Page last updated at 10:49 GMT, Monday, 10 May 2010 11:49 UK

Sea eagles have 'minimum impact' on lambs

Sea eagle
Sea eagles' main source of prey are other birds, the researchers suggest

Sea eagles have a "minimum impact" on lambs' chances of survival, according to the results of study commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

The fortunes of selected lambs in three flocks in Wester Ross were monitored to help determine whether large numbers of livestock fall prey to the raptors.

Crofters in the area and on Skye had claimed the birds fed on their stock.

SNH said the study of lambs in Gairloch suggested less than 2% of lambs' deaths were directly linked to the birds.

Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham said the report was a "timely and valuable piece of research".

Radio tags

She added: "The sea eagles are a wonderful part of our natural heritage and their reintroduction has been an outstanding success.

"But we also recognise that farmers and crofters are rightly concerned about their livestock and it is important we develop our knowledge and understanding of this issue.

"Where there are problems with sea eagles predating on livestock we will look at maintaining and improving schemes to find ways to help farmers manage their stock to co-exist with these magnificent birds."

Lambs were fitted with radio tags so they could be tracked and observed by field workers. Shepherds were also asked for their accounts of sea eagles.

This is good news for the year 2009 but also leaves open to question what might be the yearly variations in predation impact
Ewen Mackinnon
Scottish Crofting Federation

Government agency SNH said seabirds, such as fulmar, were the main source of food for sea eagles and that less than 2% of deaths among lambs could be directly attributed to the eagles.

The study was undertaken by the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA).

Ron Macdonald, head of policy and advice for SNH, said the agency had produced a detailed scientific assessment.

He said: "Their findings are in line with those of previous studies carried out on Mull and data collected across other areas where white tailed eagles are present.

"This work was supported by crofters who allowed their flocks and holdings to be the focus of surveillance for the period of the study. They also contributed knowledge, observations and shepherding experience."

He added: "We will continue to support ongoing surveillance of sea eagle presence in the area, as recommended by the study and will work closely with the crofting community and other partners to take forward the good work of the steering group."

'Almost exclusively'

Ewen Mackinnon, of the Scottish Crofting Federation and member of the project steering group, said questions remained to be answered.

He said: "Lamb mortality in this area was significantly down on previous years and the evidence from the study indicated that sea eagle predation impact on the lamb flock was minimal.

"This is good news for the year 2009 but also leaves open to question what might be the yearly variations in predation impact.

"Although we would hope that this would remain minimal, continued vigilance will be necessary."

RSPB Scotland said the study underlined the information it had gathered since the reintroduction of sea eagles, which were once native to Britain before being hunted to extinction.

George Campbell, of RSPB Scotland, said: "The balance of the study's findings reflect the knowledge we have gained over the past 25 years since the birds were first reintroduced on Rum - that their primary source of food is almost exclusively focused on seabirds."

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