Go back in time on the IoW – particularly if you are a farmer

By Ordnance Survey –  map from 1945, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org

One of the attractions of visiting the Isle of Wight is that you just get a little taste of what the UK was like in the 1950s – that’s why the OS map above is so appropriate.  You almost expect to see items in the shops priced in £sd rather than that new-fangled decimal system.

But although having a slightly, and quaintly, old-fashioned air about it the Isle of Wight is a perfectly modern part of the UK.  No, really to travel back in time you have to see the remarks of the farming community to the prospect of a few White-tailed Eagles flying around the island.

The reaction of the farmers to the prospect of restoring some biodiversity to their island (to go alongside the Red Squirrels and Glanville Fritillaries) in the person of these barn-door-shaped birds is so predictable and so archaic as to be laughable.  Why are farmers’ spokespeople (usually spokesmen but Ms Batters is no better I have noticed) almost always anti-nature? It’s incredible how predictable their views always are.

They claim to be environmental champions but when it comes to saving the bees (neonics), backing a sensible and effective approach to ridding themselves of bTB (not a badger cull) or a few birds of prey reoccupying the skies, then we can rely on famers, particularly their elected NFU representatives, to be unthinkingly anti-wildlife.  Why is such an unscientific and, frankly, often biologically ignorant, pressure group taken at all seriously these days?

But it comes as no surprise to read that the local NFU representative is sounding off about lambs being carried off by White-tailed Eagles.

This is unlikely to happen, but let’s just imagine that it does – just for the fun of it.  I’ll be popping over the IoW a lot more often if I could stand a good chance of seeing lambs being carried off in eagles’ talons. What a sight that would be!  You could sell tickets for that – now, there’s a thought.

Agriculture, forestry and fishing make up just 1.2% of employment on the Isle of Wight, and although sheep farming is a large chunk of farming that probably means that less than 0.5% of employment on the IoW is sheep farming.  Why is such a minor economic activity given such a large share of the airwaves?  I think that we can be sure that the economic case of having White-tailed Eagles on the IoW, and the tourism they would encourage (even if my chances of seeing lambs being carried off are rather slim), would far outweigh the economic case against them – by miles and miles.

And are they going to eat all the Red Squirrels?  I’m guessing not (by which I mean I am absolutely certain that they will have no impact whatsoever).

White-tailed Eagle – Mike Crutch.

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57 Replies to “Go back in time on the IoW – particularly if you are a farmer”

  1. Aren’t farmers so often ‘anti-nature’ because they spend so much of their time fighting it in an effort to achieve a goal, including making a living? The real world doesn’t just lie down and cooperate when we want to achieve something, as most of us will know. Even a piece of wood and a saw can be pretty un-cooperative until you learn to tame them. And having tried to grow a bit of food on an allotment, I know that biology is perhaps the most un-cooperative thing of all, after human beings. Farmers spend their lives fighting soils, weather, insects, fungi, bacteria, viruses etc. Seeds don’t germinate, slugs each the plants, fungi cripple them, too much rain rots them etc etc. Small wonder if they are mostly negative about ‘one more bit of nature to potentially cause problems’.

  2. Mark, As conservationists we need to win our arguments on fact and persuasion. When setting up the sea eagle project on the Isle of Wight it would be obvious to the organisers that any potential threat to livestock would raise alam. Therefore any campaign needs to win the argument on hearts and minds as well on the technical merits of releasing the birds here on the Island.
    We need to make the case that the reintroduction is positive for the eagles, local biodiversity and the communities that live on the Island and along the south coast. Negative farmer bashing is, I suggest, not the way forward.
    We also need to keep the debate alive- since the organisers had the 3 public consultation events, they have left the Isle of Wight – people need reassurance and it would of been helpful to have someone here continually here talking to people to allay the ‘fears’ of the unknown.

    1. Pete – we don’t have to win over everybody and the farming community is a tiny proportion of the IoW populace and economy. Farmers’ elected representatives all too often start from an anti-nature perspective – wildlife bashing I’d call it. Yes we have to listen to everyone but we don’t have to value their views very highly unless they are well-founded.

      1. They may be a small proportion of the population, but they control most of the land! And it’s land nature needs – the eagles certainly do.

        1. M Parry – you and I are investing in that land through the CAP to a large extent. And we’ll be asked to pay compensation for Wood Pigeons next!

