Wildlife Trust views on the reintroduction of the white-tailed sea eagle

© Mike Read / www.mikeread.co.uk

We respond to the consultation about the proposed reintroduction of white-tailed sea eagles to the Isle of Wight.

Summary

Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust wants to see a wilder Isle of Wight, where nature can recover, wildlife can thrive and people can benefit from a closer connection with the natural world.

We support the ambition of the Island being able to support species like the white-tailed sea eagle and we recognise the real benefits that such an iconic bird could bring to local communities. Our priority is to secure nature’s recovery and ensure that the Island can sustain a healthy ecosystem with a wide diversity of wildlife.  We would, therefore emphasise the importance of a comprehensive feasibility study that fully assesses the benefits and risks of the proposed reintroduction. 

This feasibility study should look in detail at the current state of the natural environment and wildlife populations on the island.  It should explore the potential impacts of introducing a top predator to the existing ecosystem. 

Any proposed reintroduction programme should look to bring benefits for wildlife as a whole and therefore must incorporate stepped action to restore and improve habitats and species populations, address existing pressures and put in place measures to achieve a sustainable and healthy environment for these birds and for the rest of the wildlife of the island.

 

Find out more about the UK's largest bird of prey

White-tailed sea eagle

©Mike Read / www.mikeread.co.uk

The state of nature

Across the UK, 56% of all species have declined in the last 50 years. A quarter of birds are at risk and one in five mammals is threatened with extinction.  Up to three quarters of all flying insects have been wiped out since World War II and we have lost 97% of our wild flower meadows in the same period.  Nearly 15% of all species are now at risk of disappearing completely and Britain is ranked as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.

The Isle of Wight is not immune from these trends and we have witnessed dramatic declines of species like redshank, spotted flycatcher, marsh tit and small pearl-bordered fritillary.  Indeed the Island has already lost species including corn bunting, duke of burgundy butterfly and burnt orchid.

Across the board, nature is being lost at an alarming rate, driven by climate change, development, intensive agriculture and unsustainable resource consumption.

The space for wildlife is being increasingly squeezed and fragmented.  Birds like dark-bellied brent geese, curlew and wildfowl are very vulnerable to external pressures and threats along our Solent shores.

The priority must be to tip the balance in favour of nature’s recovery.  For this to happen we need more space for nature – a network of connected and thriving habitats across the island - and more people on nature’s side, taking action for wildlife and reducing the pressure on the environment.

Read more about our plans to create a wilder Wight 

Benefits and risks

The proposed reintroduction of white-tailed sea eagles to the Isle of Wight has several potential benefits for the Island:

To be able to rebalance nature and restore lost species and ecosystems could be significant in reversing trends of decline and extinction.

The sight of the iconic eagle also has real potential to connect more people with nature, inspiring a love of wildlife that brings benefits to the individual and the wider environment.  

The reintroduction of the sea eagle to the western Scotland has also demonstrated the economic contribution that this bird can make to the local communities – driving significant increases in tourism and allowing for new related businesses to thrive. 

But there must also be real, tangible benefit for wildlife as a whole. This initiative cannot further exacerbate challenges for some of our existing species including fish, coastal birds or small mammals, which would all form prey.

As a top predator, the sea eagle depends on a healthy and robust food chain.  Without these resilient populations, we would ultimately see failure of the scheme and further wildlife decline across the Island, as well as potential threats to livestock.

A longer-term plan for recovery, then reintroduction.

In order for the Island to be able to support a predator like the sea eagle, it is likely that there will be the need for a longer-term plan to restore the ecosystem, improve habitats, reduce pressures and support thriving populations of species.

If the promise of the white-tailed sea eagle can drive this type of investment and action then this should be harnessed – but this needs to be a staged process, based on targeted action and evidence.

We would be pleased to be part of planning how we can create an Island that is truly wild enough for the eagle to dare to return in the future.