Thursday, 28 January 2010

Eagle or Owl - What's the Difference?

So can you tell the difference between a White-tailed Sea Eagle and an Eagle Owl? The answer at the moment for me has a £sign in front of it. Let me explain.
On the one hand we have the White-tailed Sea Eagle, prospective candidate for an English re-introduction, championed by Natural England and the RSPB. Some evidence albeit a little rough around the edges that they used to breed in the proposed re-introduction areas when Norfolk was a big flat mist filled bog populated by the occasional wild pig. As we know it hasn't changed much so the 'Beg Bits' will feel right at home. Maybe they will, maybe they won't, I've already nailed my colours to a mast as I think that unfortunately the human influence will be too great. It would be far more likely to be successful in Northumberland or Cumbria, assuming they keep off the grouse moors of course.
So whilst I support a re-introduction, I'm inclined to feel other issues such as publicity and grants and tourism are clouding the judgement of the organisations involved a little and if they get it wrong they could end up feeling as isolated as a pig in a big flat mist filled bog.
On t'other hand we have the Eagle Owl, the Steve Mcqueen of the falconry world, alternatively,surreptitiously re-introduced by fed up falconers or game estates hoping they'll see off the Hen Harrier and all the other nasty raptors before making a New Year's resolution to eat only Rabbit thereafter (the latter of course is just a silly conspiracy theory which has about as much truth about it as anti-shooting activists poisoning birds of prey near game estates to discredit them).
Eagle Owls used to breed in the UK, fossil evidence proves it as recently as 9000 years ago. Now they could have lasted a lot longer and we just haven't found the fossils yet and it is possible that one or two are even, hush, genuine migrants. Owls have been known to get here on the odd occasion either under their own steam or as passengers under someone else's.
You would perhaps think that this unofficial re-introduction whilst not entirely ethical is a low priority then as there aren't that many and they have been here before.
So do we really need a Fera Risk Assessment into the impact? Concerns are being raised not only about the Risk Assessment but also about the way the communication has been handled and the way some of the wording is framed.
The current declared conclusion of the risk assessment is as follows:

The Risk Assessment area already has an established (though small)
population of Eurasian Eagle Owls, first noted breeding in 1984. The growth
of this population has been slow, but with a long-lived species like this the
establishment phase may be slow initially but then speed up. The potential
impact of an increased population on native raptor and owl species, plus a
number of other important species, is thought to be significant.
Containment/control is an option and is likely to be most effective if carried
out during the early part of the establishment phase. However, there is an
element of public support for the species and its status as a native/non-native
has yet to be completely resolved despite the BOU classifying this species as
non-native (Dudley et al. 2006).

It can be found here. Comments can be sent to the closing date is 06 Feb 2010.

As I said at the start I'm struggling to see the difference here except that Eagle Owls, being nocturnal aren't too tourist friendly and the reintroduction however it occurred doesn't appear to have benefited any particular group, organisation or company. I really can't see any difference between a Sea Eagle that might take a Bittern or a Common Crane and an Eagle Owl that might take a Tawny Owl or Goshawk, other than the lack of £signs,can you?
Having said all of that it would only take the BOU to take a look at it's classification and the problem would be resolved, anyone know Steve Dudley?


Skev said...

I am astounded that you could even intimate that a re-introduction scheme could be financially motivated rather than for the benefit of the species involved.
As an example, here in VC55 we now have a viable population of Osprey. This internationally very common species was in dire need of reversing the human intevention that drove it out of England, and what better place than Rutland Water - home of the Birdwatching Fair. Of course RW didn't exist when Ospreys were driven out of England, but that is of no import. If it weren't for the RW scheme (and the other breeding English Ospreys that were successful before the RW ones), we could have waited literally a couple of years before we again had breeding English Ospreys. And we'd have had a lot more trouble keeping the punters coming in to RW.

On a more serious note, I personally feel that there are far more pressing conservation issues in getting habitat/ecology back to what it should be for the benefit of our rapidly declining breeding residents. I don't see the point of re-introductions of big predators and flouncy arsed game birds whilst we lose Corn Buntings etc

Steve Lowe said...

The key issue is whether the habitat is available and personally I don't think it is in the case of sea eagles. The profile of these large predators is massive and that can help wider conservation issues - the green tourist brings money into the local economy which aids wider measures but also brings a series of potential problems - see Majorca at Puerto Pollensa to see the impacts.

Eagles owls appear to have disappeared naturally, through a modification of their ecosystem. Reintroduction may therefore be inappropriate even if it may appear to be of interest.

Like Skev, I would prefer to see resources targeted at making the countryside work, ensuring ecosystems are fit for purpose and not constantly changing according to market forces. God only knows what climate change may bring for our already beleaguered wildlife but if we continue to mess things up these reintroductions are just someones whim and may also be considered to be similar to the misguided individuals who brought us muntjac deer, grey squirrels and a host of other pain in the ass non-native species.