Reintroduction of eagles: Farmer worries over threat to livestock ‘have changed’

What were once the foes of many farmers are now slowly becoming their friends.

Farmers are nestling to the idea of eagles being reintroduced to Ireland, with some even helping to monitor birds and nests at sites where the eagles have been released, as part of the Irish White-tailed Eagle Reintroduction project.

According to Dr. Allan Mee, manager of the Irish White-tailed Eagle Reintroduction project, the news that 10 more of these eagles arrived to Kerry Airport from Norway recently is not so worrying for farmers as it once was.

Living with eagles

In fact, farmers are beginning to develop a bird’s-eye view of the situation and are now striving to exist in harmony with the eagles, for the benefit of the overall ecosystem.

In 2007, when they first arrived as part of the initial phase of this project, farmers protested at Kerry Airport.

However, the situation has progressed. Dr. Mee said that working with farming communities in areas where the creatures are released and/or settle to breed is integral to the success of the project.

It is a mark of how things have progressed since the project began. It didn’t happen overnight, but our relationship with farmers is constantly improving.

Dr. Mee said this is largely due to the fact that the eagles are closely monitored.

“When the birds are released, they have a tracking device so when we see them move location, we get in touch with farmers in that area to let them know,” he continued.

“There are farmers who now help to monitor birds and nests at some sites.”

‘When attitudes change, everything else changes too’

Initial concerns raised by farmers related to threats posed by these birds to livestock. Dr. Mee said he is very cautious of where they release the eagles, as they have been poisoned in the past.

“We tend to release the eagles in coastal and low-land areas where beef and dairy farming takes place, as in the first few years we lost eagles to poisoning in areas where hill sheep are kept.

“Things are very different now. When attitudes change, everything else changes too.”

The 10 new white-tailed creatures that arrived to Ireland in recent days are set to be released soon at two locations: Lough Derg and the Shannon Estuary. Although the process got delayed due to Covid-19 restrictions, Dr. Mee said it was better to bring the eagles in sooner rather than later.

“It is important to reintroduce more of these birds to stabilise the numbers. The whole process is just part of restoring the natural habitat that existed before.”