EGG INDUSTRY LEADERS have expressed concerns over plans to reintroduce white-tailed eagles to North-West Norfolk.
Natural England has approved a wildlife licence for the release of the birds at Wild Ken Hill over the next five years, with the hope that they will be bred on the estate in the future.
It is part of a 1,040-acre rewilding project which moves away from conventional agricultural and forestry to a more ‘light touch’ approach to managing land.
The British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) has expressed ‘significant concerns’ with the proposal.
Its chief executive Mark Williams said in response to the new licence that the birds could compromise free-range hens right to a ‘freedom from fear’.
“We provided Natural England with evidence from veterinary professionals to demonstrate the potential impact that the stress of the activities of white-tailed eagles would have on free-range flocks.
“Not only are we concerned about actual number of hens that would be targeted by white-tailed eagles, but also the trauma and shock the presence of huge predatory birds would inflict upon flocks of hens.
“Ken Hill’s release proposal has stated that these birds spend around 90% of their time perched in trees.
“If this were to take place on or around our free-range farms when hens are outside, it would cause hens severe stress that would put their health and welfare at considerable risk.
“The outcome of this stress could lead to smothering as they rush to get back inside the shed, feather pecking because of aggression caused by the rush to reach safety, poor quality eggs and reduced production, intestinal disease and even death.”
The BEIC said it welcomed projects that enhanced the natural environment and restored wildlife but that it wanted to see them carried out “responsibly and safely”.
It also said it hoped to work with the Ken Hill project “to ensure measures are put in place to mitigate the risks to our free-range flocks”.
In a feasibility study for the reintroduction, team members at Ken Hill said they would work with the sector.
“One suggestion, made during an online webinar with the NFU, was that the project might consider working with poultry farmers to monitor any White-tailed Eagle disturbance issues that may arise through a combination of satellite tracking data and field observations.
“We are fully committed to undertaking any such work, and this is included in the project’s monitoring and evaluation plan.
“We will also invite a representative of the free-range poultry industry onto the project’s steering group.