Scottish Natural Heritage have admitted that sea eagles do prey on live lambs and announced the creation of a new management scheme for the birds, which were reintroduced into Scotland in 1975.
Last week SNH and the National Farmers Union of Scotland signed an agreement to balance the needs of sheep farmers and crofters with the conservation of sea eagles, after SNH recognised that predation on live lambs does occur.
The declaration was signed by SNH chairman Ian Ross and NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller.
A new sea eagle management scheme will be in place by spring 2015, subject to funding approval by SNH and the Scottish Government. This will use experienced and trusted rapid response contractors to respond to farmers’ and crofters’ concerns about any sea eagle impacts on their flocks, and advise them on options to mitigate these impacts. It will also assist those hardest hit to make positive management changes.
Local stakeholder groups covering the main sea eagle areas are expected to be set up by next month. These will initially cover Mull, North Argyll and Lochaber; Skye and Lochalsh; and Gairloch and Wester Ross.
A sea eagle action plan will also be published by September 2016 and implemented by March the following year.
The sea eagle scheme steering panel will collate, analyse and act on feedback during spring on sea eagle impacts and responses to management measures. This panel will develop proposals for sheep, sea eagle and habitat management measures.
Representatives will be invited to sit on the panel which comprises NFU Scotland, SNH, the Scottish Crofting Federation, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Scottish Government.
NFUS president Nigel Miller said: “Today’s agreement with SNH is a lot more than a commitment of two organisations to collaborate; it is a significant milestone towards understanding and managing Scotland’s sea eagle population. The joint plan will be driven through regional groups involving farmers and crofters, and has a clear timetable.
“To secure vital progress, the partnership must ensure that the process is inclusive and takes account of farmers’ and crofters’ views and experiences. Collaboration will provide the foundations for a programme that minimises lamb losses and safeguards sheep flocks whilst also underpinning a sustainable sea eagle population.”
Ian Ross, the SNH chairman, added: “We recognise there are some concerns over the impact of sea eagles, but we are committed to working closely with NFU Scotland and its members to help tackle these challenges.
“This joint statement we have agreed reflects the close collaborative working between us and NFU Scotland. It acknowledges the willingness on both sides to promote better mutual understanding and seek ways of working more effectively together.”
Mr Ross added: “It is also important to recognise the economic benefits that sea eagles bring to tourism, particularly to rural areas, while acknowledging that in some cases, sea eagles have taken live lambs. We are working closely with farmers and crofters to minimise the conflict between the birds and their impact on livestock.”