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White-tailed eagles not to be reintroduced to Snettisham in 2022

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Wild Ken Hill in Snettisham has put on hold a project to reintroduce the white-tailed eagle to Norfolk.

Earlier this year the eco-friendly home of BBC's Autumnwatch said Britain's largest bird would be introduced to the estate next year.

Natural England has issued a licence to the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation for a 10-year reintroduction with birds brought over from Poland.

White-tailed eagle on Roydon Common photographed by Julie Smart of Grimston. (52338687)
White-tailed eagle on Roydon Common photographed by Julie Smart of Grimston. (52338687)

The decision to put the reintroduction on hold means that those who contributed to a crowdfunding campaign will have to be given their money back.

The white-tailed eagle, also known as the sea eagle, is the largest UK bird of prey. It has a wingspan of up to 240cm, which is nearly 8ft. It can still be found in remote areas of Scotland and has been introduced in the Isle of Wight in recent years after becoming extinct in England.

When Wild Ken Hill announced they were to introduce the bird back in May, Dominic Buscall, manager at Wild Ken Hill, said he was "overwhelmed by the support we have received from all sectors".

But now Wild Ken Hill has issued a statement on its website saying there has been a rethink.

White-tailed sea eagle catching fish in Smola, Norway, by Sir Bruce Ponder. (52338696)
White-tailed sea eagle catching fish in Smola, Norway, by Sir Bruce Ponder. (52338696)

It said: "We have reluctantly decided that we will not reintroduce white-tailed eagles at Wild Ken Hill in 2022 as planned.

"We continue to believe that the restoration of white-tailed eagles to Eastern England is an important and inevitable conservation goal, and also that the original plans for a release beginning in 2022 could have been delivered very successfully in partnership with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation.

"We have, however, taken the difficult decision to focus on other aspects of our nationally-significant nature and regenerative farming project. In particular, we feel it is worth putting our full weight behind the pioneering innovations we are making as part of our regenerative farming approach. The greater biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and improved profitability demonstrated at Wild Ken Hill with this approach over the last three years have the potential to have a huge impact across the UK if adopted by others; we feel it is therefore imperative to focus on these. In addition to regenerative farming, Wild Ken Hill supports beavers and is a release site for Natural England’s curlew headstarting project.

A white tailed sea eagle (52338690)
A white tailed sea eagle (52338690)

"We are sure that the restoration of the white-tailed eagle to England will continue successfully on the Isle of Wight, and we hope that dispersing juvenile eagles continue to visit Wild Ken Hill and the Norfolk Coast, attracted by the area’s suitable habitat.

"We wanted to specifically and publicly offer our apologies to the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, who have been exceptional project partners to date and a pleasure to work with.

"We also would like to thank and apologise to those that supported this project when participating in the consultation, particularly the 91 per cent of the general public that offered their support and the many landmanagers and conservation organisations that did the same.

"We will shortly be in touch with those that supported the Crowdfunding campaign to offer a full refund."

Farmers have campaigned elsewhere against the reintroduction of the predators as a threat to lambs.

Mark Avery, author and leading conservationist, has criticised the decision online.

He said on his website: "There have been rumours of this for quite a while but this news is very disappointing.

"The account on the website is very apologetic and rightly so, I think, as this will feel like a let down for many supporters of the project. I have heard that as well as some local birders’ being uneasy there have been land-owning and shooting interests leaning on some members of the family on this issue. That might not be true, but it is the word on the street – several streets in fact.

"I wonder what will happen as Isle of Wight birds continue to visit Ken Hill and get attached to it?

"The scare stories about any reintroduction are pretty extreme, whether it be eagles or Beavers, and they happened back in the fairly distant past when Red Kites were brought back too. We should have more confidence in nature taking its course, and listen less to vested interests spreading scare stories. Fear of the unremembered holds us back very often in nature conservation."

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