’ to test different management techniques and develop a toolbox of measures, aimed at reducing the impacts WTE's can have on hill sheep flocks. These included diversionary feeding, scaring devices, enhanced shepherding and in limited cases, licensed manipulation of nest sites outside of the breeding season.

Capturing, tagging and relocating problem birds is included in the draft recommendations, but has thus far proved a real hurdle. Ms Mckenzie explained. “Last year we started too late in the season at one of our monitor farms in Argyll and the birds didn’t seem interested in our bait. This year, however, we have started earlier at a location where we know the birds have come in before and we know what they are eating.”

She added that just that morning (Monday, January 11) there had been reports of the birds flying close to the bait site.

“We are trying to give the birds an easy food source and in this particular site, we know they are feeding on Canadian geese. If we can tag birds, then we can follow them around their hunting area and have a better idea of what they are doing. It really is a fingers crossed situation catching them as no one in the UK has done it before.”

NatureScot’s previous action plan stated that some licensed activities would not be considered, however, now having reviewed all the evidence and data from those experiencing significant problems with the birds, they have now confirmed that the new action plan ‘may also include further licensed activities’.

Ms McKenzie continued: “In areas where all other methods of WTE management have proved unsatisfactory and serious agricultural damage can be quantified, we will be reviewing what alternative actions could be taken and what solutions this would hope to achieve.

“We recognise the serious concerns that some farmers and crofters have about the impact of sea eagles on their livestock, and we’re committed to continue working closely with them to find solutions. But there is still a lack of data coming in from some participants and the more information people can give us, the more we can understand the behaviour of the birds and what management techniques could be best explored."

Of the 138 holdings that participated in the Sea Eagle Management Scheme over the period of the action plan, NatureScot only have marking-weaning data for 64 holdings (46%).

Over the past year, some farmers and crofters have been using a mapping app called ‘ViewRanger’ to geotag locations that birds have been spotted and it is hoped increased adoption of such technology will improve quality and quantity of data on the birds' movements.

This year NatureScot will be offering 116 holdings management agreements for the revised version of the scheme. “We need farmers input in discussions and hopefully more folk are trusting what we are doing and will come forward with information so we can build a better picture of what is happening, so we can work out ways to address the issue," concluded Ms McKenzie.