A new Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) report predicts that the number of white-tailed eagles, also known as sea eagles, is expected to climb in Scotland with predications made of 221 pairs by 2025 with potential for a much larger population by 2040.
There have been three release phases to re-establish the eagles, which went extinct in 1917. Two releases occurred on the west coast of Scotland from 1975-85 (Rum) and from 1993-98 (Wester Ross), and one on the east coast (Fife) from 2007-12. There were 106 pairs of white-tailed eagles in Scotland in 2015.
The report, authored by researchers at RSPB's Centre for Conservation Science, modelled a range of scenarios to predict the potential size of the sea eagle population, including scenarios with no limits on population growth. Other scenarios included the limits of the carrying capacity of the land (suitable habitat, food and nest sites) or other factors such as potential increased mortality.
The estimate of 221 pairs by 2025 is considered a realistic figure. Over the longer term, the modelling predicted the population could potentially reach 889-1,005 pairs by 2040; however, the top end of the population range is unlikely to be reached, because it does not take into account the carrying capacity of the land and other factors. These values do not include juvenile birds, which typically do not pair up and breed until they are five or six years old.
Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, said: “This report shows the return of the white tailed eagle to the skies over Scotland is a genuine conservation success story. That success has not been achieved easily, and I pay tribute to all of those whose efforts over many decades have helped us reach this point”
“This story also demonstrates the importance of working together to protect and enhance our natural environment. That’s why I also want to thank the many farmers and crofters who are working with us to find a way to ensure that they and the eagles can co-exist. Successful reintroduction projects must work with stakeholders, as well as wildlife.”