Sea eagles killing lambs on the west coast of Scotland may seem like a storm in a tea cup if you don’t live in that area. But as they spread out and are reintroduced into other areas, this huge predator could be living in your neck of the woods any day soon.
I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on sea eagles, but three things would seem to be indisputable. The first is that they will kill and eat livestock. The second is they have been introduced into the farmers’ environment for no other reason than to provide pleasure to wider society. The third is that if they were not protected by law, they would be hunted to extinction.
As an environmentalist, I’ve been giving some thought recently to how I would like it if they spread down the coast into Wigtownshire, where I farm. Red kites are already on my wishlist of birds I would like to see here. I’m genuinely looking forward to the day when they spread over to here from the Kircudbright area, 50 miles away.
To my surprise, once I had given it some thought, I found a bit lurking inside me that makes me feel very uncomfortable about the sea eagle coming here. The truth is, if they started to kill my lambs, then I think I would struggle not to give in to my natural instincts to protect my animals.
Having your livestock killed by a predator is a very traumatising experience. I’ve had personal experience of that in the past. I once had a fox that got a taste for my lambs. It stirred up a basic instinct inside me that was hard to resist.
David Attenborough could probably make a 40-minute special about the basic instincts inside the fox that drove it to hunt and kill my lambs. Surviving, reproducing and feeding its family would feature strongly. However, and it probably wouldn’t make such good telly, the same instincts are inside me that ultimately resulted in the death of that particular fox. Namely, surviving, reproducing and feeding my family. And no, I didn’t eat the fox.
“To my surprise, once I had given it some thought, I found a bit lurking inside me that makes me feel very uncomfortable about the sea eagle coming here. The truth is, if they started to kill my lambs, then I think I would struggle not to give in to my natural instincts to protect my animals.”
In my defence, the important things to remember are that I’m a food producer that didn’t kill the fox for pleasure and I have no desire to persecute all foxes to the point of extinction.
Having brought my basic instincts out and given them an airing, we might want to examine the instincts and basic needs of society in general. After all, it’s mainly for their benefit that the eagles have been reintroduced.
It appears to me they are satisfying their own basic, deep-rooted desires by seeking out “exotic” wildlife. The modern person’s yearning to hunt is just as insatiable as their ancestors’. And what people today are doing is hunting in every respect apart from the final act of killing (the final shot is typically taken with a camera not a gun). There are solitary hunters who stalk their prey fastidiously in camouflage gear and enjoy getting in close. And there are those who enjoy the social aspect of hunting so go about it in groups, perhaps even from the seat of a luxury coach.
While I would never wish to deny the general public the opportunity to act out their natural instincts in the pursuit of pleasure, when it comes at the expense of screwing with mine, it’s far too dear. So, until the law is changed to allow farmers to offer some protection to their livestock, I hope that sea eagles never come to Wigtownshire.
Neale McQuistin is an upland beef and sheep farmer in South West Scotland. He farms 365 hectares in partnership with his wife, Janet, much of which is under stewardship for wildlife.
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