As an avid wildlife watcher, I was quite embarrassed by the fact I had only visited Scotland once before, which as it was a walking holiday didn’t lead to as many wildlife watching opportunities as I would have liked. However, this all changed in June when I joined the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation on their mission to Scotland to collect white-tailed eagles for the first ever reintroduction to the south coast of England. I can now say that I have seen the sweeping landscapes of the Scottish Highlands from East to West, enjoying views of red squirrels, eagles and of courses ospreys; even if most of the viewing was from a slightly dubious looking white van.
As I made the trip up to Scotland; the changing scenery, as myself and Tim Mackrill made our way north was beautiful. The lochs and mountains unfolded before us and we were treated to a truly breath-taking first sunset in the cairngorms. However, this trip wasn’t about the incredible Scottish scenery, we had a mission, to collect six white-tailed eagle chicks for their translocation to the Isle of Wight. I had been invited up to help feed and look after chicks between their collection from the nest to the long journey south. Our first job was to pick-up two eagle chicks which had already been collected from their natal nest sites under special licence from Scottish Natural Heritage earlier that day. We met up with the team, all of whom had ample experience in this sort of work thanks to the number of osprey reintroduction projects they had worked on. Furthermore, both were expert tree climbers, BTO ringers and as I later found out eagle chick wranglers. As we met they handed over two very large, very heavy carboard boxes; nothing could prepare me for my first view of an eagle chick, I have been lucky enough to see some other birds of prey as they are fitted with BTO rings, but the white-tailed eagles were in a weight class of their own. Bright, brown eyes peered out at me from the box, followed by one of the most impressive bills I have ever seen. Once the birds were safely in the back of the van we headed to the temporary holding pens, these were lined with straw and moss to emulate eagle nests and blankets were strategically placed to reduce disturbance. Moving the birds from the boxes into the holding pens was interesting, although still young both birds already had hefty wingspans and some of the sharpest talons I had ever seen. It was then time of dinner, on the menu tonight was locally sourced fish. My job was to chop the fish into bite sized chunks for the eagles to enjoy, this task was fairly simple, however, placing the food in the pens was much more perilous. The personality difference in the birds was apparent from that first night, with one being very relaxed and quiet, the other aggressive and vocal. It’s difficult not to feel some sort of primeval unease as you lower your hand filled with juicy chunks of fish into a pen filled with hissing, clicking and very long talons. After that first night I managed to hold my nerve, and over the next few days diced up plenty of fish and rabbits to keep the eagles as well fed as possible before their long journey south. On the third day I joined the team for a trip across the country from East to West, it was hoped that on this last day we would collect the last two chicks to bring the number up to six, a great starting population for this reintroduction. After the long drive we made our way on foot over steep hills and across bogs, up to the first eagle nest or eyrie. Watching the massive adult birds take off as we made our way up to the nest was incredible, these birds can have a wing span of over two meters, so watching them trying to gain height, then gliding silently above the trees was spectacular. As we made our way to the nest the chicks began alarm calling, however, it wasn’t long until Fraser, our expert tree climber, managed to race up the gargantuan pine and persuade the chick into a large canvas bag. Then the bird was safely on the ground, and we set off with our newest recruit to the southern England eagle population. It wasn’t long before we had six eagles in the holding pens, it’s difficult not to get attached to these charismatic birds, especially when your feeding and watching them each day. Every step of the project from collection to the release has been meticulously planned, building on the knowledge Tim Mackrill and Roy Dennis have gained from numerus eagle and osprey reintroductions. I feel very lucky to have been asked to help on this project and to have been given the chance to work with Tim and Roy, both of whom shared so much of their knowledge and experience with me. I have always wanted to be involved in reintroduction projects, it has been a passion of mine for many years and I honestly never thought I would get the chance to work alongside Tim and Roy on this project. The White- tailed eagle reintroduction is an incredible feat, in a relatively short amount of
time Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation managed to put into action a reintroduction project which will help restore the south coast of England to it’s natural state and provide an opportunity for the U. K’s largest bird of prey to return to its natural niche. Furthermore, this reintroduction provides an opportunity for people to become inspired by and connect with nature. I remember as a young girl watching the red kites which had just recently been reintroduced to a forest near to where I lived; having never seen a red kite before, the first time I saw these birds gliding though sky and riding up thermals was a truly remarkable experience, which has stayed with me for years. I hope that the young people on the Isle of Wight will experience the same breath-taking moment when they see white- tailed eagles for the first time and maybe they too will one day want to follow a career in conservation and enrich U.K wildlife for everyone.

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