Back Where They Belong
In 1975, the Nature Conservancy Council (now called Scottish Natural Heritage) secured funding for a longer term re-introduction project, based on the Isle of Rum, a mountainous National Nature Reserve in the Inner Hebrides. Within a traditional heartland of the species, White-tailed Eagles bred on Rum until 1907, in sight of the last British breeding pair on the Isle of Skye.
Over a 10 year period, until 1985, a total of 82 eaglets (39 males and 43 females) were imported from nests in Norway where the White-tailed Eagle population was still expanding. White-tailed Eagle’s often rear twins, allowing one chick to be taken from such nests under special licence, to be brought to their new Scottish home.
Initially, the eaglets were looked after in captivity until they were able to fly. When capable of flight they were released in to the Rum countryside. Natural food was left close to the release site in order to enhance the young eagles’ chances of survival at this critical time. Despite no parental guidance, as they would have in the wild, these birds gradually gained their independence before beginning to range further afield in search of wider opportunities.
To supplement achievements on Rum, thus reducing the risk of the White-tailed Eagle becoming extinct yet again, a further release programme was put in to operation by Scottish Natural Heritage and the RSPB. This second phase involved the release of 58 young Norwegian eagles between 1993 and 1998 in Wester Ross on the Scottish mainland.
To assist the gene pool of the expanding Scottish population and help the White-tailed Eagle regain its full range in Scotland, a third release project was implemented on the East coast. Based in the vicinity of the Firths of Tay and Forth, an area that boasts a wealth of suitable habitat and excellent year-round feeding opportunities, between 15 and 20 young eagles were released over a five -year period that commenced in 2007.
The final batch of young White-tailed Eagles to be released into the Fife countryside arrived in 2012 marking the end of the re-introduction programme in Scotland. This latest phase has seen a partnership between RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and Forestry Commission Scotland secure the release of a further 86 young eaglets into the East coast.
Thanks to the success of this phased re-introduction programme, the White-tailed Eagle is once again breeding in Scotland and increasing year on year. While the population remains small it is still vulnerable to setback. White-tailed Eagles are slow to mature and pairs often make several breeding attempts before successfully rearing chicks. Between 1975 – 2012, a total of 226 juvenile White-tailed Eagles have been released in Scotland.
(The White-tailed Eagle is also currently being re-introduced to South-west Ireland, where a programme on a similar scale to that initiated in Eastern Scotland started in the Summer of 2007. Plans are also taking shape which could see the re-introduction of this majestic raptor to England in the future.)