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white tailed sea eagle Dorset
White-tailed Eagle on the ground at Brownsea Lagoon.
Photo:© Stuart Pentland

A group of children from Longfleet Church of England School in Poole were recently treated to a life changing wildlife spectacle whilst out on a school trip, when their group saw a White-tailed Eagle flying over Brownsea Island, a species that hasn’t been permanent in Southern Britain for nearly three centuries.

The children were taking part in the School Bird Boat Project which is carried out annually by local charity Birds of Poole Harbour and which are funded by Poole-based company LUSH, when the ginormous eagle flew out over the Brownsea Lagoon past the school group.

The eagle, known as G461, is a two-year old male and was released onto the Isle of Wight in 2020 as part of a pioneering reintroduction program hosted by the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Forestry England in a bid to try and restore a population of these huge birds of prey.

White-tailed Eagles, which have adopted the nickname ‘flying barn doors’ because of their broad eight-foot wingspan, haven’t been present as a breeding species in England for almost three hundred years despite previously being wide-spread. The cause of their demise was down to human persecution and they sadly never recovered.

However, it’s hoped that with new the reintroduction program underway which began in 2019, there’s now every chance these majestic birds will soon become a regular sight over Dorset skies over the coming years as the project progresses and the eagles start to breed. Evidence from the project has highlighted the released eagles are feeding on things like wild rabbits, mullet, squid, waterfowl such as wild ducks and geese and quite a lot of carrion too.

Sea Eagles don’t reach sexual maturity until four or five years old so it’s unknown whether G461 is currently favouring Poole Harbour because of the abundance of food, or whether he’s potentially seeking out a future breeding territory. Regardless, his presence has certainly got people excited about the future with more sightings of his presence logged over the weekend around the Arne area.

white-tailed sea eagle Dorset
White-tailed Eagle flying over Middlebere in Poole Harbour.
Photo: © Kate Plater

Paul Morton from the Birds of Poole Harbour charity explained: ‘There’s no words to express how significant that experience was for the children. They may not know it now, but they’ve witnessed history being made and the beginnings of something really special. Only a few years ago, the thought of seeing a White-tailed Eagle over Poole Harbour was just a pipe dream, let alone the chance of experiencing it with a whole boat full of school children.

‘But here we are in 2021 and that pipe dream has now become a reality with everyone from school children, locals and visitors to the area soon able to witness and experience this remarkable recovery.’

Longfleet School site manager Robin Heawood added: ‘The children and us as staff were so lucky to see the UK’s largest bird of prey on our trip. This is something I’m sure they’ll never forget. Sea eagles have not been seen locally for hundreds of years. We were extremely fortunate to have witnessed it.’

Whilst year 6 pupil Nikolai Poate stated: ‘I think it’s amazing that there’s a sea eagle in Poole Harbour and that we saw it. I never knew there was such a big eagle in the UK.’

Tim Mackrill from the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation concluded: ‘We’re really excited to hear that the school group had such a wonderful experience. The primary aim of the project is to re-establish a breeding population of White-tailed Eagles in southern England, but we also think that these amazing birds have the potential to inspire people about nature in a way that few others can.

‘If the sight of the eagle encourages some of the children on the boat to take more of an interest in conservation, then that is fantastic.’

For more information visit: www.birdsofpooleharbour.co.uk

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