Farmers in Norfolk are leading the charge to reintroduce White-tailed Eagles in the region and have launched a consultation over plans to release a number of young birds to establish a breeding population.
The project aims to emulate conservation efforts that began in 2019 on the Isle of Wight, where the birds have been successfully reintroduced by conservation organisations. White-tailed eagles have already been successfully reintroduced in Scotland and Ireland.
The release in Norfolk is spearheaded by Ken Hill Estate and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation., with the latter being described as “instrumental” in the recovery of white-tailed eagle populations in Scotland.
The birds are the UK’s largest bird of prey, with a wingspan of up to eight feet across. They could be found widely across southern Britain until the Middle Ages, after which “intense persecution” led to its extinction as a breeding species by the early 19th century.
Some landowners have raised concerns that the eagles would prey on their livestock and poultry flocks. However, there have been no such incidents by any of the birds released on the Isle of Wight.
They are more likely to feed on fish, birds and other small to medium-sized mammals such as rabbits, as well as scavenge carrion.
Dominic Buscall, manager of the Ken Hill Estate, said: “We are bringing forward these proposals not only to reinstate this native bird to its former range, but also to inspire people with nature and drive wider nature recovery in East Anglia.
“It is vitally important that we give local people and interests a meaningful opportunity to have their say on these proposals - that is why we are launching the public consultation and asking people to learn more about the project and take our survey.”
Roy Dennis, of the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, said: “This is the next logical step to restore this magnificent bird to England and compliment efforts across Europe to help the species.
“The initial results from the Isle of Wight project, and evidence from across lowland Europe shows that this is a bird that can live successfully alongside people.”
The project would see the first juvenile white-tailed eagle released this year, with further releases taking place over the next four summers.
As white-tailed eagles do not reach breeding age until around four or five years old, it is likely that breeding will not occur until at least 2026, according to the project’s website.
“It is hoped that an initial population of six to eight pairs will become established in West Norfolk and the wider region within 10 to 15 years,” it said.
The project must receive approval from Natural England in order to go ahead. The watchdog will assess the opinions of people in the local area and their interests, as well as the environmental merits of the proposal.