Sea eagle milestone celebrated

sea eagle Image copyright Chris Gomersall/RSPB
Image caption Sea eagles, which have an 8ft wingspan, are the UK's largest bird of prey

The number of white-tailed eagles in Scotland has reached 100 breeding pairs, according to conservationists.

The birds, also known as sea eagles, were absent from the UK for nearly 60 years until a re-introduction programme began in 1975.

The first young white-tailed eagles from Norway were released on Rum.

A total of 82 young eagles were released over 10 years on the island, with the first wild chick fledging on Mull in 1985.

The re-introduction programme was run by RSPB Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), formerly the Natural Conservancy Council.

More young eagles were released under the programme in Wester Ross between 1993 and 1998 while further releases took place in Fife from 2007 to 2012, through a partnership with Forestry Commission Scotland, including in the National Forest Estate.

'Huge milestone'

The 100th breeding pair nested on Hoy in Orkney, the first white-tailed eagles to nest in Orkney for 142 years, it was revealed on Thursday evening's edition of BBC Springwatch.

RSPB Scotland director Stuart Housden said: "The 100th breeding pair marks a huge milestone for the re-introduction of white-tailed eagles, and to reach it in this important anniversary year for the programme makes it even more special.

"The success of bringing white-tailed eagles back to Scotland over the last 40 years owes a great deal to the partners involved, as well as the support of Police Scotland, landowners, farmers, local community groups and organisations, and to Norway, who gifted the young eagles.

"It's fantastic to see how these magnificent birds have captured the public's imagination and that the sight of a white-tailed eagle soaring in the Scottish sky is no longer a thing of the past."

Image copyright Iain Erskine
Image caption The birds became extinct in the UK in the early part of the 20th century

White-tailed eagles became extinct in the UK due to widespread persecution.

They bred in England and the Isle of Man, and across Scotland and Ireland, but by 1900 only a handful of eyries remained, all in Scotland.

The last known nesting attempt was on Skye in 1916 and in 1918 the last British white-tailed eagle was shot in Shetland.

The white-tailed eagles on Hoy have been seen in the area every spring and summer since 2013, and are both thought to be young birds aged between four and five years.

This was their first known nesting attempt and although they were unsuccessful in raising chicks this year, the RSPB said that the pair have gained vital experience for future nesting attempts.

Flying barn doors

Susan Davies, chief executive of SNH, said everyone in Scotland should be proud of this "great conservation achievement".

She added: "Given their geographical spread, there's growing chances of seeing these magnificent birds in your local area.

"It's particularly wonderful that the birds have spread so far that we have the 100th pair nesting in Orkney, now restored to an area where sea eagles reigned so many years ago. This is one of nature's brilliant success stories."

Known as flying barn doors due to their 8ft wingspan, white-tailed eagles are the largest bird of prey in the UK.

They form monogamous, lifelong pair bonds and display a spectacular talon-grappling aerial courtship display during the breeding season.