Lambing season means sea eagle season in the West of Scotland, with eyewitness accounts of live lambs being taken by the reintroduced apex predator.

Across much of the west, white tailed sea eagles are devastating flocks by taking newborns. Industry figure and Mull sheep farmer Iain MacKay said: “Some farms will not be able to keep enough ewe lambs for replacements. If you cannot maintain a breeding flock on the farm then you question what is the point in being a farmer in the first place.”

Hill farmer Somerset Charrington of Treshnish Farm, Isle of Mull, witnessed an eagle attack on a live lamb last month. He said: “On April 19, at 2.30pm, I was checking the sheep on the hill as I do every day. You can only get so far on the quad so I was on foot walking along the bottom of our 130metre sea cliffs.

“Looking up I noticed a sea eagle being mobbed by a pair of peregrines. I distinctly remember being impressed with the sea eagle being able to flip upside down to use its talons to defend the attack.

“Then suddenly the massive bird swooped down in below the cliff. I lost sight of it for a second, but I knew it was a deliberate action. I rushed forward with my dogs and the bird reappeared about 200 metres away with a lamb gripped in its talons. I could hear the lamb bleating with all its life," recalled Mr Charrington.

“The bird flew 50 metres along the cliff edge then landed and I ran towards it with my dogs in pursuit. It was obvious it was going to kill the lamb. The dogs and I must have startled the eagle, for it took off again with the lamb for another 50 metres or so. But this time the it must not have had a decent hold, for when the eagle and lamb landed again, the little Blackface managed to wriggle free and sped off for all its life. It was bleating like mad for its mother and as we approached the eagle must have realised it was beaten and flew off.

“When I picked up the lamb there was a deep gash in is neck showing the power the birds have in their talons. It was at this point I heard the mother calling. I took it back to the spot it was lifted, and it reunited with the ewe. And I thought well that’s one nil to us today.”

There is now estimated to be 150 breeding pairs of white tailed sea eagles – but these estimates do not take into account non-breeding juveniles, which take five years to reach sexual maturity. There have been reports from Mull where 16 juveniles were sighted together whilst there was a group of 11 spotted on the nearby island of Islay.

Mull farmers Iain Mackay and Clare Simonetta of Torloisk farm have been working hard to reduce the number of lambs they loses to sea eagles each year. they have brought some lambing inside and select fields with the most shelter for new born lambs whilst record all deaths on the farm to assess the eagles' impact.

Mr Mackay said: “We certainly have lambs taken here. I am not against the birds being here and I am not calling for a total cull. But we are providing a ready source of food which the birds wouldn’t have if sheep farmers were not here. We need to recognise that numbers of sea eagles are artificially high because they have a readily available food source with our lambs. Put simply, if we didn’t provide the lambs, there wouldn’t be the numbers.

"We have done a lot to negate the impact of sea eagles on our flock," insisted Mr Mackay. "For the second year in a row, we lamb our gimmers and any ewes scanned with twins in a polytunnel which was part-funded through the capital item option recently introduced as part of the Sea Eagle Management Scheme.

"We then turn them out to fields with trees so they can hide from the sea eagles whilst the lambs are smaller. We find gimmers can be flighty at the best of times and if a bird with an eight foot wingspan descends, she just panics and leaves the lamb vulnerable to attack. The older ewes seem to learn how to handle sea eagles better but it has by no means stopped losses.

"Some things have not worked. We did try lambing a fortnight earlier than our neighbouring farmers. But that year we were hammered by the eagles with only four lambs produced for every ten gimmers. We expected much more since the hill gimmers usually scan at or just over 100%. Because we provided an early and readily available food source, the sea eagles started on our lambs and never moved on. That year, our neighbour told us he had had his best ever lambing," recalled Mr Mackay.

“I understand that not every lamb is lost due to the eagle. Right now, we have a PhD student looking into black loss on the farm and we record every death we find on the hill. This will allow us to hone in on the reasons for the black loss and get a better idea of lambs lost to the eagle.

“We need to remember that the loss of the lambs is not just financial for that year, but it erodes our ability to breed replacements which are hefted to our hills. If we lose too many ewe lambs, we lose the unique genetics that have developed to suit our hills over generations. This inevitably will lead to a decline in sheep quality and eventually we will not be able to keep a hefted flock.

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"You start to question why you even bother farming in the first place," he added. "We are very lucky to have an excellent officer at NatureScot who works closely with farmers as part of the Sea Eagle Management Scheme. The extension of the scheme to include capital options is testament to that.

"But I am not a park ranger, I am not here to manage and feed Sea Eagles, I am a sheep farmer. I don't want compensation, I want the tools that allow me to protect my animals.”

Across the region there is a growing demand for a balance between sea eagles and sheep producers.

Yvonne White from the Scottish Crofting Federation said: "Sea eagles are here to stay. But the issue is how do we live with them. There needs to be recognition by all parties involved that there are issues and negative effects due to predation. So it’s how to strike a balance. And how to get equitable compensation so our losses to sea eagle are sustainable long term.

"There is a sea eagle scheme run by NatureScot which is a positive step forward in helping address the economic losses. However much more needs to be done especially for sheep flocks on extensive hill systems. We need to address the big issue of future funding of a proper sea eagle scheme. Or what will happen in rural areas when sheep become uneconomic? There will be negative effects on local people employed in the activity."