The fact that Natural England has felt compelled to withdraw as the lead partner for the reintroduction project which would put white-tailed eagles back into Suffolk after an absence of a few hundred years is unfortunate.
As we understand it, this decision is made on the basis of money being tight rather than anything else. So the outspoken minority of land owners who have been shouting about this project should not think that Natural England have bowed to their or any other pressure. In fact, as we understand it, Natural England still believe the project to be sound and important.
An opinion poll of the public (500 people asked in the streets of Suffolk towns) was strongly in favour of the reintroduction project - 78% in favour (and there was practically no difference in views between residents and visitors). This is understandable at many levels. Those who truly love nature would welcome these birds back, and those local businesses (such as pubs, restaurants and hotels) who would benefit from increased tourist income would too! So there are many losers from this decision.
Unless, of course, the RSPB goes ahead with the project on its own - licensed by Natural England. I'm not saying that we will - obviously losing Natural England's funding in the partnership is a big blow and we don't know how our finances may look in a few months time - but we might. We do have a funder who is very keen on this particular project and to whom we will have to convey the bad news and see what they think. We need to take a bit of time to think about how we proceed.
We will be writing to the CLA, whose members seem to be most put out by the idea of a few large birds flapping around, to ask them whether they know of any other areas in lowland England that would be suitable for white-tailed eagles and where they could support a reintroduction project. We'll be interested to hear their views - perhaps there are places where we could work together on such an exciting project.
What is clear, is that this is the first, but not the last, piece of funding affecting the natural environment that will be cut over the next few days, weeks, months and years. Everything is up in the air at the moment but there are no signs that the environment will be spared or favoured by The Treasury (Defra had harder cuts than other government departments) nor within Defra (the farming lobby is in overdrive trying to protect all the various forms of public funding that farmers receive).
Bob - good analysis!
StackyardGreen - thanks v much. Yes i agree. Opinions are a bit divided but seeing the birds back would put many of the fears to rest.
It is disappointing news. I was initially a sceptic but then realised that the potential for positive raptor PR far outweighed any possible downsides, and I understand that there would have been provision for compensation to farmers for any livestock losses so I don't really see their problem.
Some Suffolk birders have been lukewarm about the project but I'm sure that if we did have WTEs back here in Suffolk they'd be a big draw, even for 'purists' - the East Scotland Sea Eagles blog gives an idea of what we're missing.
I am not surprised bearing in mind finance restrictions. This will give local landowners time and space to comment on what they will see as having been a pointless execrcise. There is a danger here that the RSPB will be criticised if it takes the attitude that 'we are going to do it anyway'. I think a softly softly approach is now called for.
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