The NFU is seeking views on plans to introduce white-tailed sea eagles on the Ken Hill estate at Heacham, West Norfolk.
The proposal could see 60 white-tailed eagles introduced on the Norfolk coast over a five year period. The plan has divided opinion, with supporters saying it would be good for wildlife and tourism – but others worried about the potential impact on livestock.
NFU environment adviser Rob Wise said: “We want feedback from members on whether or not they support this proposal, what benefits they believe it could bring and what impact it could have on farming operations and land management.”
Mr Wise said the NFU recognised the need for an open and full dialogue to ensure that the interests of the region’s food producers were recognised – and that plans were put in place to mitigate any risks to livestock.
Findings from any discussions could form part of a feasibility study that Natural England, as the government’s regulator of species reintroductions, will review when making their determination on whether to grant or not grant a licence for the project.
Concerns centre around the impact the predators could have on free-range livestock in the region. The eastern area is home to around half of the country’s outdoor reared pigs and poultry and has a significant amount of sheep grazing.
The NFU says evidence from Scotland suggests sea eagles occasionally take lambs, as well as scavenging dead lambs. It says there is also a risk they could take piglets and poultry and worry stock by circling overhead.
Previous government impact assessments recognise that sea eagles could have a significant predatory impact on livestock, argues the NFU. This could compromise the high animal welfare standards employed in modern agriculture, it says.
Ken Hill is a family-owned holding comprising about 1600ha in West Norfolk. The estate has a long history of supporting nature conservation alongside commercial arable farming. Project manager Dominic Buscall said the white-tailed eagles could bring widespread benefits.
The project would be good for nature conservation and the natural environment. “These proposals also represent a wonderful opportunity for farmers and other land managers to showcase the excellent work they do as stewards of our countryside.
“The white-tailed eagle is the UK’s largest native bird of prey, sadly persecuted to extinction by humans around 100 years ago. If we are to be true environmental stewards, then surely we have a moral obligation to restore such species where it is feasible.”