Sea eagles snatch babies ? It's nonsense, says RSBP

Wildlife News

3 Sep 2011
David Ross Highland Correspondent

The row between conservationists and gamekeepers over Scotland’s birds of prey soared to new heights yesterday after the RSBP described as “nonsense” claims that the country’s biggest winged predator could attack young children.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) gave the warning in a letter to Scottish ministers in which they called for a public inquiry into the reintroduction of the species.
It follows the recent attack by one of the raptors on a prominent Scottish churchman.
One of the 16 white-tailed sea eagles from Norway released last month in Fife as part of a reintroduction programme in the east of Scotland killed a prize-winning goose owned by the Very Reverend Hunter Farquharson, the Provost of Perth Cathedral. The bird also attacked Mr Farquharson when he tried to intervene.
It tore his shirt and inflicted a cut to his head and a four-inch wound on his back which needed medical attention.
Some crofters have long been convinced the white-tailed sea eagles, which have an eight-foot wingspan, have been responsible for killing lambs.
But a study for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) concluded last year that the birds had a minimal impact on the survival of lambs in remote parts of the Highlands.
In its letter to the Environment Minister Stuart Stevenson, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association warned that the attack on Mr Farquharson may well be the first of many and asked for the formulation of an “exit strategy” if the sea eagles turn out to have an adverse effect on social, economic or leisure activities.
The letter says: “These creatures are being released into what is a comparatively densely populated area so they will come into contact with humans on a daily basis. That will instil habituated behaviour and remove what should be a healthy fear of humans.
“There are reports of buzzards which have obviously undergone this desensitisation and this has resulted in them attacking people. This could pose a serious threat in the future.
“Will these very large creatures differentiate between a small child and more natural quarry?”

SGA committee member Bert Burnett went on to ask the minister if there was a long-term strategy that covered the inevitable increases in the sea eagle population once they start to breed in the wild.
“Is the Government intending to compensate all those who lose stock or suffer other financial losses through the behaviour of these birds?” Mr Burnett asked.
But an RSPB spokesman said: “It is the worst kind of alarmist nonsense to suggest that sea eagles might soon be preying on children for food. This species has lived cheek by jowl with humans for centuries in large conurbations without incident in Norway, and this is entirely natural.
“The reintroduction project has been undertaken with the full support of the Scottish Government and the statutory conservation agency SNH.
“A recent economic study showed that sea eagles are worth a minimum of £5 million to the local economy of Mull annually. Previously wiped out at the hands of man, they are a fantastic and welcome reintroduction to the biodiversity of Scotland.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Sea eagles are widespread in many parts of Europe, including densely populated areas. We are not aware of any attacks by sea eagles on children in those countries.
“We do not think a public inquiry is necessary. The National Species Reintroduction Forum, chaired by Scottish Natural Heritage and which includes the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, considers all matters relating to reintroduced species, including sea eagles.”
The sea eagle became extinct in Scotland in 1917. Reintroduction began in 1975, and now there are 200 in Scotland.

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