          1. Excellent point Mark. When a farmer takes public subsidies, which over time may be greater than the value of their land, their argument that it is their land and they can do what they want with it, is no longer valid.

          2. I know we pay a lot in subsidies, and I think there’s probably a lot wrong with that. Sometimes I think farmers want to be paid just to breathe. Listening to some of there representatives you’d think that was what they needed. Without even any *respect* for the taxpayers who are giving them the money, let alone something as extreme as gratitude!

    2. Couldn’t agree more, Pete. As an islander I can report a lot of enthusiastic support and some concerns expressed. We must respect all and work to address fears for this to work.

    3. i think Mark’s bashing is perfectly justified. People are waking up to the terrible destriction wrought by farmers and the disappearance of our landscapes, regional identities and wildlife. Farmers receive money from the public purse and it is healthy that their use of the money they receive, with very little built-in requirement to improve nature, is subject to close scrutiny. Their representatives in the NFU have, with their insistence on production alone frequently failed to represent those farmers who want to be kinder on the land. All introductions are costly, involving detailed studies of impacts on livestock and native species, benefits (often to non-farming sectors admittedly but also creating potential income streams for farmers) and mitigation and exit strategies. Progressive farmers are badly let down by those in the official ranks who pay no heed to science and simply seek to spread exaggerated alarmist hysteria, while supporting the unregulated release into the countryside of millions of non-native pheasants and partridges, and the wholesale destruction of ecosystems by unsustainable cultivation methods..

  3. Everyone needs to read the framing press more often. Farmers, being of an independent-minded nature implacably resist anything that might have control over the land that they own or rent. Environmental laws are the poster child for control by other people (far away) and so trigger resistance instinctively. I am not sure whether the National Farmers Union promotes this or simply exploits it for their own ends.

    This, of course, ignores the elephant in the room that is UK agricultural policy which farmers will happily go along with and EU regulations which result in cheques being written. Perhaps there is a lesson there on a more intelligent way to manage re-introductions and other activities. One where the benefits accrue (in financial or social capital terms) to farmers first – because they own most of the land where the activity will take place. Assuming the re-introduction of sea eagles to the Isle of Wight brings more visitors, maybe the path to success is in developing business opportunities for farmers or more cleverly, farmer’s wives to take advantage of the influx.

    1. Several farmers (and boat owners) on the island have spotted the opportunities – whatchamacallit’s this space!

  4. Very Well said Mark. I actually travelled across to the IoW for one of the consultations and there is overwhelming support (around 90%) for the project from the local population generally. One cannot please all the people all the time and, as you say, it is totally predictable that the NFU would lead the opposition to this project, they always do to anything to do with helping nature and biodiversity. For goodness sake why can they not talk to their colleagues in Scotland and in Europe where White tailed eagles are present and the farmers there are not going bankrupt because of the eagles. It is high time that NFU views are noted but are not made a reason to prevent this brilliant project going ahead.

  5. Anti white tailed eagle views from farming aren’t new. They were present in Fife, Mull, Wester Ross and East Anglia. Three of those areas had eagles released, hopefully the IoW will follow suit.
    Farmers follow economics, subsidy and government policy by and large. What we need are robust agricultural policies and incentives that move farming firmly away from how much we produce to how it’s produced. Current agri-environment schemes are not sufficient. The current political situation may yet present the best chance of doing so since 1945, but will it be taken? You can’t be too optimistic unfortunately. Imagine if something like the Sanford Principle could be devised for integrated land management at a National level and actually implemented properly – that would be worth a vote!

  6. Farming and land management have a significant influence on the Island and on the rural communities who live here. All I am saying is we need to listen to people’s fears and counter them in a positive way – in reading the sea eagle reintroduction information it is not clear whether there will be a permanent person based on the Island to manage the inevitable issues that will arise from any introduction.

  7. Alan, I actually live on the Isle of Wight and would not say that there is overwhelming support for the reintroduction. Far less than the 90% support that you mention. I do think that the organisers should be here to talk to people, work on the feasibility study and to build up confidence that this initiative will work and not damage livelihoods.

  8. Surely, the way to tackle the farmer’s concerns is to offer compensation for any losses .. which would probably be minimal.

  9. Kevin, yes it could help to offer compensation, but who would offer the compensation and how would it be paid and by whom? Currently there is scant information on all these points.

