White-tailed Eagle: first chick born in England since 1780

In a remarkable triumph of forward-thinking conservation and persistence, a White-tailed Eagle chick has hatched in England for the first time in more than 240 years. The location of the nest is being kept secret.

Once widespread across Great Britain the huge birds of prey were widely persecuted. The last known English pair bred on Culver Cliff on the Isle of Wight in 1780. Following its extirpation from Ireland in 1901, White-tailed Eagles were lost entirely to the British Isles in 1918, when the last Scottish bird (a female) was shot in Shetland.

In a bid to return the species to England, twenty-five eagles have been released on the Isle of Wight since 2019 as part of an ongoing reintroduction project by Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation.

The aim is to establish a viable breeding population of these magnificent birds across southern England.


The first English White-tailed Eagle chick for two centuries

Typically White-tailed Eagles don’t breed until they are five years old, but two of the birds released by the project in 2020 – female G405, originally translocated from the Outer Hebrides and male G471, from north-west Sutherland – reared the male chick earlier this summer.

The location of the nest, on private land with no public access, is not being disclosed for the welfare of the birds and to prevent any disturbance to them or the landowner either this year or if the birds return to breed at the same location.

The chick was ringed and fitted with a satellite tag by licensed ornithologists enabling the project team to track this historic bird’s daily progress through its life.

Steve Egerton-Read, White-Tailed Eagle Project Officer for Forestry England, said:

We are thrilled that this moment has happened and at such an early stage in the project. At only three years old, it is remarkable that the pair have successfully bred, with most white-tailed eagles not attempting to do so until they are at least four or five. This pairs’ ability to breed and fledge their chick at this early age is extremely encouraging.”

“It is really hard to put into words just what an incredible moment this is for the return of these iconic birds to England. It is evidence of just how well the eagles are starting to fit back into this landscape and how, with a little help, nature can begin to return and thrive. Although it has not been possible to set up a public viewing site at this location, we are hopeful that one of the other pairs that has become established in southern England will choose to nest in a location that we can share with the public in future years.


Ongoing persecution

Found right across northern Eurasia from as far west as Greenland east to Japan, White-tailed Eagles are often thought of as a coastal species, but, for instance, in Germany and Poland, they frequent large river valleys, lakes and reservoirs in wooded areas. Most countries live with White-taileds quite happily, but opposition to the reintroductions and illegal persecution are still huge problems here.

Earlier reintroduction projects were stymied by a coalition of sheep farmers and shooters. A plan to reintroduce eagles to Suffolk in 2007, for example, was eventually dropped in 2010. A well-known shooting industry magazine reported that the scheme was “opposed by local farmers and shoot owners who fear the bird’s reintroduction could damage their livelihoods”.

Of the 25 birds released as part of this project, just sixteen have survived so far. As they wander from the relative safety of the Isle of Wight they face opposition and danger.

In early 2022 two young White-tailed Eagles from the project were found dead on unnamed shooting estates. One, in Sussex, had been shot, the other, in Dorset, had been poisoned (see > Illegal poisoning and poisoned baits).

While universal disappointment and dismay was expressed by conservationists and local residents, Dorset West Conservative MP Chris Loder, a landowner and farmer, took to social media instead with a tweet that appeared to tell police not to investigate what was a serious wildlife crime, saying (wrongly) that in his opinion ‘Eagles don’t belong in Dorset’.

Loder also triumphantly posted another tweet with a photo showing what appeared to be a White-tailed Eagle carrying off a lamb, only to be told almost immediately by the photographer that two photos had been staged for a separate project: this was in fact a captive eagle posed with an already dead lamb.

While not connected with the Isle of Wight project, earlier this month two White-tailed Eagles were found poisoned in Northern Ireland. A post-mortem examination revealed both birds had ingested the insecticide bendiocarb.



The first White-tailed Eagle chick born in England since 1780. Photo Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation
Roy Dennis MBE

There is ample breeding habitat all around the UK for the eagles, and pairs, occupying territories they were driven out of centuries ago, have become integral to wildlife tourism in Scotland, making a significant contribution to the economies of islands like Mull.

Just across the Solent from the Isle of Wight, Dorset’s Poole Harbour Osprey reintroduction project has been welcomed by locals and visitors alike, and it is hoped that the massive White-tailed Eagles will now become just as cherished as the Poole Ospreys.

The drive and commitment of all involved in the Isle of Wight project is inspiring. As the founder of the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, Roy Dennis himself, explains:

This is a very special moment for everyone who has worked on, supported and followed this ground-breaking project. Restoring a breeding population in southern England, where the species was once widespread, has been our ultimate goal. Many thought it was impossible but we knew food for eagles – fresh and saltwater fish, cuttlefish, rabbits, hares and wild birds – was plentiful. I visited the Isle of Wight as a young birdwatcher in the 1950s, saw the last breeding location at Culver Cliff and knew they should be restored. It is early days, but this is a very significant milestone and we are heartened by the enthusiastic support shown by so many people and that the sight of these huge eagles in the sky inspires hope for restoring nature.

“We still have a long way to go, but the feeling of seeing the first pair reach this stage is truly incredible.