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Talon tales in Snowdonia
Wilder Britain, Issue 1491
golden-eagle.jpg
LYNX EFFECT: Having failed to reintroduce predatory wild lynx in Northumberland, Dr Paul O’Donoghue now wants to see golden eagles soaring over Snowdonia
THE prospect of golden eagles soaring over Snowdonia next year is the latest rewilding scheme to catch the imagination of environment correspondents and picture desks across the media.

The BBC’s Countryfile Winter Diaries even featured a long interview last month with Dr Paul O’Donoghue, introduced as the head of “Wilder Britain”, who described his plans to reintroduce golden eagles to Wales by 2020.

Eagle-eyed (geddit?) Eye readers will have spotted that this is the very same man who previously headed a bid to reintroduce predatory wild lynx in Northumberland, which the government rejected in December. Its assessment of the Lynx UK Trust scheme was scathing. And no wonder. It included concerns that evidence of the team’s ability to support such a risky, complex scheme was provided in the form of photos of O’Donoghue, er, “holding wild animals” (Eyes passim).

Dr O’Donoghue is also involved in Wildcat Haven, a project flogging souvenir plots of land in a supposed “wildcat reserve” in Scotland. The scheme has caused problems for legitimate conservation charity Scottish Wildcat Action, which last week warned that wildcats were even more endangered than previously thought.

Less transparency, fewer rules
Like both Lynx UK Trust and Wildcat Haven, Wilder Britain is a community interest company (CIC), not a registered charity, meaning there is less transparency in its accounts and fewer rules on how it uses any money raised for the eagle project. Campaigners have asked how much Dr O’Donoghue takes out of these CICs in consultancy fees, after their 2018 accounts showed a total of more than £80,000 paid to either him or his companies.

Once again, Wilder Britain poses a threat to a legitimate reintroduction research project. Eagle Reintroduction Wales (ERW) is led by Cardiff University and involves the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Wildlife Trust Wales.

“Reintroduction programmes in the UK are not an easy or quick process,” says ERW, which began in 2016 and is conducting painstaking environmental and ecological assessments of habitat for golden and white-tailed eagles in Wales. If a population is viable, the next step will be slow and careful consultation and trust-building with sheep farmers, whose lambs could be potential prey.

Shot, poisoned or starved
Wilder Britain’s big publicity push has already sparked opposition to reintroduction. The National Farmers’ Union Cymru wants a proper impact assessment and notes that, despite Dr O’Donoghue’s televised claims to have spent months gaining the backing of landowners, the union has yet to find anyone who was even aware of the project.

To head off any possible confusion, ERW has tweeted: “We have been conducting detailed feasibility studies on restoring Golden and White-tailed eagles in Wales since 2016, we are still at an early stage. The ERW project is not linked to Wilder Britain.”

During the Countryfile interview, Dr O’Donoghue claimed eagle reintroduction in Ireland had not caused problems for farmers. In a Wilder Britain press release, he also claimed that a “very successful ecotourism industry” has developed around the birds. Alas, it hasn’t gone brilliantly for Ireland’s eagles, which were imported annually from Scotland for 15 years, only to be shot, poisoned or starved. The population remains extremely precarious.

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Next issue on sale: 19th March 2019
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