European Eagle Owls in the wild...


Rheia, a European Eagle Owl at the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary

Recently, we received an email from an erstwhile colleague, David Nadauld, who alerted us to the possible plight of the European Eagle Owl in Britain. 

It would appear that FERA (the Food & Environment Agency) recently released details of a risk assessment supporting the opinion that European Eagle Owls populating Britain are captive bred birds which have escaped or been released are a danger to other wildlife.  The ideal solution, it seems, would be the culling of this impressive raptor. 

The various arguments put forward to maintain this view are mostly based around the fact that European Eagle Owls are believed to prey on a variety of birds and mammals and are very intolerant of other raptors that might nest within their territory.  Studies have yet to confirm whether the European Eagle Owl is, or is not, a native species to Britain - a factor that could prove or disprove the claim that these raptors have a ‘right’ to be here. 

However David is strongly of the opinion that there are fossil records proving the existence of European Eagle Owls in Britain from way back.  This is a view supported by the North West Raptor Group, who have been reported as saying: ‘On the basis of probability,
the likelihood that Eagle Owls existed within the UK and were breeding, is a more probable scenario given the numerous recorded observations of this species in remote regions of our country beginning in the 17th Century.’ 

It has also been suggested that, on occasion, an Eagle Owl has been known to attack humans, but the North West Raptor Group maintains that this is ‘misleading’ & ‘inappropriate’, qualifying this observation by saying that: ‘Instances of human attack by Eagle Owls are rare and in the majority of cases involved individuals approaching occupied nests containing unfledged chicks.’  It goes without saying that the likely response of many wild animals faced with this situation would put up a similar defence.

There is some concern within the North West Raptor Group that the FERA risk assessment (ref. 3.3.) was only stumbled on by mistake by organisations that should certainly be in the know about any proposal of this kind.  NWRG believes that before any conclusions can be reached there must be a comprehensive, scientific study of the influence of the European Eagle Owl upon the habitats, wildlife and ecosystems thought to be at risk. 

In its defense, FERA has issued a statement to the effect that it has ‘…no plans to cull Eagle Owls in the UK’ and insists that it has no authority to make such a decision.  Apparently the risk assessment itself has actually come from the Non-Native Species Secretariat and as such FERA says that any comments on or questions about the subject should be addressed to the latter organisation.  If you would like to contact the NNS Secretariat and make YOUR views known, follow the link
nnss@fera.gsi.gov.uk

Meanwhile, click
here to find out more about European Eagle Owls, and here to find out more about Rheia.