IUCN Guidelines on Reintroduction - An Eagle’s case

Published: 15th July 2018

In 2013 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) approved guidelines for reintroduction and conservation translocation of species. These have been approved by the statutory conservation agencies in Britain. Based on these guidelines the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) has developed a process for evaluating and undertaking species translocation for conservation purposes. Any eagle reintroduction to Wales should follow these guidelines. So What have we learnt so far:

i. Conservation Status of Eagles

Neither of the Golden or White-tailed Eagle are part of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), but both species are European and UK Species of Conservation concern. The golden eagle is amber listed and the White-tailed eagle is red listed. There are no formal BAP requirements for these birds. The conservation around both species cite measures to fully re-instate the species across its former breeding range.

ii. The purpose of eagle reintroduction to Wales?

A proposed reintroduction of either or both species to Wales would be to assist in the restoration of the species to their historic breeding ranges, and also to restore key Welsh biodiversity and cultural heritage.

iii. Is there good evidence that eagles are absent from Wales?

Both the Golden and White-tailed Eagle are no longer present, as a breeding species, in the wild in Wales having become extinct during the Mid 1800’s. We do get rare sporadic visits from young eagles, but for the foreseeable future, there is little chance of natural colonization by eagles to Wales despite much suitable habitat. Visit birds could and do survive in the landscape of Wales, but the nearest source population of potential colonists are too far north, in Scotland and Ireland.

iV. Is Wales within the historic range of both eagle species?

Research into the history of eagles in Wales has now been complete, We understand that both eagle species were widespread across Wales in the 15th and 16th and Century and were ruthlessly hunted to extinction by the mid- 17th Century. The breeding population of Golden Eagles become extinct in Wales in 1850, the last breeding Golden Eagle nest was known to be in the county of Gwynedd. 10 years later, our Welsh breeding White-tailed Eagle population was diminished, with the last recorded nest being on the Swansea Coast.

V. The reasons for the original decline and disappearance of both eagles in Wales and has this been reduced or eliminated?

The White-tailed eagle became extinct in Britain (and Wales) by 1918 and the Golden eagle became extirpated from all of Britain, apart from a small population founded in north-west Scotland. Both eagles fell victim to ruthless hunting by humans. There is no other evidence, other than human-persecution, that was responsible for the loss of both eagle species in Wales. The extermination of eagles in Wales was human mediated and the process of persecuting such birds continued to eliminate potential colonists (i.e. sporadic visitors) until welsh regions no longer held breeding eagles.

Illegal persecution of birds of prey is not a big problem in Wales. You only need to take a look at our Red Kite and Buzzard populations, to understand there has been a decline in birds of prey persecution in Wales. Even more importantly the health of our Hen harrier populations and our Northern Goshawk populations, provide indications of a positive change in attitudes towards our birds of prey in Wales. In-depth regional assessments will still need to be conducted.

V1. Distribution and abundance of eagles in Britain?

Both the Golden and White-tailed eagle are well studied across Europe and Britain. Both species are of European conservation concern and are in decline in some regions across their European range, Both species occupy ranges of Scotland and Ireland, but do not occupy any expanses of their historic southern range in Britain. The global population status of both species gives context to the conservation importance of a reintroduction to Wales. A reintroduction to Wales would have international and national significance to the conservation of both species.