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Editors’ Picks: Eagles blamed for lamb losses

A species of eagle that’s been reintroduced on Scotland’s west coast is being blamed for the losses of over 200 lambs in a remote area so far this season, according to the British farm journal Farmers’ Weekly.

The magazine said on its website that farmers and crofters on northwestern Scotland’s Gairloch peninsula, about 110 km west of Inverness, call the sea eagles “flying barn doors.”

Losses were so sudden that members of the Gairloch and Poolewe branch of the Crofting Foundation had originally suspected sheep rustlers, branch chairman William Fraser told Farmers’ Weekly.

Crofters have since seen their lambs lifted up and dropped by the sea eagles, he said, and a post-mortem on one animal found talon marks on the carcass.

According to Scottish Natural Heritage’s web site, the sea eagle — so named because it usually nests around coastlines — is the fourth largest eagle in the world, with a wingspan of nearly two and a half metres. Its diet varies, the organization said, including “fish, rabbits and hares, and a range of birds, including eiders, shags and auks.”

“We have photographs of carcasses which have been stripped bare by sea eagles and one member has been close to a sea eagle’s nest which he described as being like a sheep’s graveyard,” Fraser said in an online article by FW’s Nancy Nicolson.

The magazine said farmers have been offered no assistance from Scottish Natural Heritage and RSPB Scotland (the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), the two organizations responsible for the reintroduction of the sea eagle in the region.

The sea eagle, Scottish Natural Heritage writes on its site, “was driven to extinction in Britain earlier this century. Now, thanks to a reintroduction programme run jointly by Scottish Natural Heritage and (RSPB), the sea eagle has returned to some of its former haunts.”

The organization points out that it’s illegal to shoot, poison or otherwise kill sea eagles, to disturb them at the nest or to take eggs or young. Fines or imprisonment may be imposed for anyone harming eagles or their eggs.

Area farmers have called a public meeting for Sept. 29 at Poolewe to discuss how to deal with rising lamb losses, Nicolson wrote.

The “Editors’ Picks” feature will highlight unusual-yet-true news from the world of farming, as gleaned from various sources by the editorial staff of the Farm Business Communications division.

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