TWO white-tailed sea eagles who arrived from Norway in June, were released over Lough Derg last week.
The release is part of the second phase of the White Tailed Sea Eagle (WTSE) Reintroduction Program in which ten young birds were recently brought from into Ireland, managed by Dr Allan Mee of The Golden Eagle Trust) and Eamonn Meskell of The National Parks & Wildlife Services (NPWS). In total six birds were released have been released, since June, at Lough Derg and four at the Shannon Estuary close to the Limerick/Kerry border.
The new release phase aims to build on the successful re-establishment of this once extinct species over a three-year period and to bolster the small existing breeding population here.
Previously, 100 young white-tailed sea eagles were released in Killarney National Park in County Kerry between 2007 and 2011. Birds from these releases subsequently dispersed widely throughout Ireland with first breeding in 2012 on Lough Derg. Since then a small breeding population of eight to ten pairs have successfully fledged 26 chicks.
Some Irish-bred eagles are now reaching maturity and starting to breed in the wild. However, a scientific review of the reintroduction project indicated the small population is still vulnerable to mortality factors such as illegal poisoning and the breeding population was negatively impacted by Avian ‘flu’ in 2018 and Storm Hannah last year. These events prompted this supplementary release to bolster the existing population.
The NPWS noted that an important aspect of any such releases is cooperation with the farming communities in the release areas and where birds settle to breed. During the first phase of the release project, managed by the NPWS and the Golden Eagle Trust, a good relationship was established in the release and breeding areas with the farming community, so much so that farmers helped monitor birds and nests at some sites. The Phase Two release hopes to build on this relationship into the future to ensure that farming and eagles continue to coexist to their mutual benefit.
As well as bringing biodiversity and ecosystem benefits, restoring this flagship species can deliver potential economic benefits. The re-establishment of breeding white-tailed sea eagles at sites like Lough Derg and Killarney has proven hugely popular with local residents.
The positive economic benefits of ecotourism was experienced in Mountshannon, when the first breeding pair nested within sight of the village in 2012, attracting thousands of visitors over the next few years.
The Irish White-tailed Sea Eagle Reintroduction Programme is a long-term initiative to re-establish a population of this extinct species in the Republic of Ireland managed by the NPWS of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and in collaboration with others, including in particular the Golden Eagle Trust.