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Sea eagle numbers soar to new heights

White tailed sea eagle (credit: Peter Cairns, Northshots)

White tailed sea eagle (credit: Peter Cairns, Northshots)

2010 has proved a record-breaking year for the UK’s largest bird of the prey, the white-tailed sea eagle. Not only has the Scottish population passed the 50 breeding pairs milestone, the species also produced more young per pair than any other year throughout the reintroduction programme’s 35 year history.

Recent figures show there are now 52 territorial pairs in the country, an increase of 6 since 2009. The last 12 months also saw 46 young successfully fledge, a good 10 more than the previous year, resulting in a landmark year for productivity.

This iconic species was completely wiped out in Britain, ultimately due to human killing and the activities of egg and skin collectors. After an absence of over half a century, a reintroduction programme started on the island of Rum in 1975, aimed at returning these majestic raptors to Scotland’s skies.

Since then the species has been steadily recovering and RSPB Scotland experts believe there are now as many “flying barn-doors”, as they are affectionately known, in the UK as there were around 150 years ago.

An adult bird has an impressive 8 ft wing-span and striking white tail, making the majestic sea eagle a spectacular sight and a tourist magnet to areas such as Mull and Skye. On Mull alone sea eagle tourism boosts the local economy by over £2m every year.

Meanwhile, the third stage of the reintroduction programme is continuing in the East of Scotland. This year a further 19 young eagles, donated by the people of Norway, were released from a secret location in Fife. This takes the total number of birds released during the first four years of the East Coast Sea Eagle reintroduction programme, a partnership project between RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and Forestry Commission Scotland, to over 60.

Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham said: “This is fantastic news. 2010 is a significant year in that it is the 25th anniversary of the first young to be reared in Scotland since its extinction in the early 20th century, and it is also the year of International Biodiversity.

“I have no doubt that the successful reintroduction of this magnificent bird can continue, and along with the East Coast Sea Eagle Project, ensures that this species can establish territories right across Scotland, restoring a strong Scotland wide population.”

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