Police launch probe after two young sea eagles found dead

Police are investigating the deaths of two rare white-tailed eagles amid fears they may have been killed.

Conservationists have claimed that the rare birds, which had only been reintroduced into the UK in 2019, were recovered from game shooting estates in Sussex and Dorset in late January using GPS tracking devices.

Both eagles are undergoing post-mortem and toxicological examinations to determine the cause of death, Dorset Police said, as they urged anyone with information about what happened to them to come forward.

Some 25 of the birds of prey, nicknamed 'flying barn doors' because of their 8ft (2.4m) wingspan, had been released in the region to bring back a long-lost species to the skies of southern England. 

'Sadly, two of the Sea Eagle England Isle of Wight reintroduced white-tailed eagles have recently been recovered dead on multi-agency operations in the south of England, including one in Dorset in late January,' the force said in a statement.

'These birds are extremely rare and we ask the public to be vigilant and to report any information they may have relating to the death of these birds to Dorset Police', or to Crimestoppers, the force added. 

White-tailed eagles went extinct in the UK in the early 20th century due to illegal killing.

Reintroduction efforts have seen them return to Scotland and a five-year programme by Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation to bring the species back to England began in 2019.

The Isle of Wight was chosen as a location to reintroduce the birds, also known as sea eagles, as experts say it provides good habitat for the coast-loving creatures. 

The flock that was most recently released into the wild have all been fitted with GPS tracking devices to enable their flight paths to be regularly monitored. 

Doctor Ruth Tingay, who co-directs the charity Wild Justice alongside Springwatch host Chris Packham, said there was 'huge concern' for the safety of the remaining three eagles thought to be in Dorset.

Since 2019, the young birds have roamed widely in England, from Cornwall to the Norfolk coast, and as far as southern Scotland and even across the Channel to Europe.

They are protected by law, but conservationists warn that birds of prey can be the target of illegal persecution because of perceived threats to human activities such as the gamebird industry.

Reintroductions of white-tailed eagles have faced controversy amid concerns that they could prey on lambs, but experts have said there is no evidence of this being a problem where they live alongside lowland sheep farming in Europe.