‘Awful destruction’: Police investigate deaths of two eagles reintroduced to England

Police are investigating the deaths of two white-tailed eagles in the south of England, in an incident regulator Natural England has described as “deeply concerning”.

Image of dead eagle being held up by man in protective clothing and face mask. Police are investigating the deaths of two white-tailed eagles in the south of England. Image: Dorset Police

Yesterday Dorset Police put out an appeal for information relating to the deaths of the two birds of prey, which were part of a species reintroduction programme run from the Isle of Wight.  

The police force said that the birds were “recovered dead on multi-agency operations in the south of England”, including one in Dorset in late January. Postmortem and toxicological examinations are being conducted to determine the causes of death.

“These birds are extremely rare,” said Dorset Police, asking the public to be vigilant and to report any information they may have relating to the death of the birds. There are three other eagles present in the Dorset area, they said.  

White-tailed eagles are protected by law, but campaigners and conservationists have warned that they, along with other raptors, can fall victim to illegal killing because they are deemed by some to pose a threat to industries such as gamebird shooting. 

Commenting on Twitter, regulator Natural England said: “The news of two spectacular white-tailed eagles being found dead is deeply concerning. We urge anyone with more information to contact Dorset Police.”

In a blog authored by veteran wildlife campaigner Ruth Tingay, a source is cited saying that the birds were found on game-shooting estates, however the police would not confirm the location of where the birds were found to ENDS. 

Reports of the dead eagles have sparked outrage in political circles as well as the conservation sector. 

Baroness Bennett, a Green Party peer, said: “What tragic, awful destruction of a magnificent life. I am really sorry the House of Lords [is] going into recess, because this surely demands urgent answers from the government about its failure to tackle raptor persecution.” 

Since 2019, about 25 eagles have been released on the island, following in the footsteps of a successful reintroduction programme in Scotland.

The huge birds, which can have a wingspan reaching up to 2.5m, were once widespread across the south of England, stretching from Cornwall to Kent until the eighteenth century. Persecution led to them being wiped out, with the last known breeding location in the region recorded at Culver Cliff on the Isle of Wight in 1780.