WHITE-TAILED eagles reintroduced on the Isle of Wight are eating prey such as cuttlefish and rabbits, and there are “no conflicts” with livestock farming, experts say.

A study involving hundreds of hours watching white-tailed eagles released on the Island, in a project by Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, has revealed what they are eating and how they are getting it.

It shows the eagles are targeting other birds, as well as fish, including grey mullet, and cuttlefish, which are “super abundant” in the summer months.

They also eat mammals, mainly rabbits and hares, and feed on carrion and through “piracy” – stealing catches from other smaller birds such as marsh harriers – the research led by Stephen Egerton-Read, Forestry England’s white-tailed eagle project officer, shows.

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Despite concerns from some quarters, there has been “no conflict” with livestock farming, Mr Egerton-Read said.

The team have been able to use the diet study and GPS data from the birds to reassure people about the eagles and what they are eating.

"In some cases, we can say there’s not really an eagle around, so you don’t need to worry, or we can show the eagle has been sitting on a rabbit warren nearby," said Mr Egerton-Read. 

“But in none of those cases has there been an incident where a lamb or anything like that has been taken."

The reintroduction project began in 2019 to bring back a long-lost species to the skies of southern England, where they were once widespread until the 18th century, when persecution led to them being wiped out in the region.

Some 29 young birds, taken as chicks from wild nests in Scotland where the eagles have successfully been re-established, have been released on the Island, which provides good habitat for the wetland and coast-loving species.

There are now 16 of the birds, also known as sea eagles, including one wild-born chick, roaming southern England’s skies, and beyond.

Mr Egerton-Read said: “All the way through those early days of the project the biggest concern surrounding white-tailed eagles from any party, be they from farming background, gamebird background, fishing background or a conservation background, will be what the birds eat.

“So, trying to understand diet is a really important element to understanding how they’re fitting into the landscape here in southern England, and also making sure that these birds are going to be valued and seen really positively going into the future.”