Stock concerns as sea eagle return is planned for north Norfolk

A bird of prey with a reputation for targeting livestock could be reintroduced to England next year.

Natural England, the RSPB and Anglian Water are investigating the feasibility of re-introducing the sea eagle – the world’s fourth largest eagle species – along the north Norfolk coast next summer.

The exact location of potential nesting sites is being kept confidential to ensure the safety of the birds prior to any possible release. But the partnership claims 91% of local people would like to see the birds released in Norfolk.

Once a native species, the sea eagle was driven to extinction in 1916. The birds are scavengers and predators which generally feed on fish, birds and rabbits. But they also have a reputation for targeting newborn lambs and piglets.

NFU environment adviser Paul Hammett said: “We want feedback from members on whether or not they support this proposal, what benefits it could bring and what impact it could have on farming operations and land management.”

“We know from Scotland that sea eagles do occasionally take lambs, though most reports seem to relate to them scavenging dead lambs. There is also a risk that they could take piglets.”

Scottish farmers and crofters blamed reintroduced sea eagles for killing more than 200 lambs this season on the Gairloch peninsula. The losses were so dramatic that local farmers originally blamed rustlers.

Natural England’s chief scientist Tom Tew said a local consultation would address any possible impacts between sea eagles and livestock in Norfolk. “It is important to understand [the] potential effect on both wildlife and people,” he added.

“We are consulting widely to make a fully informed judgement as to whether, through this ambitious project, there is an opportunity to return one of the UK’s rarest and most spectacular birds to England.”

Natural England claims the Scottish sea eagles are worth £1.5m per year to the local tourist economy. A decision on whether the Norfolk project will go ahead is expected next spring. If approved, the first releases could take place next summer.