2018 is the centenary of white-tailed eagles becoming extinct in the UK. But following their re-introduction to Scotland, there's now cause for celebration with over 100 pairs currently at large.
White tailed eagles were lost from the UK in 1918 (the last one was in Shetland) after years of persecution: people shot and poisoned the eagles, mainly because they thought they were killing and taking away their lambs. We now know that while white-tailed eagles will eat lambs, they only really take the ones that have died on the mountains and moors already.
Conservationists decided to start bringing a small number over from Norway to see if they could start a new generation of Scottish white-tailed eagles. The first were set free in the late 1950s and 1960s. An official scheme, run by Scottish Natural Heritage, started on the Isle of Rum in 1975. This was the first set of three waves of eagle releases on the east and west coasts of Scotland, with the last six added to Fife in 2013. This was the big push the eagles needed to settle back in to Scotland.
In 2015 there were celebrations as the 100th pair nested in Scotland. And as of last year, there were 118 pairs of white-tailed eagles across Scotland, successfully raising 80 chicks. So the birds have a much brighter future.
On the Isle of Mull, one of the best places to watch these spectacular birds, hotels, restaurants and tour companies all benefit from having eagles flying overhead. The success of the White-tailed eagles has led to the creation of new businesses like family boat tour company Mull Charters, and a new brand of gin (Whitetail gin) - all dependent on the birds doing well and adding to the island and local economy. In fact the birds have boosted Scotland’s economy by £millions.
White tailed eagle facts
- The white-tailed eagle is our largest bird of prey, with a 2.4 metre (eight foot) wingspan, which earns it the nickname “flying barn door”
- They’re sometimes called sea eagles, and an old name for them is “erne”. Once they were found all over the UK, and there are even places named after them, with different forms of the word “erne”, “earn” or “arne”, like Arncliffe.
- They eat carrion (dead animals) but also hunt fish, birds, rabbits and hares.
Stay up to date with Mull’s eagles on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @MullEagleWatch and @skyeandfrisa, and visit www.rspb.org.uk/MullEagles