‘Spectacular’ eagle has been soaring over Coulsdon

White-tailed eagles, the largest bird of prey native to these islands, had not been seen in southern England for 240 years

A white-tailed eagle – the huge bird of prey which has been used as a mascot by Crystal Palace for their games at Selhurst Park – has been tracked flying over Coulsdon.

The bird is part of a reintroduction programme being conducted on the Isle of Wight.

The sighting of this spectacular bird, which is also known as a sea eagle, follows that of another reintroduced bird species, the white stork, from a project being run in Sussex and which stayed at Beddington Farmlands for a few days over the autumn.

Like the stork project, the sea eagles reintroduction is being run in conjunction with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation. Four of the young eagles were released in August 2019. The project managers say that they “have wandered widely, with the satellite tracking data providing a valuable insight into their movements and how they have learnt to live successfully in the English landscape”.

The bird tracked to Croydon was a juvenile male, known unpoetically as G461.

Taking wing: extinct as a breeding species in Britain for 600 years, a reintroduced white stork visited Beddington in the autumn

According to the official tracking report, “He crossed the Solent and Southampton Water on the morning of September 30 and then continued into the South Downs.

“He spent the next five days exploring several wooded areas in the Meon Valley in Hampshire, before roosting in woodland just north of Alton on October 5. He was seen nearby by Hampshire county bird recorder, Keith Betton next morning but then headed north-east, passing over Farnborough at 11:50. At 12.40 he was perched in a wood a mile north-west of the M25/M3 junction and then crossed the busy motorway and skirted across the south-west of London, passing over Queen Elizabeth II reservoir at 14.05 and then Island Barn Reservoir soon afterwards at an altitude of 438 metres.

“Half an hour later he was over Coulsdon and then at 15.40 he was perched in a wood 2.5 miles south of Oxted. He roosted nearby having flown 52 miles during the course of the day.”

Generally, the six eagles released so far have been doing well, with some of the group reaching the Scottish borders before eventually returning to the Isle of Wight.

But in October one was found to have died.

Also known as sea eagles, they are the British Isles’ largest bird of prey, with a wingspan of up to 8ft. They feed mainly on fish and water birds. The project will see at least six birds released annually.

The last known breeding pair in England were recorded at Culver Cliff on the Isle of Wight in 1780.

It is hoped that the birds will eventually breed in the wild, mirroring the success of a reintroduction scheme in Scotland.

It took several decades after chicks from Norway were returned to Scotland in the 1970s before the birds bred and expanded their range. There are now 130 breeding pairs across Scotland, and the six young Isle of Wight birds were taken from Scotland under special licence.

The Scottish reintroduction, which centred on the Isle of Mull, was found to have bolstered the local economy by up to £5million a year.

Up to 60 white-tailed eagles will eventually be released from the Isle of Wight.

Tony Juniper, the chair of Natural England, which is licensing the trial, said: “The return of these spectacular birds to England is a real landmark for conservation. I very much hope that it will also provide a practical demonstration of the fact that we can actually reverse the historic decline of our depleted natural environment.

“It will also show how helping the recovery of our wildlife can be done at the same time as bringing benefits for people, in this case by offering a boost to the local economy through wildlife tourism.”

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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