Proposed White-tailed Eagle Reintroduction on the Isle of Wight

White-tailed Eagles were once widespread along the whole of the South Coast of England, from Cornwall to Kent, before being driven to extinction by relentless persecution that began in the Middle Ages. The last pair bred on Culver Cliff on the Isle of Wight in 1780. Many parts of southern England remain highly suitable for the species, and following the reintroduction of White-tailed Eagles to Scotland – where there are now over 130 breeding pairs – we believe that an English reintroduction would be equally successful and the best way to re-establish these magnificent birds in their former haunts. Restoring a population of White-Eagles on the South Coast would help to link populations in Scotland and Ireland with those in the Netherlands and France.

As a generalist predator, White-tailed Eagles have a varied diet that includes fish (photo by Mike Crutch).

Together with the Forestry Commission we have identified the Isle of Wight as a potential location for a reintroduction, and are currently working on a feasibility report. It is the last known breeding site of the species in southern England, the Solent and surrounding estuaries will provide a rich food supply, there are numerous potential nesting sites in woods and cliffs, and also good loafing areas for young birds. It is also a highly strategic location that would enable the birds to spread east and west along the South Coast.

Evidence from the Netherlands, where there is a small but growing population of White-tailed Eagles, shows that the species will readily nest in densely populated areas, close to people. The species has a broad diet and tends to favour the most seasonally abundant prey: waterbirds are important, including in summer the young of Greylag and other geese as well as Coot; fish are taken when available as well as carrion such as dead and dying birds and fish. Dutch researchers studying White-tailed Eagles have found that any disturbance to wading birds by the eagles is similar to that of Peregrine, and species get used to their presence; while breeding colonies of gulls and terns are effective at mobbing and driving off the eagles.

In addition to the conservation benefits, we believe that the project would give a significant boost to the Isle of Wight economy, including in winter. In Scotland eagle tourism is extremely popular and recent reports have shown White-tailed Eagles generate up to £5 million to the economy of the Isle of Mull each year, and £2.4 million to the Isle of Skye.

What would the project involve?

The proposed project is a partnership between the Forestry Commission and Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, with potential for other local partners to join.

If the  project was to go ahead juvenile White-tailed Eagles would be collected from nests in Scotland and translocated to the Isle of Wight in late June. They would be held in special cages in a quiet location for approximately three-four weeks before being released. Food would be provided close to the release site during the autumn and winter before the young eagles become independent. Up to 60 birds would be translocated in this way over a five year period. If the project did go ahead a project officer, based on the Isle of Wight, would be appointed.

The project requires a special licence from Scottish Natural Heritage to collect eagle chicks from Scottish nests, and permission from Natural England to release them on the Isle of Wight.

Young White-tailed Eagles do not breed until they are four or five years of age. It is hoped that a small population would become established on the Isle of Wight, with birds spreading east and west along the South Coast thereafter.

Public Consultation

We believe that there is a very strong conservation and ecological case for the project, but for any initiative like this to be successful in the long term then it must be supported by local people. In addition to ongoing discussions with a range of different organisations and key stakeholders, we organised a series of public meetings on the Isle of Wight during November and conducted a month-long online poll to enable as many people as possible to give their views.

For further information about the proposals check out our Frequently Asked Questions page

White-tailed Eagles have an eight foot wingspan – making them the UK’s largest bird of prey (photo by Mike Crutch)