Sea eagles are harming the farming industry on the west coast of Scotland by preying on healthy lambs - and leaving surviving ewes too traumatised to mate, it was claimed.

The birds of prey were reintroduced into Scotland in the mid-1970s as part of an effort to increase biodiversity and boost tourism efforts.

They first settled successfully on the Isle of Mull, Argyll and Bute, in the 1980s, and in 2017 there were 130 breeding pairs recorded, not accounting for juveniles.

But farmers who have discovered healthy lambs mauled to death by the eagles have called for more to be done to protect their livelihoods.

Farmer Billy Macrae, from Edinbane, on the Isle of Skye, described lambs as being ‘like a breakfast bar’ to the predatory species.

Billy said: “We were finding that our Cheviots were too easy a target for the sea eagle, we would bring them in to feed at the trough and effectively were creating a breakfast bar for the eagles.

“The problem is that they have introduced birds at the top of the food chain without any natural predators, so there is nothing to stop their numbers increasing and the threat to our flocks with it.

“We have always had golden eagles here, but they didn’t cause too much of an upset.

“The problem is that there isn’t enough natural prey here for the sea eagles to hunt, so they are turning to our sheep, which are easy targets on the open hill landscape.

“We have had ewes that have been attacked and in one incident we found a ewe on her back with the meat ripped clean off her thigh bone.

“Neighbouring farms are also bringing in sheep for clipping and finding talon mark scars on their backs.”

Sheep farmer John Gillies works on the Isle of Raasay, near Skye.

He said in previous years he would sell 600 lambs a year but this has halved since the arrival of the seal eagles.

John said: “The impact these huge birds can have is devastating and it’s not just the animals that they attack but the stress they cause to the people looking after them.

“It’s pretty horrific when you come across the mess these eagles leave behind and the trauma this can have on the surrounding flock.

“These birds should never have been reintroduced.

“These birds are not endangered, they have settled in 41 countries, so there isn’t this need for protection.

“I am more concerned by the lack of hares and the single remaining golden eagle we have on the island which is going to die out.”

Some farmers even considered packing in their careers because of the sea eagles.

Achnaba farm, in Oban, Argyll and Bute, has been in the same family for 135 years.

But the situation with sea eagles has left the owners feeling powerless.

Farmer Morag Buchanan said: “Like many farmers we have faced our fair share of hurdles over the years, but you get round them.

“With these birds, your hands are tied.

“You have no control whatsoever and we have to stand back and watch them destroy our livelihood.

“The first year we experienced real bother with the eagles was in 2012.

“They would watch as the ewes were lambing and swoop in and take the fresh lamb before it had had a chance to bond with its mother.

“It was very distressing, but we were helpless as to put a stop to it.

“Now they have become more domesticated and will attack throughout the year, taking big strong lambs and at times, ewes.”

Donald Buchanan added: “Since we have had the sea eagle attacks, conception rates have dropped as some of the ewes have been traumatised.

“When these birds take a lamb it’s hard enough but afterwards their mothers are grazing good green grass and incidences of mastitis kick in which can hit us as a double whammy if they need to be cast.

“We have trialled different scaring techniques such as scary inflatable men but they pop up seven times and lie flat for 20 minutes but the birds just get used to them.

“There are the odd seabirds but no rabbits, and lambs are the easiest thing for them to kill over the summer months to support their chicks. When you’re out shepherding on the hills and you come across plucked wool and blood splattered on the grass, or you find a freshly killed lamb it is a horrific sight.

“It causes huge distress on ewe and shepherds. There are so few of us left in this part of the west coast and soon there will be no sheep."

“Why is it that the welfare of these birds must be protected? What about the welfare of the lambs they are predating?

“There has to be a balance struck.

“We don’t know what the position will be like in the future, there could be several nests and we might hardly have a ewe left.

“We need to find a workable solution now or else we are going to watch our livelihood drift away.”

A spokeswoman for Scottish Natural Heritage said: “Sea eagles were once widespread across Britain, until they were wiped out as a result of persecution in the early 20th century. The reintroduction of these native birds to Scotland has been very successful and benefitted tourism. However, in some locations, sea eagles may impact farming and crofting by predating lambs. Through the Sea Eagle Management Scheme, we are working closely with farmers, crofters and other partners to trial management techniques which can help reduce these negative impacts.”