White-tailed Eagle Action Plan Extension 2021-2024
The White-tailed Eagle Action Plan has been in place from 2017 to 2020. A review of that three year plan was completed in 2020 by NatureScot, on behalf of the stakeholders represented on the National Sea Eagle Stakeholder Panel (NSESP). The 2017-2020 Action Plan and the review document are published on the NatureScot website1.
The agreed outcome of the Review is to progress work through an extension of the Action Plan which will run from 2021 until 2024. The details of that extension are set out in this document. This should be read in conjunction with the 2017-2021 Action Plan document.
This extension to the Plan has been developed by a stakeholder group comprising representatives from NatureScot, National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS), Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF), Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland (RSPB Scotland), Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS), Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Division (SGRPID), Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG).
White-tailed eagles (WTE), also known as sea eagles, continue to expand in number and range and, as they do so, some farms and crofts continue to experience impacts as a result of sea eagle predation on sheep flocks. The overall objective is to work, in partnership, towards reducing impacts of WTE on farming and crofting interests whilst developing the right conditions for the sustainable co-existence between WTE and sheep farming in ways which benefit the biodiversity, economic and social interests of Scotland.
The policy context within which the Plan was developed remains relevant but it is important to recognise that there will be changes to agri-environment support mechanisms, as a result of leaving the E.U., which may be relevant to how farmers and crofters are supported in future. This is not expected to impact on this three year extension but needs to be taken into account as the policy and delivery mechanisms evolve.
Many of the actions in the extended plan continue work that has been ongoing for the past 3 years but the detail of those actions have evolved as specific actions have been tested. The extension is aimed to be a progression of this previous work where successful action can be rolled out more widely and new actions can be developed and trialled. The extension maintains the Sea Eagle Management Scheme as the primary tool for delivery of support to farmers and crofters and will develop work on a network of monitor farms where more detailed trials can take place.
One of the strengths of the Action Plan is that it has been developed and delivered by a stakeholder group which brings many of the diverse interests relating to WTE to the table and it recognises there are different areas of expertise contributed by each stakeholder. Many of the organisations are signatories to the Shared Approach to Wildlife Management2. This is a way of working together, has the active support of key organisations and acts as an anchor for decision making and action on the ground. It will provide a reference point when opinions differ and will help show what wildlife management means and how it contributes to nature-based solutions in Scotland. The National Sea Eagle Stakeholder Panel has worked with these principles in delivering the Action Plan to date and will continue to do so in delivering the extension.
2. Recommendations from 2017-2020 Action Plan Review
The review document examines, in detail, the actions that have been carried out over the past 3 years and assesses the success or otherwise of these actions in delivering the objectives of the plan. It is clear that results were mixed and that some actions delivered good results and some were less successful. It is also clear that some actions were successful in some locations but not in others e.g. diversionary feeding.
As a result of this assessment, the SENSP have agreed to extend the Action Plan for a further three years and have developed a set of recommendations to be included within this extension. The recommendations are as follows:
2.1 Continue support for farmers and crofters through delivery of the revised Sea Eagle Management Scheme (including making further revisions, if necessary)
2.2 Increase call-off contractor coverage on the Outer Hebrides and expand into other areas as WTE expand their range.
2.3 Enhance the quality of the data collected through SEMS to better understand the issues and inform solutions.
2.4 Explore the development of AECS options and future agri-environment schemes to support sea eagle management
2.5 Continue monitor farm projects, where appropriate, with support through SEMS and additional monitoring support, to test management approaches, including Integrated Land Management Planning and management to increase natural prey species.
2.6 Attempt to capture and tag adult WTE to provide additional information to support management and monitor farm work.
2.7 Continue consideration of licensed activities to reduce agricultural damage in situations where all other options have been unsuccessful. Include development of guidance which sets out requirements for licences.
2.8 Consider adaptive actions as a result of PhDs, other research work and feedback from scheme members, especially those reporting on enhanced shepherding. Consider additional research into WTE interactions with other wildlife.
2.9 Develop a Communications plan to promote the work that is being done to find solutions to the problems caused by sea eagles.
The following sections will expand on each of these recommendations.
3. Sea Eagle Management Scheme
Support for farmers and crofters will continue through delivery of the revised Sea Eagle Management Scheme (SEMS) including making further revisions, if necessary.
The current scheme arrangements are confirmed for 2021. NatureScot have bid for a 3 year scheme until 2024. If approved, the scheme will be continued in a manner which will allow flexibility to build in management options which are developed as a result of monitor farm work. Budgets will be reviewed annually. If the bid for a 3 year scheme is successful, current scheme members will be contacted by NatureScot in 2021 to discuss extensions to their management agreements.
Support for development of enhanced shepherding options will be continued with input from NatureScot call-off contractors.
Where applicants are eligible for funding for management actions through other schemes, such as CAGS, they will not be funded through SEMS for similar actions.
Timescale: The scheme will run from 2021 to 2024. Management will be offered for three years in the first year, two years in the second and one year in the third year to ensure they all end on the same date.
4. Call-off Contractors
A team of Call-off Contractors will continue to provide one to one advice to farmers and crofters who have indicated to NatureScot that they have impacts from WTE on their sheep flocks. The advice may lead to the loan of scaring equipment or an application to the Sea Eagle Management Scheme.
Call-off Contractors will also play a key role in supporting farmers and crofters who have applied for enhanced measures.
