The UK’s largest bird of prey, the white-tailed eagle, is to be reintroduced to West Norfolk following huge levels of support for the programme from local people, including farmers.
The birds, which have a wingspan of up to 8 feet (2.4 metres) have been making a slow but steady recovery in recent decades after it was persecuted to extinction in the UK and Ireland in the early 20th century.
The eagles’ return to Norfolk follows successful reintroduction programmes in Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Wight.
Natural England granted a licence to the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Wild Ken Hill to reintroduce white-tailed eagles to West Norfolk and the surrounding region.
The decision followed a detailed feasibility study carried out by the project team, and a public consultation which took place in January and February.
The consultation revealed 91 per cent of participants supported the proposals, including 83 per cent of people who were “strongly supportive”, and 63 per cent of farmers also indicated support for the proposals.
Wild Ken Hill is a conservation and sustainable farming project on the west coast of Norfolk.
The project’s manager, Dominic Buscall said: “We are delighted to have the go ahead to bring back white-tailed eagles to eastern England, and overwhelmed by the support we have received from all sectors.
Roy Dennis who has been instrumental in the recovery of the species in the UK, said: “This is the next logical step to restore this magnificent bird to England and compliments efforts across Europe to help the species.
“We have carefully considered the potential ecological and socio-economic impact of the project and initial results from the Isle of Wight, and evidence from across lowland Europe, shows that this is a bird that can live successfully alongside people and fit into the East Anglian landscape very well.”
The team said having a viable population on the east coast of England would help to connect existing white-tailed eagle populations in Scotland and Ireland with those in the South of England, and mainland Europe, including the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany.
Over the last year, six juvenile birds released on the Isle of Wight spent periods of time in Norfolk, with other birds from the continent, which the team said demonstrated the suitability of the area for the species.
Dave Slater, director for wildlife licensing at Natural England, said: “Our experts have carefully assessed the project against guidelines for the reintroduction of species, as well as the potential environmental, social and economic impacts.
“We are satisfied that there are no significant risks associated with it. We’re content that the applicant’s experience, as well as our expertise and licensing process, ensures the project will be carried out in a responsible, well-managed way that takes account of concerns and makes a positive contribution to both people and wildlife.”
The project is now running a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the initial costs.
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