A project to bring back golden eagles to Wales – around 200 years after they became extinct in the country – will see them return to their former range.
Over the past year, Wilder Britain has been discussing their plans with landowners, farmers and local communities.
Golden eagles have been successfully reintroduced in Ireland by the Golden Eagle Trust for Ireland, offering a proven template for the Welsh project. Representatives from Wilder Britain have visited the Irish release sites to see first-hand the benefits that golden eagles can bring when reintroduced.
Dr Paul O’Donoghue, the Project Lead for Wilder Britain comments: “It is amazing to see the support that the whole community has provided to the return of the golden eagle in Ireland. A very successful ecotourism industry has been developed around them and the farmers we met had welcomed the eagles. It is a fantastic conservation success story that we want to emulate in Wales.”
It is hoped golden eagles can be used as ambassadors for restoring entire upland ecosystems, which can help with both climate change and flood mitigation.
Professor Nick Ostle, a landscape ecologist from Lancaster University Environment Centre, said: “This is an important time to talk about what we want from our British uplands. It’s a chance to re-think our upland environments with farming, wildlife restoration and tree planting to support crucial ecosystem services – including food production, flood and climate change mitigation that will benefit people at a local and national level.
“Conversations are needed to share ideas and build plans in partnership. Perhaps this eagle initiative can be the catalyst for just that.”
Ecological feasibility studies are already under way to assess habitat suitability, prey density as well as other factors such as human disturbance and predicted breeding sites. Such work will form the basis of a formal license application to the Welsh government to be submitted this summer, seeking permission to release the birds.
Golden eagles are embedded into Welsh culture and the first release site will be the spectacular Snowdonia Mountain range. The name Snowdonia in Welsh is ‘Eryri’, which means home of the eagle, making this the perfect place for this ground-breaking project.
Dr O’Donoghue added: “Golden eagles are a key part of Welsh culture and heritage and they are sadly now missing from the beautiful Welsh landscape. Imagine the excitement of seeing these incredible birds soaring around the rugged peaks of Snowdonia. Without doubt it would be one of the biggest ecotourism draws in the UK and would generate fantastic business opportunities for local communities.”
As in Ireland, Welsh farmers have come out in support of the project.
Brian Williams, a Welsh upland farmer said: “At first I was a bit sceptical of bringing these predators back, but having looked at the facts and experiences of farmers who already live with these birds in other places, my concerns have disappeared. I think this will provide much needed diversification opportunities for Welsh upland farmers in what are difficult times.”