Indeed, supporters of the rewilding plans fear that the recent spate of deaths could jeopardize the whole project. “It’s a huge concern,” says Dr Ruth Tingay, co-director of campaign group Wild Justice and author of the blog. Raptor Persecution UK. “We know the cause of the original extinction was persecution and here we are in 2022 with persecution still ongoing. Is it the right thing to release more of these eagles? That’s the question the project needs to answer .
The White-tailed Eagle Project, a partnership between the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Forestry England, insists plans to reintroduce other birds (with the next batch due this summer) remain unchanged despite the deaths. But they highlighted a deep divide in the campaign when it comes to their return.
This split is exemplified by Conservative MP for West Dorset, Chris Loder, who following news of the G461 eagle poisoning tweeted: “Dorset is not the place to go. eagles must be reintroduced’, instead calling on Dorset Police to ‘focus on county lines [drugs gangs] rather than devoting time and resources to it”. The force has since closed the case without any charges – much to the anger of activists.
Yet other investigations remain active. Earlier this month, newly released toxicology reports confirmed that another of the eagles – found dead at a Sussex hunting estate in October – had ingested a pesticide, bendiocarb, which is banned for outdoor use. . The bodies of a buzzard and a dog were also discovered alongside the eagle and police are investigating.
In March, the remains of another white-tailed eagle appeared on the Isle of Wight. The bird was later found to be suffering from bird flu, meaning full lab reports were not written. So far, there are no suggestions of foul play, but suspicions remain.
And in February Dorset Police were called to a report of an eagle behaving strangely in the north of the county. The eagle then recovered and flew away, but investigators searching the area found a number of other dead birds, which are part of ongoing investigations.
Proponents wonder how anyone could deliberately target such magnificent creatures, but the eagles’ prodigious size and appetites have sparked much enmity.
In Scotland last month, Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil even called for the culling of the birds, which were reintroduced to the Isle of Rum in 1975 and have since established healthy populations on the west coast. While an RSPB Scotland study published in March found that white-tailed eagles have created a booming tourism industry worth up to £8million a year on the Isle of Mull alone, farmers are seeing a other side of the bird due to their predilection for attacking lambs.