There is clearly a feeling that sea eagles were imposed upon the farming community and that, early on, mistakes were made. “Communication when the birds first turned up was almost zero. Consultation was zero. This was a vanity project for a few individuals, and they were going to have it happen, come hell or high water. I don’t think anyone thought through the consequences and, for a long time, nobody would even acknowledge there was a problem.”
The sea eagle genie is now well and truly out of the bottle; they are here to stay, and certain birds are conditioned to predate lambs. “Other than not reintroduce them in the first place, there’s not a great deal we can do now - we are where we are. It’s not the fault of the birds – they’ve just latched on to the most suitable food source that is available.”
It’s fair to say that in a society that is becoming increasingly ecologically conscious, land managers – and perhaps farmers in particular – tread a thin line in terms of public opinion. Sea eagles, along with other charismatic animals, have been held up as the poster child for conservation groups and, in David’s mind, the public perceive they can do no wrong: “I understand it from a conservation point of view, but farmers feel like their story isn’t being told. If we speak out, there’s always the fear of a backlash. Social media provides a platform for some pretty unpleasant people!”
"Other than not reintroduce them in the first place, there's not a great deal we can do now."
The vast majority of the public want to see these magnificent birds thrive, and there are significant economic benefits that flow from their presence in the form of nature-based tourism. So how do we balance what appear to be diametrically opposed objectives? According to David, the only way forward is to break the cycle for those birds conditioned to killing lambs. But what does that look like?