Sea eagles on the Isle of Wight

©Mike Read / www.mikeread.co.uk

A week after the sea eagle chicks were allowed to fledge the release pens it has been fascinating to follow the reports on how the birds are faring. Amazingly they’ve explored their new surroundings in very different ways, with some getting to know the IOW more intimately and others taking a whistle stop tour of the mainland, Hampshire’s chalk river valleys and travelling as far as Essex.

This is of course the first release for a project that will span several years aimed at establishing the first [southern] English population for over two hundred years. The team from the Roy Dennis Foundation provide unparalled expertise in bird of prey reintroductions. The feasibility has been thorough and the public consultations open, honest and assuring. I take heart from the examples shown from nearby Europe that this bird will probably thrive in our lowland landscape, which will arguably prove to be far more productive than much of their more remote Scottish haunts. In Europe we see these birds living seamlessly alongside urban and industrialised areas and theres no reason to think that they won’t be able to adapt to the 21st century backdrop of the busy ports at Southampton or Portsmouth.

The continental sea eagle that spent the best part of two months in the New Forest area went unnoticed for much of that time. A bird of its size, choosing to stick around yet without a murmur of public hysteria calling for pets and sheep to be evacuated. The reality, as opposed to the myth are clearly very different. For those that did see the eagle, it brought joy and awe, with probably a fair few local pub and café visits to show for it. Now with our own local eagles, albeit of Scottish heritage, I feel heartened at the interest, joy and amazement being shared on social media. The story is capturing the imagination and those that do see the eagle it is clearly bringing a sense of amazement (even in the sky above Greenwich in London!). The reintroduction of a species will always cause debate and potentially conflict where it is seen to be a challenge on the status quo. But we should not forget that the sea eagle is a missing species. It is part of our natural heritage that has been lost due to human attitudes. It absence has formed part of the unwelcome status that the UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world.

Public concern for the natural environmental is at an all time. The level of enthusiasm for the sea eagle’s return plays into that narrative yet it has been argued that this project is not a conservation priority. Here in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight we have immense challenges facing wildlife and their habitats, as well as existing conservation projects but I would argue that it is a priority. Completing the jigsaw of its missing pieces should be a priority where the opportunity arises, but more importantly in order to get more people on nature’s side we need to utilise our best flagbearers for doing that. The eagle is effectively capturing public imagination. It is giving us a backdrop to a wonderful story about nature and a wilder county. If it creates a sense of pride, joy or economic importance for people it will contribute to greater emphasis on the protection and restoration of our local landscapes. For local children we are providing a shifting baseline that is not part of a crisis, but one that represents a new , richer norm. It will enable a new generation to grow up assuming that co-existing with large, charismatic wildlife is normal. I am convinced that the eagle will be lever for creating a wilder future and one where wildlife can start to become more integral to all people’s lives.