Happy New Year

New Year is a good opportunity to reflect on the last twelve months. Working in conservation inevitably involves highs and lows and 2022 was true to form in that regard. However, we think it is import to focus on the positives, and to consider what can be achieved with our proactive approach to the restoration of nature. 

It is very encouraging to report that two territorial pairs of White-tailed Eagles are now established. G274 and G324 were part of the first cohort of six young eagles released by us and Forestry England, our project partner, on the Isle of Wight in August 2019. They paired up very early, in autumn 2020, and have remained together since. They have become fiercely territorial of two coastal sites on the Isle of Wight and as they approach their fifth calendar year, the two birds look resplendent in near full adult plumage. Project Officer, Steve Egerton-Read, who is based on the Island, has been monitoring the two birds closely, particularly in relation to their diet. Steve’s important work has shown that the two birds readily catch both marine and freshwater fish throughout the year and are also proficient at predating any weak or injured Canada Geese, as well as a range of other bird species, particularly corvids and gulls.  They are also expert at stealing food from other species, including Grey Herons, and Marsh Harriers. We are hopeful that the two birds may show the first signs of breeding behaviour in the spring, and will be monitored closely. 

Elsewhere a second pair of eagles has also become established. G405 and G471, were both released in 2020 and, as we have come to expect, explored widely during their second calendar year. G471 summered in the Southern Uplands in the south of Scotland, while G405 spent time in Exmoor and, later, Bodmin Moor. Both returned to the Isle of Wight and surrounding areas last spring, and met each other in the Arun valley in West Sussex during March. They have been together since, and are a regular sight at Pulborough Brooks and Amberley Wildbrooks. During the cold spell before Christmas the two birds were photographed by Mike Jerome catching carp through a hole in the ice at Pulborough. Our diet studies have shown that fish becomes an increasingly important component of the diet as the eagles become older. 

G405 catching a carp through the ice at Pulborough Brooks (photo by Mike Jerome)
G471 coming in to land next to G405 (photo by Mike Jerome)
The two eagles caught four carp with seemingly very little effort, while Mike Jerome was watching (photo by Mike Jerome)

Although a year younger than the pair on the Isle of Wight, G405 and G471 have become territorial and are showing encouraging courtship behaviour. Indeed, on one occasion they were observed seeing off a compatriot from the 2020 release, female G466, who visited the Arun valley having been chased off from the Isle of Wight by G274 and G324.  Having recently returned from a summer in northern Scotland, the fact that this young female had encountered two eagle territories in southern England would have been a significant experience for her, and it is encouraging that she is now spending much of her time at Poole Harbour. She appears to have displaced a younger female G801, released in 2021, who had become a near permanent resident at Poole Harbour, and has recently been spending time with a 2021 male, G812. 

Poole Harbour has become something of an eagle hotspot over the course of the last year and it has been wonderful that so many people have been able to enjoy seeing the eagles from the fantastic Birds of Poole Harbour boat trips. If you haven’t been on one of these trips, then we thoroughly recommend booking onto one in 2023. You can find more details on the Birds of Poole Harbour website here. We are so encouraged by the enthusiastic responses we receive about the eagles. 

Male G812, photographed from a Birds of Poole Harbour boat trip (photo by Mark Wright)

It is not just White-tailed Eagles that Poole Harbour has become important for in recent years. This summer a pair of Ospreys bred successfully. Male 022, who we translocated to Poole Harbour from the famous B01 nest near Roy’s home in Moray, which has been occupied by successive generations of Ospreys since 1966, reared two chicks with female CJ7 who fledged from a nest near Rutland Water in 2015; the first breeding Ospreys on the South Coast of England for two centuries. It was tragic that one of the young was killed by a Goshawk a few days after fledging, but these are the hurdles in restoring nature – it’s not easy. The remaining juvenile 5H1 departed on her first migration in early September; a very significant milestone for the project we run in partnership with Birds of Poole Harbour. Hopefully, now wintering in West Africa, she will be the first of the new South Coast Osprey clan. The ancient local name ‘mullet hawks’ can be reclaimed.

A close-up view of 5H1 soon after fledging at Poole Harbour (from Birds of Poole Harbour webcam)

Projects to restore lost species like White-tailed Eagles and Ospreys are not a fast process, but events this year give us real optimism for the future. We are very grateful for all the support we have received from many people; from members of the public to farmers who have been excited to see White-tailed Eagles on their land. We have been extremely heartened by messages from people who have been thrilled to see these species back in southern England.

Recently Forestry England repeated the public questionnaire that we ran when we first proposed the project and this showed that the public’s attitude towards the reintroduction of White-tailed Eagles is overwhelmingly supportive, even more so than when our idea was first suggested five years ago (watch out for the full results soon). It was also valuable to know that people are really keen that more reintroductions of lost species are undertaken. In some ways it is clear that the conservation bodies, government and NGOs, are behind the curve and people want us to move ahead more quickly. This makes us even more determined than ever to continue and widen our work and to play our part in the restoration of nature at a time when it is urgently required. We are working on several other ideas for 2023.

A big thank you to everyone who has followed our projects during 2022, reported sightings, shared photos, made donations or sent messages of support. May we wish you all the very best for 2023.

 Roy, Tim, Steve and Zoe

Very many thanks to everyone who has made donations to the Foundation and the White-tailed Eagle project in the past few months. Your support is greatly appreciated. If you would like to donate to our work, then you can do so via the link below.