NFU Cymru National Environment and Land Use Adviser, Rachel Lewis-Davies:
In recent months there has been media coverage relating to species re-introduction, specifically of white-tailed eagle. In England, a licence application to re-introduce white-tailed eagle to the Isle of Wight has recently been approved by Natural England. In Scotland, there has now been recognition that live healthy lambs are being taken and killed by white-tailed eagles. BBC Countryfile has also reported on proposals relating to the reintroduction of eagles into Wales.
Whilst we understand that no applications have yet been submitted to Natural Resources Wales, this is an issue of high concern to farmers. In this context we were pleased to welcome Claire Robinson, NFU Senior Countryside Adviser and Alisha Anstee, NFU Countryside Adviser to the last meeting of the NFU Cymru Rural Affairs Board to receive an update on species re-introductions in England.
Natural England has recently approved an application to re-introduce 60 birds over a five year period on the Isle of Wight. The NFU were not satisfied with the level of consultation with this licence application, with Natural England under no obligation to consult. Many of the issues highlighted from a farmer perspective remain unresolved, although farmer concerns were reflected in the conditions of the licence.
The licence duration is just five years, what would happen after is not clear. Given that sea eagles take 4-5 years to reach maturity, the full impacts of their reintroduction will not be understood until well after the trial is completed and the eagle population is increasing due to successful breeding.
Eagles already have protected species status. In Scotland where white-tailed eagle have been re-introduced from the 1970s, it appears they tend to eat what is most abundant in the area. Proving the loss of lambs to sea eagles is challenging. Whilst the number of lambs in the context of the national flock is arguably small, individual farm businesses are being badly affected.
The Board concluded the issue of species re-introductions is a difficult one for farmers. Projects are backed by significant funders with an agenda to pursue rewilding whatever the consequence. On a species by species basis, it is important that the impacts to farming are understood. Full consultation with those affected is vital. A full impact assessment is also required so impacts are understood – this includes the short-term localised impact and the longer term population impacts. The need for a fully funded exit strategy is also essential.
Overall, decisions on re-introducing species, particularly where they have been absent for hundreds of years, need to be taken in the context of the impact they will have on local wildlife and biodiversity as well as agricultural systems.