    1. Yep, the offer of compensation is clearly what the industry representatives are seeking. So, landowners benefit from the tourism benefits available to them from those extra birdwatchers paying for B&B etc, and get compensated for the ‘losses’ they suffer. Can’t lose can they?

    2. It could be paid for either by local or national government. ultimately, we would all pay for it through taxation, but i don’t mind that.

  10. If WTEs hadn’t been wiped out by people in the first place (with no consultation) then would we now be contemplating getting rid of them? If not, then it’s only logical to restore them, to help make up for the less enlightened attitudes of previous generations.

  11. We already pay for ‘lost’ lambs through Basic Payment Scheme (£205/ha) and other subsidies – e.g. income tax relief on business expenses (‘lost’ lambs?), annual investment allowance (new red tractor?), inheritance tax relief on farmland, red diesel and business rates exemption. So no further ‘compensation’ warranted?

    IoW farmers are adaptable and ‘follow the money’ – e.g. increases in general cropping (especially maize) to feed several new biodigesters, as well as a local surge in solar ‘farms’, supported by renewables subsidies (FIT, ROC and RHI) within last 5-10 years. So when BPS tapers to zero between 2022-2027, perhaps IoW farmers will welcome WTSE as another source of income subsidy from the promised Public Goods Scheme?

  12. The NFU and for that matter Countryside Areliars are if you read about them both opposed on principle to all reintroductions. NFU say they have spoken to colleagues in WTE areas in Scotland and there is according to them a problem. I once briefly worked on a WTE project where WTEs were implicated in taking lambs. Lambs were all radio tagged, funnily enough only one was eaten by WTE and that was already dead. Yet in previous years crofters in the area said the eagles took many. I asked one about this in casual conversation — he said he lost lambs of 10 -25 kg!! No eagle can carry them off, he said there was no trace of them. I think its called sheep rustling!
    Yes they may take the odd lamb, the problem for compensation is was the lamb taken dead or alive, to my mind a dead lamb should not be compensated for.
    Farmers everywhere seem happy to put up with crop eating pheasants, which in the C17th and C18th were hated by farmers as a bloody pest.
    What these farmers need to do is talk to their equivalents in The Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Estonia or Poland where there are WTEs in farmed landscapes rather than listen to nonsense about giant eagles.
    We on the other hand should try to assuage their fears, but those fears should not stop the reintroduction.

  13. Having WTE’s on the Isle of Wight would be superb for the holiday industry. Take the Isle of Mull, when we first went there 15 years ago it was fairly easy to book somewhere for a weeks holiday. Now it’s very difficult, you have to book a long way in advance to get somewhere. Not all due to the WTE I know, there is bags of other brilliant wildlife there, but there is no doubt that they are a crowd puller. The same would happen on the IoW. As I live in Northants I would definately go there to see them.

  14. More tourists, more traffic, more road congestion, more particulate pollution from stinking diesels, more NOx emissions, more IoW ferries, the new Cadnam to Lymington New Forest Motorway, the new Solent Bridges, the new IoW Orbital Motorway, more visitor centres, more supermarkets, more car parks, more fuel stations, more litter, more Krispy Creme outlets.

    Yay!! Just what we need. Go for it!!

    1. I don’t usually have much time for the farming lobby but on this issue it may end up providing a much needed balance to the many assumptions being made about the merits of this proposal. I note that the Hants & IoW Wildlife Trust are taking a nuanced view and surely, at the very least, such a project should require a full impact assessment, not just vague comparisons with The Netherlands and Danube Delta.

          1. Talk about missing the point. I’m talking about the impacts of tourism, to which Mull has benefited most with minimal impact to its infrastructure.

    2. I’d travel down from Perth to the IOW for a shot on the orbital motorway. Would it be on concrete stilts all the way around do you think. Need to go around both ways for the views to sea and then to land.

  15. As an island resident I can assure you there’s plenty of support among islanders – including some farmers – for this project.

    Very little concern – beyond plaguing the issue – has been raised among red squirrel folks (of which I’m one! They’re on my feeders as I type…).

    Enthusiasm has been expressed by all tourism-related businesses I’ve spoken to so far.

    Farmers have genuine fears and we must do all we can to hear them, address them, and work with farmers as future allies. I’ve worked on Countryside Stewardship agreements and river restoration projects with farmers on the island, and I’ve found them to be pretty forward-thinking wildlife-wise.

