Highlands & Islands

Eagles and small child claims 'alarmist' RSPB says

Sea eagle
Image caption The sea eagle is the UK's largest bird of prey

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has raised concerns about whether sea eagles could differentiate between children and their natural prey.

The comment follows an incident where a senior clergyman was injured by a young eagle as he tried to scare it away after it attacked one of his geese.

The SGA has called for a public inquiry into the impact of the reintroduction of the birds on the east coast.

RSPB Scotland has described the small child claim as "alarmist nonsense".

The Scottish government said it was not aware of any attacks by sea eagles on children in other countries and did not think a public inquiry was necessary.

In a letter to the Scottish government, the SGA warned that the attack on the Very Reverend Hunter Farquharson in Abernethy, in Perthshire, could be the first of many.

The association has asked for the formulation of an "exit strategy" if the sea eagles turn out to have an adverse effect on social, economic or leisure activities.

'Attacking people'

In the letter, the SGA said: "These creatures are being released into what is a comparatively densely populated area so they will come into contact with humans on a daily basis.

"That will instil habituated behaviour and remove what should be a healthy fear of humans.

"There are reports of buzzards which have obviously undergone this desensitisation and this has resulted in them attacking people. This could pose a serious threat in the future.

Image caption The white-tailed sea eagle is the UK's largest bird of prey

"Will these very large creatures differentiate between a small child and more natural quarry?"

The Perth-based SGA represents gamekeepers, stalkers, ghillies, wildlife managers and rangers.

Association committee member Bert Burnett said the group did not have a problem with sea eagles on Scotland's west coast.

He said: "As far as we are concerned these sea eagles seem to be doing fine and not posing a threat."

However, Mr Burnett said more consultation was needed on the release of the birds on the east coast.

He added: "Some might think this is gamekeepers making a fuss for some obscure reason.

"That's not the case. It is a genuine concern and it is a concern felt by other people out there other than gamekeepers."

On the micro blogging website Twitter, RSPB Scotland tweeted: "Alarmist nonsense from the SGA.

"Sea eagle could soon be eating small children. Surely ScotGov won't take this seriously."

Largest bird

A spokesman for RSPB Scotland said the Perthshire incident was unfortunate and regrettable but that the bird had reacted as other wild animals might do when cornered.

He said the SGA claim about eagles, the UK's largest bird of prey, targeting small children as ridiculous.

With a wing span of 8ft, the white-tailed sea eagle is the UK's largest bird of prey.

It was completely wiped out in Britain in the early 20th Century and only returned when a reintroduction programme began on the island of Rum in 1975.

Mull, Wester Ross and Skye also now have established populations.

In August this year, a new batch of 16 young sea eagles were released in Fife.

A Scottish government said the raptors were widespread in many parts of Europe, including densely populated areas.

A spokeswoman said: "We are not aware of any attacks by sea eagles on children in those countries."

She added: "We do not think a public inquiry is necessary.

"The National Species Reintroduction Forum, chaired by Scottish Natural Heritage and which includes the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, considers all matters relating to reintroduced species, including sea eagles."

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