Sea eagles are being reintroduced to England. Picture: Nick Edwards

After more than 200 years, sea eagles could be reintroduced to West Norfolk under ground-breaking plans unveiled today (Friday).

Snettisham’s Ken Hill Estate is launching an online consultation on the proposals, which could see up to a dozen juvenile birds released every year over a five-year period.

The first youngsters could be released in a secret location on the private estate later this year.

With public viewing points planned, “eagle tourism” could eventually give the local economy a boost.

Residents are being asked their views as part of a feasibility study into the project before a licensing application is submitted to Natural England.

The often persecuted birds, also known as white-tailed eagles, have a wing span of up to 8ft (2.5m) and eat mainly fish, mammals, other birds and carrion.

Sometimes accused of killing livestock, the birds were driven to extinction in England around 240 years ago. 

The last sea eagle was shot in Scotland in 1916 and reintroduction efforts began there in the 1970s.

Conservationists are now working to restore the population in England, with the first birds released on the Isle of Wight in 2019. 

A juvenile sea eagle from the island has spent more than five months in West Norfolk since the summer, according to satellite data.

It was recorded feeding on gulls, deer carcasses and other carrion and there were no recorded instances of it attacking livestock, the Ken Hill Estate said.

A spokesman said: “The feasibility of a reintroduction in Norfolk is increased by the ongoing work on the Isle of Wight project, where the birds have not troubled livestock or fisheries as once feared by some, but instead remained elusive, often predating fish in The Solent. 

“This corroborates evidence from the continent, where thousands of sea eagles live alongside people, and often around farming systems.”

Wild Ken Hill at Snettisham. Picture: Wild Ken Hill.

The estate and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation are working in partnership on the proposals – the second phase of the national restoration project – with the aim of establishing a breeding population in West Norfolk some time between 2026 and 2029.

So far they have “engaged significantly” with farmers, landowners  and countryside organisations with more than 20 giving their support,  the estate said, and now residents’ views are needed.

Dominic Buscall, estate manager, said: “We are bringing forward these proposals not only to reinstate this native bird to its former range, but also to inspire people with nature and drive wider nature recovery in East Anglia.

“It is vitally important that we give local people and interests a meaningful opportunity to have their say on these proposals – that is why we are launching the public consultation and asking people to learn more about the project and take our survey.”

Due to Covid restrictions, the consultation is being held online with material about the project set to appear on the Ken Hill website today (Friday).

A short survey will be posted on the site and remain open until Sunday, February 14.

The estate is also planning a series of free online webinars using Zoom with the chance to ask questions.

Steve Rowland, area manager at the RSPB for Norfolk and Lincolnshire, said: “The RSPB is strongly supportive of the principle of restoring white-tailed eagles to their former range and so we welcome this proposal by the Ken Hill Estate and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation to investigate the feasibility of a reintroduction to West Norfolk.

“This public consultation is an important next step in the process.”

The estate said eagle viewing points would be set-up in areas with good access to allow local people and tourists to observe the birds. 

“Once they begin breeding, watch points will also be established near any easily viewable nests with good public access,” a Ken Hill spokesman said.

“Other sites in more sensitive areas will be kept strictly confidential in order to protect the birds and to ensure present land use is not disrupted by the additional footfall. 

“This approach has been successful on the Isle of Mull where eagle tourism makes a significant contribution to the local economy.”

It is hoped six to 12 juvenile birds will released in West Norfolk each year, starting this year and over the next four summers.

Conservationist Roy Dennis said: “This is the next logical step to restore this magnificent bird to England and compliments efforts across Europe to help the species.

“The initial results from the Isle of Wight project, and evidence from across lowland Europe, shows that this is a bird that can live successfully alongside people.”

Find out more and complete the survey online at: www.wildkenhill.co.uk