    I’m optimistic. This might just work out if we can respect and hear everyone’s views.

  16. IoW already has healthy breeding populations of Buzzard, Peregrine and Raven, at least one pair of ‘giant’ (Marsh) Harrier, occasional visiting Red Kite, and many other natural assets – e.g. Red Squirrel, internationally important maritime chalk grassland (largest extent in Europe?), freshwater marshes (Western Yar and Brading) and Newtown Creek NNR. WTE would be a welcome addition, which the tourism team at IoW Council could help turn into many £££ benefit for local economy.

    Further thought on compensation – take a look at alleged claims of sheep predation by Lynx in Norway, apparently way in excess of actual ‘losses’.

  17. Steve, I agree, people can’t just assume the reintroduction of the 4th largest eagle in the world to the Isle of Wight is a good idea – we have to listen and talk to people to build confidence and understanding and work with communities rather than against them.

    1. And what about communities, I.e the individuals that constitute them, need to act responsibly? Seems that once you use the term ‘the public’, ‘locals’ or worst of all ‘community’ then somehow people are above and beyond any dependence on the environment and obligation to consider the wildlife we are supposed to share the planet with. For some public consultation is an opportunity for taking the centre stage and drown out the sensible and well informed, it certainly seems to have displaced public education which heaven forbid might suggest the public entity has room for improvement, that like individuals it might not know everything.

  18. I agree that the farmers’ objections are misguided and that sea-eagles are unlikely to affect the viability of their businesses but I think it is incorrect to suggest that we don’t have to win over everybody. Although farming may only account for a very small proportion of the economy it is a part of the economy that stands to be affected by the project (or at least believes it will be). Within the Isle of Wight populace there will be some who believe they stand to benefit economically from the eagles, many who will be little affected and are unconcerned about it and some who see it as a threat to their livelihoods. Inevitably it is the latter group who will be the squeaky hinge that demands attention and therefore they are the ones who need to be won over.

    David Cameron once characterised UKIP supporters as ‘swivel-eyed loons’ and, though many may have thought he had a point, he came to regret the comment when they eventually gained the upper hand. In the same way, I fear that simply painting the IOW eagle objectors as ridiculous risks making them simply dig their heels in further. Their fears may be misguided but that does not mean they are not genuinely held. There is a time and a place for trenchant criticism of the agricultural industry and its leaders (who, God knows, have presided over a terrible loss of wildlife from the farmed landscape) but in this case, if we are to avoid the noisiest objectors winning the argument I believe we need to engage with them positively to persuade them their fears are unfounded.

    As mentioned above we can point out that farmers elsewhere in Europe manage to co-exist happily with large populations of white-tailed eagles in the landscape. We can talk about the evidence that shows their fears of significant losses of lambs are unfounded or exaggerated and we can talk about strategies to manage any issues that might occur. We can point out how the economy of the island as a whole should benefit and give examples of how the farmers might share in that benefit. We can also make the case in the wider debate that agriculture is a relatively small part of the island’s economy (and sheep represent only a fraction of the farming) but those who will make the final decision will be more likely to buy these arguments if they can see that the fears of those who oppose the project have been taken seriously and addressed positively rather than simply being shrugged off as ridiculous.

  19. Jonathan, you make some good points, as to who decides release the young eagles is a good point. Certainly the project won’t proceed unless licences are given by both SNH and NE. SNH because it is proposed that chicks are taken from Scottish nests and NE because it is planned to release them in England.
    Both organisations will be accutely aware of the debate about the proposed release – hence the need to enthusiastically win people over in support of the initiative.

  20. I made my one and only ever visit to the island about four years back. It was a day trip so there was insufficient time for detailed exploration, but my overall impression was – quite pleasant but not a patch on Pembrokeshire or the SW peninsula. I didn’t see red squirrels or much in the way of notable wildlife generally. I’m in no particular hurry to return.

    The prospect of encountering WT Eagles would, however, get me back there in a shot, and I’d be staying longer and contributing to the island’s tourism economy. For many southern England based birders the place would become a “must do” trip.

    In the same way that agriculture only represents a small fraction of the Isle of Wight economy, and sheep farming only a fraction of that, the opinions of NFU only represent a fraction of the agricultural sector. Perhaps the far more significant proportion of the island economy that is represented by the tourism sector needs to shout a bit louder about the potential rewards that could be reaped from a more buoyant wildlife tourism sub-sector. How many B&B nights would it take to compensate for a lost lamb within the totality of the island economy?

