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Sea eagle debate soars back to Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 09:28 24 September 2009 | UPDATED: 09:59 13 July 2010

The controversial sea eagle debate was brought back to life by Natural England yesterday as they announced a return to their original favoured plan of bringing the impressive creatures back to the skies above the Suffolk coast.

The controversial sea eagle debate was brought back to life by Natural England yesterday as they announced a return to their original favoured plan of bringing the impressive creatures back to the skies above the Suffolk coast.

The sea eagle, also known as the white-tailed eagle, is the fourth largest eagle in the world. They are described by Natural England as scavengers and generalist predators who feed on fish, birds and medium-sized mammals.

An East Anglian project to import 15 to 20 of the eight foot wingspan birds each year for half a dozen years has been considered publicly for several years.

The first target was Suffolk, but this was put on hold when worries about the future of important bittern breeding sites were raised.

Attention was then turned to north Norfolk, where there was a wave of anger about the introduction, including fears from livestock farmers and wildlife experts. This project was put on hold at the beginning of 2009 for further consultation.

Yesterday Natural England announced it had completed research into fears about bittern predation linked to the Suffolk plan.

They said consultation was carried out with experts across Europe where the two species coexist and that having undertaken a comprehensive literature search of the species' diet, they were confident that any risk presented to bitterns would be “minimal”.

“It is a magnificent species and the birds were a traditional part of the English landscape,” said project officer Duncan McNiven.

Mr McNiven said Suffolk had always been the preferred option rather than Norfolk because of its location at the centre of a string of wetland habitats.

The bird has been successfully re-established on the west coast of Scotland and releases have also taken place in eastern Scotland.

Natural England's chief scientist Tom Tew, said: “The task now is to ensure an open and informed debate about whether, and how, to move forward.

“We recognise that there are some people who are opposed and others who wish to understand more about how a re-introduction program would affect them.”

The project will canvas views of landowners, livestock farmers, conservation organisations, experts and the general public.

Mark Avery, the RSPB's director of conservation, said man was the reason sea eagles were missing from England after being wiped out many years ago: “It is for us to put that right.”

But Country Land and Business Association president Henry Aubrey-Fletcher said: “The CLA is highly sceptical about the introduction of sea eagles to the Suffolk coast though we are pleased Natural England has at last conceded the need for an informed debate.

“We will obviously be raising our concerns. How will farming, shooting and other commercial interests manage with the introduction of such a major predator?”


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