“WHITE TAILED Eagles are a top predator that need to be managed by man before it’s too late and there are no hill sheep left on the west coast.”

Farmers and crofters feeling the impact of WTEs on their flocks are calling for action to relocate the ‘few’ problem birds which are found to cause serious agricultural damage, and for increased funding to be made available to those businesses who are being hit hardest by predation levels.

Last year, farmers and crofters were given the opportunity to share their thoughts on the current WTE action plan and suggest changes moving forward – with revisions to the current action plan due to be announced this spring.

A survey carried out by NFU Scotland found that 61% of the 41 respondents reported predation levels on their flocks to have increased since the action plan was implemented in 2017.

Farmers and crofters pointed to increasing WTE numbers and a lack of alternative food sources for the birds to eat. There was praise for efforts by NatureScot to increase human activity on the hill to scare off birds, but this appears to have moved the problem to neighbouring farms.

WTE numbers are expected to expand extensively over the next decade from 130 pairs recorded in 2017 to a forecast of 900 pairs by 2040.

Over 70% of farmers and crofters agreed that the Sea Eagle Management Scheme (SEMS) needs to continue but there was consensus that increased support is needed for the most affected farms and consideration given to more serious management techniques or people might withdraw from the scheme.

“Increase the £5000 limit (of funding) to the farms and crofts that are seriously impacted by WTE killing. The only way it will be taken seriously is if there are serious options such as nest manipulation and relocation or managed and controlled eagle elimination,” wrote one farmer.

According to 93% of respondents, the updated action plan must include an option for removal of problem birds where mitigation efforts have failed.

Another individual wrote: “Once a predator has a taste for lamb, it is difficult to persuade it differently. That does not mean to say one needs a blanket licence to remove all predators – simply those that are particularly aggressive or in a situation where there are too many predators within a small area.”

There was agreement amongst respondents that problem birds should be removed before those genetic traits are passed down to their young: “Unless you take out these rogue birds and break the cycle, they will perpetuate the lamb killing. Leave the ones that don’t touch livestock to breed young that feed on other prey. This will mean there are still WTEs, and farmers and crofters that will still be able to sustainably farm without the burden of these birds decimating their flocks.”

Chair of NFU Scotland’s Environment and Land Use Committee, Angus MacFadyen, who has experience of WTE’s on his Oban farm said: “We welcome the significant increase in funding to the WTE management plan since 2015 and collaborative work on the ground with NatureScot through the monitor farm trials to try and reduce the impact of WTEs on livestock. However, 164 holdings have participated with the scheme, and that reflects the recorded increase in the spread and numbers of these birds,” he continued.

“Our survey revealed that, unfortunately, most respondents did not feel the current action plan had made a significant impact on reducing WTE predation and we have shared our results with NatureScot, so they are aware of our members’ views. With the next three years of the Action plan currently being revised, NFU Scotland feels that it needs to go far further if it is to significantly reduce the losses that some farmers and crofters are suffering.”

Mr MacFadyen concluded by urging farmers and crofters to play their part in providing clearer data from their records on WTE predation on their flocks which will in turn help NatureScot better focus action to reduce their impact.