    1. Wow – the island has some of the best chalk grassland in southern England (and lots of it); many of its sea cliffs are SSSIs for invertebrates; I see Glanville fritillaries, red squirrels, wall lizards (!) daily; we have some of the best ancient woodland patches in the UK; our entire intertidal zone is designated as internationally-important for biodiversity; a lot of it is also SPA for birds; we have wonderful arable flora communities; every copse, hedge and bit of scrub is stuffed full of dormice……. I could go on

      1. Agree — a great haven, the IOW. But why have Nuthatches never colonised? Or perhaps they have now?

  21. And JBTNS because there are no feral deer on the Island the hazel grows straight and lush which is a pleasure to behold. And if you like river walks the 6 mile walk up the Western Yar and back must be one of the loviest walks in Southern England. Come over now and see superb wildlife and countryside!

    1. Oh no, not that old “no deer” chestnut yet again! That is absolutely untrue, deer of various species have been recolonising the island since at least the 1970’s!

  22. Hi again Mark, I think these comments, most of which are all very positive and make some good points, might be worth forwarding to Roy Dennis in support of his project. However see what you think on this.

    1. Seems strange of Roy Dennis to propose WTEs on IOW now he has just put Ospreys in Poole Harbour which would very likely be the place WTEs would soon colonise.Think a very good chance the Ospreys would go.

      1. Wte’s & Ospreys coexist in Eurasia & have done since millennia. They do so now in parts of Scotland & historically use to do so throughout Britain.
        Similarly in N America the very close relative of the Wte, the Bald Eagle coexists with ospreys.

        1. And what about communities, I.e the individuals that constitute them, need to act responsibly? Seems that once you use the term ‘the public’, ‘locals’ or worst of all ‘community’ then somehow people are above and beyond any dependence on the environment and obligation to consider the wildlife we are supposed to share the planet with. For some public consultation is an opportunity for taking the centre stage and drown out the sensible and well informed, it certainly seems to have displaced public education which heaven forbid might suggest the public entity has room for improvement, that like individuals it might not know everything.

        2. Do they coexist on Mull would be more relevant.
          If not why not
          South coast is not covered in suitable breeding places for Eagles and Poole Harbour is one place they would head for
          You would probably know better than most that Eagle reintroduction on Isle Of White would be a complete failure unless full time warden on the Island, simply too many egg thieves and even more likely the number of birders etc just wanting to get close to nesting area.
          On Mull we constantly saw people stopped because of Mull Eagle Watch.
          Guess someone at Grass Point was paid to watch out for people doing that and even then I believe nest failed at least once with eggs chilled.
          Roy Dennis needs to lay down some rules before progressing.

      2. I am surprised that the Roy Dennis Foundation are not waiting to evaluate the outcomes of the Poole Harbour enterprise before attempting to plough on wth the eagle introduction. Rumour has it that they have already lost six young ospreys to disease before they even reached the release stage!

  23. In the link to the IoW press an NFU spokesman says WTE are known to carry of 2 to 3kg newly born lambs. Are lamb’s really that small at birth?

    1. Richard – good point, the NFU rep doesn’t seem to know much about lanmbs either. 4+kg would be normal for most breeds of lamb (singletons and twins at least).

  24. Talk about missing the point. I’m talking about the impacts of tourism, to which Mull has benefited most with minimal impact to its infrastructure.

  25. Birders are notoriously tight fisted, once they see the cost of the ferry that will put 90% off from going

  26. Whatever the percentage of people oppose this or anything else, however small the minority, it is not helpful to abuse, denigrate or dismiss people. That is a general point about civility.

    However, if you do abuse people, all it takes one in a thousand or only one in ten thousand might just express their anger by shooting or poisonings the birds you have gone to so much trouble to introduce.

    A Sea Eagle over flying the Needles would be one of the greatest sites in Western Europe.

  27. Just came up on tablet when looking about WTE on Isle Of Wight
    Suggest your blog is wrong as photos clearly show Lamb being taken and good evidence it does happen from other places now that people associated with Eagles admitting in effect they have been lying.
    My only beef as I love the Eagles is why aren’t the IOW farmers getting the same compensation as Mull farmers.Of course it is a mockery to say they do not take lambs, otherwise why compensate Mull farmers.
    Dennis Ames

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