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January 19, 2010

Green tourism soaring high

Mull and Iona Community Trust has a long track record of setting up projects which have gone on to make a major contribution to the social, environmental and economic well being of the two islands. One of these has been a long term partnership with a range of partners to reintroduce sea eagles to the area.  The success of the Mull Eagle Watch draws in thousands of visitors each year

Rare eagle numbers begin to soar on the isle of Mull

Rare white-tailed eagles on the Isle of Mull successfully reared 10 chicks in the past year’s breeding season, conservationists have revealed.

The island is home to 10 pairs of the birds of prey, which became extinct in Britain in the early 1900s, but were reintroduced to Scotland in the 1970s, when birds were brought from Norway to start a new population.

Known as “flying barn doors” because of their size, they attract tourists and bring £2 million each year to the local economy.

Last year the birds, which colonised Mull in 1983 and raised their first successful fledglings in 1985, after being reintroduced to Rum 10 years earlier, produced 10 chicks from seven nests.

Across Scotland, a total of 46 pairs of white-tailed eagles, also known as sea eagles, successfully reared 36 chicks.

According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the species had more than 200 breeding pairs in the UK in 1700, but had become extinct by early last century as a result of persecution, often by shepherds and gamekeepers.

An attempt to reintroduce them into Scotland in 1968 failed, but a second bid had better success. A more recent scheme has seen white-tailed eagles reintroduced to eastern Scotland.

However, the huge birds are not universally popular and proposals to bring them back to East Anglia provoked controversy.

White-tailed eagles eat a diet of fish, smaller sea birds, ducks and carrion, but, according to farmers, also target lambs.

On Mull, the presence of the birds brings thousands of “eco-tourists” and lovers of wildlife to the island.

The Mull Eagle Watch project attracts around 6000 visitors a year to its hide on Forestry Commission Scotland land at Loch Frisa. Half the money raised by the scheme goes back to the local com-munity, including sports clubs and youth groups, organisers said.

The project, which has been going for 10 years, is run by a partnership involving the Forestry Commission Scotland, RSPB Scotland, Mull & Iona Community Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage and Strathclyde Police.

RSPB Scotland Mull officer Dave Sexton said: “White-tailed eagles are part of the landscape here and can bring significant economic benefits to rural communities – some £2m a year comes to Mull from visitors coming to see them.

“It’s wonderful that, through the eagle fund, the birds are giving back to local good causes. It’s an example that could be followed across Scotland and the UK.”

Scottish Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham visited Mull yesterday to see the birds and to hand over the latest cash boost of £10,000 from the bird-watching scheme.

She said: “It is great news that these birds are thriving on Mull. What is also brilliant is that the local community is directly benefiting through green tourism.”