Scotland is well on the way to being fully re-populated with it's largest bird of prey, with 15 white tailed sea eagles being released this week in Fife. The stunning birds, known as 'flying barn doors' due to their enormous eight foot wingspan, will hopefully become a much more common sight all over Eastern Scotland.
East Scotland Sea Eagles (ESSE) is a five year partnership project between RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) to reintroduce sea eagles to Eastern Scotland, building on successful reintroductions in the West Coast. This is the second year that chicks have been collected from nests in Norway, reared in specially constructed aviaries in Fife, and then released into the wild. The goal is to re-establish this magnificent raptor all over Scotland, as it once existed prior to extinction due to human persecution in Victorian times.
Furthermore, ESSE plays an important part of the strategy to restore Scotland's biodiversity in the years ahead, as part of the species action framework announced by SNH last year. As well as reintroducing sea eagles and beavers, 30 other species of mammals, birds, invertebrates and plants will have detailed conservation plans drawn up to ensure their long term survival.
In 2007, the first year of the project, 15 chicks were released and travelled widely all over the East of Scotland. Bird F, known as 'Fifer', even made it over to the sea eagle haven of Loch Frisa on Mull over the winter, before returning close to its 'birthplace' near Perth. This years chicks will also be radio tagged, so that their progress can be tracked over coming months and years, until the birds reach breeding age in 3-5 years time.
Environment Minister Michael Russell said:
"This is a very important moment for the birds as they take their first flights into Scottish skies. They will be facing many challenges in the years ahead and like others, I'll be crossing my fingers that they find their way and breed in the future.
"The sea eagle is one of the cornerstones of Scotland's species re-establishment programme and it will be an incredible experience for more people to see these huge birds in their natural environment."
Claire Smith, Sea Eagle Project Officer for RSPB Scotland said:
"From the time these chicks were collected in Norway and brought over to Scotland in June, I've watched them grow up and now they're raring to go. I'm really excited to see where they go, and if they'll meet up with last years birds. People are usually amazed when they see how massive they really are, and it really helps if people can report sightings to me at firstname.lastname@example.org"
Martin Gaywood, project manager for SNH's five year species action framework, said:
"The re-establishment of Scotland's sea eagle population range to its former glory is a key part of our species management plans over the next few years. This is an important step in that process. The presence of these amazing birds in the east will support populations already established in the west. And it should bring similar benefits in the form of tourism and quality of life for those in the area."
Charlie Taylor, Tayside Forest District Manager for FCS said:
"It's great that Scotland's national forests and woodlands have been a safe haven for the eagles as their journeys start to unfold. We hope this is very much the beginning of a thriving future for the sea eagle in Scotland."
Video from the bbc: