Eagle Controversy

Red kites, like sea eagles, are being swept up in the lucrative business of reintroduction.

I wouldn’t normally go out of my way to talk about birds of prey on this blog. Aside from the occasional flash of gratifying prettiness, raptors don’t really float my boat. I’d far rather spend a morning with a woodcock than a buzzard, and while my ambivalence is amazing to some raptor enthusiasts (and even downright suspicious to others), they must allow for taste and realise that we aren’t all hooked on talons.

While raptors themselves don’t really interest me, the way people behave about them really does. Birds of prey are given wholesale precedent in any number of popular conservation projects because many people feel violently passionate about them. In fact, some people are so passionate about birds of prey that they forget about all other species, and would do anything to promote raptors above all else, whatever the cost. Enter charities like the RSPB [stage left] who have become the definitive champions of raptors. They can spend millions of pounds on extravagant raptor reintroduction projects every year for one reason – they receive millions of pounds of private donations from a general public that wants to see raptors. The RSPB are responding to a demand from the British public to provide them with beautiful birds of prey. It’s like any other business. We’ll ignore the ecological implications of artificially reintroducing defunct predators into a foodchain which contains dozens of dangerously threatened bird and mammal species for now and look at the morality of it.

When captive reared sea eagles are found waterlogged and on the verge of death by the SSPCA after a heavy downpour, they were taken in and cared for. Nine eagles have been rescued since last year, and five of those were wet and exhausted after extended periods of rain. The SSPCA suggested that some captive reared eagles perhaps don’t have the survival skills to make it in the wild, but there appears to be no allowances in the concerted RSPB effort to install them artificially on the East coast of Scotland, despite there being every possibility that, given time, they would spread naturally from the West coast where reintroduction attempts have already been successful. Covered in the news as a temporary glitch, the organisers of the scheme are determined to push ahead with the artificial influx of birds, citing the huge (and probably vastly inflated) projections for tourist revenue which sea eagles would bring to the East coast.

The question arises as to whose interest the RSPB has closest to its heart. The birds are clearly suffering, and the project is being justified entirely by how much humans will benefit. The question “should we reintroduce sea eagles?” appears to have been drowned out by an overriding drive for publicity and financial return. Like the famed but increasingly indefensible feeding of released red kites in Dumfries and Galloway, it’s not hard to imagine that the charity’s slogan of “for people, for birds, for ever” might equally read “for people, for money, (oh, and, er, something about birds)”.

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