Go ahead for White-tailed Eagles to be re-introduced to Ken Hill Snettisham

Go ahead for White-tailed Eagles to be re-introduced to Ken Hill Snettisham
Photo credit: Ainsley Bennett

Natural England have granted a licence to the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Wild Ken Hill to reintroduce White-tailed Eagles to West Norfolk and the surrounding region.

The go ahead has been given after a detailed feasibility study carried out by the project team and a public consultation which took place in January and February. 91% of participants gave their support for the proposals, including 83% of people who were “strongly supportive”.

63% of farmers also indicated support for the proposals. The complete feasibility study, including results of the consultation can be accessed on the Wild Ken Hill website.

The West Norfolk project will become the next phase of national efforts to restore White-tailed Eagles to England, which began with the release of birds on the Isle of Wight in 2019.

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Photo credit: Ainsley Bennett

The Natural England license will allow up to 60 juvenile birds will be released at Wild Ken Hill over a ten year period, with the aim of establishing a small breeding population of 6-10 pairs in the region. White-tailed Eagles usually do not breed until they are five years of age, and so it will take some time for the population to become established.

The juvenile birds will be translocated from Poland, where there are over 1,000 pairs of White- tailed Eagles. Current complications with international travel under Covid-19 restrictions mean that the first birds are likely to be released in 2022.

Also known as the sea eagle, the White-tailed Eagle is a native bird of prey, and the UK’s largest, with a wingspan of 8ft (2.4m). It was persecuted to extinction in Britain in the early twentieth century. The species has subsequently been successfully reintroduced to Scotland, and more recently, Ireland.

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Photo credit: Nick Edwards

The Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation is a conservation charity also involved in the ongoing south of England reintroduction project based on the Isle of Wight, which is a partnership with Forestry England. Wild Ken Hill is a conservation and sustainable farming project on the West coast of Norfolk.

Dominic Buscall, manager at Wild Ken Hill, said, “We are delighted to have the go ahead to bring back White-tailed Eagles to Eastern England, and overwhelmed by the support we have received from all sectors. We have also carefully been listening to concerns where they have arisen, and we are now committed to delivering this important conservation project and working with all of our stakeholders to ensure its success”

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Photo credit: Wild Ken Hill

Roy Dennis who has been instrumental in the recovery of the species in the UK, said, “This is the next logical step to restore this magnificent bird to England and compliments efforts across Europe to help the species. We have carefully considered the potential ecological and socio-economic impact of the project and initial results from the Isle of Wight, and evidence from across lowland Europe, shows that this is a bird that can live successfully alongside people and fit into the East Anglian landscape very well.”

Dave Slater, director for wildlife licensing at Natural England, said: “After thorough consideration, we have granted a licence allowing the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation to release white-tailed eagles at Wild Ken Hill in Norfolk. Our experts have carefully assessed the project against guidelines for the reintroduction of species, as well as the potential environmental, social and economic impacts. And we are satisfied that there are no significant risks associated with it. We’re content that the applicant’s experience, as well as our expertise and licensing process, ensures the project will be carried out in a responsible, well-managed way that takes account of concerns and makes a positive contribution to both people and wildlife.”

The project is now running a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the initial costs.

A viable population on the East coast centred around West Norfolk would help to connect existing White-tailed Eagle populations in Scotland, Ireland – also established through reintroduction projects – with those in the South of England, and mainland Europe, including the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany.

Indeed, six juvenile birds released on the Isle of Wight have spent periods of time in Norfolk over the last year in addition to others from the continent, demonstrating the suitability of the area for the species. One of the Isle of Wight birds subsequently crossed the English Channel and is now in Denmark.

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G393 at Ken Hill - Photo credit Wild Ken Hill

Roy Dennis said, “The breeding biology of White-tailed Eagles means that although young birds range extensively in their early years, they usually return to their natal area to breed. However, if, in the future, young birds from other populations encounter a small breeding population of White-tailed Eagles in East Anglia, they may be encouraged to stay.”

White-tailed Eagles are opportunistic predators with a preference for fish, waterbirds, and for carrion. No issues with conservation sites or farming systems have been recorded with any of the 13 birds released on the Isle of Wight to date.

Wild Ken Hill was chosen for the next phase of national efforts to bring back the bird because of its coastal location as well as its quiet woodlands, which provide ideal nesting spots.