White-tailed eagles are set to soar over the Isle of Wight for the first time in hundreds of years after reintroduction plans were given the go-ahead.
The birds, known as “flying barn doors” because of their eight foot wing span, were once widespread across southern Britain until the 18th century, when persecution led to them being wiped out in the region.
Now Government conservation agency Natural England has granted a licence to the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Forestry England for a five-year reintroduction scheme.
Up to 12 birds could be released each year, with as many as 60 reintroduced in total. The first release is set to take place this summer.
The birds will be brought under licence from nests in Scotland and raised for release in woodland on the Isle of Wight.
It was chosen for its central location along the south coast, which provides a good habitat for the coast-favouring birds.
The experts behind the release said breeding is not expected to start until 2024, with the eagles closely monitored using satellite tracking.
The scheme signals the return of white-tailed eagles to a region from which they have been absent for almost 240 years, with the last known breeding place recorded at Culver Cliff on the Isle of Wight in 1780.
By the early 20th century white-tailed eagles, Britain’s biggest bird of prey, were extinct across the UK, but over the past 40 years have been successfully reintroduced to Scotland and Ireland.
It is hoped the new project could boost the local economy after a similar scheme on the Isle of Mull was found to contribute up to £5 million a year from ecotourism.
Reintroductions of white-tailed eagles have faced controversy over concerns they could prey on lambs.
But in announcing Natural England’s decision to give the go-ahead for the reintroduction scheme, director of operations James Diamond explained the issue had been carefully examined.
He said: “There is no evidence of this becoming a problem where the eagles live alongside lowland sheep farming in Europe.
“However, we will ensure that the applicant puts in place clear routes to identify and manage any unexpected issues that might arise.”
Roy Dennis, founder of The Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation said: “White-tailed eagles were once a common sight in England and southern Europe but were lost centuries ago.
“I can remember as a lad walking along Culver Cliffs to see where the eagles had once lived.
“It is incredible now to be able to play a part in returning these birds back to their home.”
Bruce Rothnie, South Forest management director at Forestry England, said: “Our woodlands provide a haven for wildlife and we hope that they will become home to these incredible birds on the Isle of Wight.