Species Recovery

The White-tailed Eagle was formerly widespread across the whole of the United Kingdom before suffering intense persecution beginning in the Middle Ages, which led to a drastic decline. By the late eighteenth century only a few isolated breeding pairs persisted in England, with the last known pair in the south breeding on Culver Cliff on the Isle of Wight in 1780. The last breeding pair in England was thought to be on the Isle of Man in 1815 while in Scotland the species was lost in the early twentieth century, with the last known pair breeding for a final time in 1916.

Concerted efforts to restore the White-tailed Eagle to Scotland began in the middle part of the twentieth century. Early releases were undertaken in 1959 and 1968, and although they failed, the 1968 release in particular – which was undertaken by Roy Dennis on Fair Isle – was a valuable test of translocation, husbandry and release methods. A total of 75 Norwegian young were subsequently released on Rum National Nature Reserve between 1975 and 1985, and this led to the first successful breeding in 1985. The population was relatively slow to expand and so an additional 56 birds were released between 1993 and 1998 using improved techniques. By 2000 there were 22 breeding pairs and the 100th chick fledged successfully. Since then the population in Scotland, predominantly in western parts, has expanded to more than 130 breeding pairs.

Following the successes in the west, 85 juvenile White-tailed Eagles were released on the east coast between 2007 and 2012, with birds again imported from Norway. The first pair in eastern Scotland subsequently bred successfully in 2013. Meanwhile in Ireland a total of 100 chicks were translocated to Killarney National Park between 2007 and 2012. There are now at least ten breeding pairs.

Photo by Laurie Campbell

We are strong advocates that White-tailed Eagles should be restored to all areas where they used to occur in the UK, as well as in southern and western Europe.  We are delighted, therefore, that following the successes in Scotland and Ireland, Natural England have issued us a licence to begin an English reintroduction, in partnership with Forestry England, based on the Isle of Wight. You can read more about the Isle of Wight project here.

Roy Dennis has also given advice to White-tailed Eagle reintroduction projects that have been proposed in Spain, Gibraltar and France.