The ERW Project - Bringing back our lost eagles!

 

The Eagle Reintroduction Wales project is a community-research project investigating the potential of bringing back our lost eagle species to soaring the skies of modern Wales. We are exploring options for the Golden Eagle Eryr euriad (Aquila chrysaetos) and the White-tailed Eagle Eryr y mor (Haliaeetus albicilla).

Eagles have been extinct as a breeding species in Wales for over 150 years, and over this duration the modern welsh landscape has changed significantly from the historic landscape eagles once were familiar with. In order to get the ball rolling on a potential reintroduction for both or either species, we first need to assess if the current welsh landscape can still hold sustainable Golden and White-tailed Eagle populations. When we have targeted suitable and available habitat for both species in Wales, we will then be able to launch full feasibility studies.

Reintroduction programmes in the UK are not an easy or quick process. You cannot just click your fingers and release any animal into the UK. Reintroduction programmes are usually a strict, highly regulated, licencing process. In the case of species reintroduction’s to Wales, the statutory conservation organisation responsible for issuing licencing is Natural Resources Wales (NRW). These licencing applications need to be filled full of information about:

  1. The Ecological Feasibility - can reintroduced eagle populations biologically survive in modern Wales?

  2. The environmental feasibility - can the modern welsh landscape still hold two restored eagle populations?

  3. Social & Political feasibility - will restoring eagles fit into the modern community structure and ethics in Wales?

  4. The Economic feasibility - the costs and benefits of restoring eagles in Wales?

  5. The Risk Assessments - advantages and disadvantages of bringing eagles back to Wales?

We are currently launching environmental and ecological assessments for both eagles species in Wales, We are looking at the proportion of suitable habitat in Wales for both the Golden and White-tailed Eagle. There is an abundance of suitable habitat for both species of Eagles in Wales. However, suitable eagle habitat does not mean that it is currently available to occupy today. We will be also be taking into consideration and mapping current land uses that present risks to eagles and focusing in on potential release areas for further in-depth-analysis.

Both species are apex predators and sit on top of the food chain. However, despite this similarity both species have mostly different dietary needs and habitat preferences, which make them a great complimentary study species for a reintroduction to Wales. However, both species present different research challenges. Golden Eagles present a lot more challenges to bring back to Wales than the White-tailed Eagle, and this can be solely attributed to the generalist behavior or our White-tailed Eagles. UK Golden Eagles have a more specialist diet than their generalist European relatives. The UK Golden Eagles staple diet is Red Grouse and Mountain Hares. Our Welsh Red grouse and Mountain hare populations are near non-existent. Therefore, we must question whether the Golden Eagle in Wales will adapt a much more generalist diet, like the evolutionary process of their European relatives?

Our research will draw upon trends of Golden Eagle and White-tailed Eagle behavior and ecology across the Globe. We will compare and contrast trends and behavior of similar regions of the globe with similar landscape features. This will give us an insight how each eagle is expected to use the Welsh landscape.