Call-off Contractor coverage has been increased recently with the addition of 2 new contractors to cover the Outer Hebrides. The need for Call-off Contractor cover will be kept under review and, if the need arises as the WTE range expands, additional resource will be considered.
Timescale: Call off contractors will be used for the whole period of the Action Plan
NatureScot will work with scheme participants and stakeholders to ensure that the quality of the data collected through SEMS is improved to allow a better understanding of the issues and to inform solutions. This will include revised proforma forms for reporting by farmers and crofters, development of the enhanced shepherding work and reporting, including use of technology such as mobile phone apps and publication of data to demonstrate how it benefits the scheme and action plan.
An annual summary of data collected from scheme participants will be published.
Timescale: Ongoing work to develop data recording and reporting. Annual data to be published by end of January in the year following data collection.
6. Future agri-environment schemes
The SENSP will explore the development of AECS options and future agri-environment schemes to support WTE management. Whilst NatureScot have bid for support for SEMS to cover the period until 2024, it is expected that agri-environment support will undergo significant changes post-Brexit and we will be expected to look at the opportunities that might become available in future.
It is acknowledged that there may be opportunities in developing whole farm plans and gaining support for delivery of public goods. However, there are concerns that delivering WTE management through a competitive scheme may impact on the ability of farmers and crofters to participate and may reduce the flexibility offered by the current bespoke scheme.
Timescale: this will be driven by the work to develop new agri-environment programmes but expected to be complete by 2024
7. Monitor Farms
Monitor farms have been set up to trial management techniques which aim to reduce impacts of WTE on sheep flocks. In locations where partnership working between the farmer, NatureScot and other stakeholders can work together to better understand eagle behaviour and flock management the aim is to continue monitor farm projects, where appropriate. These will be supported through SEMS, where relevant management options are available. If required there will be additional monitoring support and any new work, not covered by SEMS options, will be considered for additional support by NatureScot.
Diversionary feeding has been trialled at a number of sites, with mixed results. In a site where there has been some success, the aim of the work going forward is to develop diversionary feeding as a management option under SEMS, including the development of detailed guidance on delivery of diversionary feeding.
It is hoped that, during the period of the Action Plan, management to increase natural prey species can be trialled at one site. This will include habitat management to increase the availability of natural prey species such as grouse and rabbit. Where appropriate and within the relevant regulations, the re-introduction of prey species may be considered.
Some work has been carried out to date looking at the possibility of Integrated Land Management Plans setting out new approaches for farm and croft management which may then form the basis of AECS and other agri-environment scheme applications. The aim is to continue with this work to develop the opportunities for farmers and crofters who wish to make changes to their management to apply for appropriate support.
Timescale: Ongoing but agreed work plans will be drawn up on an annual basis for each monitor farm project.
8. Tagging of adult birds
Satellite tagging of WTE will allow greater understanding of their movements and interactions with prey species, including sheep. Although this has not previously been attempted in the UK, in 2020 the SENSP agreed to attempt to capture and tag adult birds in areas where they are thought to predate lambs. These attempts were unsuccessful but it has been agreed to continue with attempts to capture WTE in 2021 at a single site in Argyll, starting at an earlier date in the year. If successful, the data from tags will complement the information collected on the ground by observers and may well inform observation strategies and farm management in relation to WTE.
Timescale: Attempts in 2020 and 2021 have failed to catch birds but bait site will be continued through season and the next available opportunity in 2021/22 will be taken.
9. Development of guidance on licensed activities to reduce agricultural damage
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 allows licences to be issued in respect of wild birds for the purpose of: “preventing serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, fisheries or inland waters”. The SENSP will consider what activities might be carried out under licence and develop guidance which will set out the information which might be required to support a future licence application to NatureScot.
Some licensed work has already taken place in Argyll. In one location, in Argyll, nest removal, prior to the laying of eggs, has taken place over a number of seasons. At this site, farmers worked with NatureScot to provide a long run of farm records which clearly linked the presence of WTE, in a nest adjacent to the farm, with a significant number of lamb losses. The farmers and NatureScot contractors were also able to demonstrate that they had tried a number of scaring techniques, including bird scaring devices and a relatively intensive human presence on the hill. The WTE moved from the area in 2020, to an unconfirmed location some distance from the farm. In 2020, there were no reported losses to WTE on the farm. The site remains under observation.
Over the period of the Action Plan, the SENSP will develop thinking on the type of licenced management actions that might be taken forward and develop guidance on the process and the details required to apply for a licence to prevent serious damage to agriculture.
Timescale: Guidance to be developed by end of October 2021.
10. Actions stemming from research work
There is currently a range of research work being undertaken around WTE and associated issues such as black loss. These include two current PhDs and a possible research fellowship as well as research on nest contents being done as part of an RSPB sabbatical project. There is also a large data source from scheme participants and reporting from the ‘citizen science’ approach being taken to the enhanced shepherding option within SEMS.
The NSESP will consider adaptive actions suggested as a result of the feedback and, incorporate these into the delivery of the Action Plan and SEMS where appropriate.
The NSESP will also consider how additional research into WTE interactions with other wildlife can be developed and supported.
Timescale: This is very much guided by timescales for individual projects but results will be considered as soon as they are available.
11. Communications plan
The Action Plan notes the importance of communicating progress on its delivery to stakeholders, especially to farmers and crofters who have issues with WTE predation. In early 2021 a Communications Plan will be developed to support stakeholders in promoting the work that is being done to find solutions to the problems caused by sea eagles.
Timescale: Plan agreed by end August 2021