Hundreds of west coast farmers and crofters are yet to receive contracts for this year’s Sea Eagle Management Scheme (SEMS).

The scheme, which supports sheep producers affected by white-tailed sea eagles on their land, is typically confirmed with applicants at the start of each year.

However, no 2024 contracts have been issued for either existing participants or new applicants. Some flocks in the area have already started lambing with many thousands of sheep due to give birth in the coming weeks.

The Scottish Farmer: Sea eagles can prey on lambsSea eagles can prey on lambs

The scheme supports farmers and crofters to help mitigate the impacts of eagle predation on their flock with up to £1500 available for standard measures. There are enhanced options stretching payments to a combined maximum of £5000.

These higher payments are available to offset some of the extra costs of hiring extra shepherds who help protect the flocks from eagle attacks, but the lack of contracts is making it ‘impossible to plan’, according to Argyll hill farmer David Colthart.

READ MORE | Sea eagle predation still a concern for sheep farmers

Mr Colthart, chair of Argyll and Lochaber Sea Eagle Stakeholder Group said: “It’s absolutely unacceptable that lambing is now upon us and we still have no contracts for this year’s Sea Eagle Management Scheme issued to farmers and crofters by NatureScot. That’s 185 impacted flocks primarily up and down the West Coast being hit. Plus there are also 21 approved applications that are also in limbo.

“At the last stakeholder group meeting in March in Oban, we pressed NatureScot on why management contracts had not been issued and we were told that the scheme work was done and the money for this year had been allocated by NatureScot in February, but Scottish Government officials in Edinburgh have so far refused to allow contracts to be issued.

The Scottish Farmer: White tailed sea eagleWhite tailed sea eagle

“How can they expect farmers and crofters that carry out measures such as enhanced shepherding

to find contract shepherds in the midst of lambing if they’re not told if they’re getting funded or not?

“To many of us that suffer significant impacts to our businesses with predation, it seems that officials cannot understand or care the seriousness of the issues or they would have already allowed Nature Scot to issue the 2024 contracts.”

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Mr Colthart states that the apex predator was never asked for by the farming or crofting community and that the birds are challenging the viability of west coast flocks.

In February NatureScot allocated a budget in the region of £400,000 for around 200 participants and contractors who monitor the birds whilst supporting farmers and crofters on the ground.

The white tailed eagle action plan and SEMS are currently being reviewed for 2025 onwards.

NFU Scotland is pushing for the budget to be increased significantly to support impacted farmers and crofters with appropriate support to help mitigate the damage caused by the birds. The eagles, according to charitable organisations, bring in millions of pounds into the local economies through tourism.

Mr Colthart added: “Out of the 180-plus nesting pairs in Scotland around 20 pairs nest on Mull so if you believed the quoted millions that supposedly benefit the economy, one nest’s ‘value’ to the economy on Mull is more than the whole scheme budget. This is a real slap in the face of farmers and crofters whose lambs many of the birds feed on.”

A NatureScot spokesperson said: “NatureScot is committed to running the Sea Eagle Management Scheme this year to provide support to farmers and crofters affected by predation and we are currently finalising the details.”