FARMERS are seeking curbs on the growing sea eagle population because of their deadly impact on sheep and other wildlife which they fear threatens to get out of control.
Representatives from the farming community in Argyll will meet Scottish Natural Heritage, which is already conducting a review of the management scheme overseeing the birds, in a bid to discuss their concerns today.
It comes after The Herald reported claims that sea eagles were no longer just attacking crofters' lambs in the Outer Isles, but were also killing larger stock such as hoggs, the stage between lambs and sheep. There have been repeated reports of them killing lambs in the likes of Wester Ross, Skye and other areas on the west coast including Argyll.
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The issue has been raised at a National Farmers Union (NFU) Scotland branch meeting in Oban. A resolution asked NFUS headquarters to formally acknowledge "the ever expanding population of sea eagles is unsustainable and certain things need to happen to stop the situation getting more out of control".
Euan Warnock, NFUS local secretary for Oban and a farmer on Mull, told The Scottish Farmer magazine he was keen to discuss the issue with SNH at today's meeting in Oban. He said: "This is an opportunity to say enough is enough, we need to talk about the impact the birds are having not only on sheep, but on the wider biodiversity of the area."
He said farmers in Argyll were seeking official recognition the population had reached a peak, and that control measures were now needed to keep it in balance.
The Sea Eagle Management Scheme run by SNH makes annual payments to crofters and farmers affected but Mr Warnock said more measures were needed to ensure the situation does not worsen.
"It's not just about financial compensation - we need effective policy to be implemented or who knows where we will be in 10 years' time."
Mr Warnock said there was also concern about the impact of sea eagles on other wildlife, particularly the golden eagle, "There is a suggestion sea eagles are pushing golden eagles out of their territory. The experience we've had on Mull is the golden eagles are breeding less often.
"It's smaller animals as well. We had a lot of brown hares and speaking to members, hardly anyone sees brown hares any more. On Mull there are wild goats and a lot of members don't see as many young goats on the island so are concerned the sea eagles are effecting the population's breeding success."
An SNH spokeswoman said: "We have hired an external consultant to review the existing scheme, and as part of the review, he's seeking the views of the participants of the existing scheme. We're hoping to have the consultant's work finished by the end of March."
She said there was not any detail of the review yet, but there was an assessment panel which had representatives of RSPB, SNH, the Crofting Federaton and NFUS.