White-tailed eagles bring tourism boost to Mull

Jess Barrett

Monday 28 March 2022

White-tailed eagle Haliaeetus albicilla. Photo by Ian McCarthy.

New study reveals significant benefits to the island’s economy

  • Between £4.9 million and £8 million of tourist spend is attracted annually by the birds 
  • Up to 160 jobs are supported by this spend
  • At least £2.1 million of local income is also supported

A new study “The Economic Impact of White-Tailed Eagles on the Isle of Mull” has revealed the scale of the economic benefits that white-tailed eagles bring to the island. Tourism inspired by these majestic birds of prey accounts for between £4.9 million and £8 million of spend every year here. This money supports between 98 and 160 full time jobs on the island, and between £2.1 million and £3.5 million of local income annually.

RSPB Scotland commissioned Progressive Partnership to undertake the study, which was then reviewed by an academic and an economist. During the summer of 2019, 398 face to face survey interviews were conducted at five sites across Mull with parties visiting the island, amounting to 1,248 people in total.

Information was recorded on holidaymakers and day trippers covering the number of people in the group, the amount of time they were staying, and the amount of money they were likely to spend a day. They were also asked about their motivation for their visit allowing for the importance of white-tailed eagles as an attraction to be recorded. Those who were local (12.4 percent) were not asked these questions.

This study is the third to be undertaken on Mull looking into the economic impact white-tailed eagles have here, following the first in 2005 and the second in 2010. It repeated the same surveys and process as the 2005 and 2010 independent studies allowing a comparison over 14 years of the increasing importance of white-tailed eagle tourism to Mull’s local economy.

Mull is home to 22 pairs of eagles, and in 2019 29 percent of tourists cited them as an important factor for their visit to the island, up from 23 percent in the 2010 study. Tourism spend inspired by these eagles has also increased since 2010 when it accounted for between £3 million and £5 million annually, which supported between 64 and 108 full time jobs, and between £1.4 million and £2.4 million of local income each year.

The importance of nature in driving Mull tourism was also highlighted with scenery and landscape, peace and tranquillity, and birds and wildlife also being given as some of the main reasons for visits in 2019.

White-tailed eagles used to be widespread across Scotland, but human persecution led to their extinction in 1918. A reintroduction programme began on the Isle of Rum in 1975 and in 1985 the first wild chick from the reintroduced population hatched on Mull.

Anne McCall, Director, RSPB Scotland said: “Mull once again holds an important breeding population of white-tailed eagles, which are an incredible tourism draw for the island. This study makes clear the link between restoring nature and the local income earning opportunities that arise from it. However, living with these birds can pose challenges for some and it’s important that positive management protects both the birds and the livelihoods they can occasionally affect.

“What the study can’t measure is those human benefits less tangible than economic ones such as physical and mental well-being, public education, and cultural resonance. The Scottish population of these birds also provides important indications of how our environment is faring in the nature and climate emergency. For many people the delight of seeing a white-tailed eagle is reason enough to take care of them but this study makes clear that the birds can pay their way too.”

Biodiversity Minister Lorna Slater said: “Scotland’s special wildlife brings many benefits – it attracts tourists to our shores and provides nature-based jobs that support our economy.  

“That is why it is crucial that we must continue to support and protect Scotland’s bird of prey populations, such as the white-tailed eagle. Carefully managed re-introductions such as this one on Mull, are not only positive for the natural world but also positive for our communities.

“Scotland was one of the first countries to recognise the twin crises of nature loss and climate change, and this report shows the many rewards that working together to protect our natural assets can offer.”

Partnerships have been key to the success of the white-tailed eagle reintroduction in Mull including those between nature conservation organisations, funders, land managers and the local community. The award-winning Mull Eagle Watch began in 2000 to provide places where people could have great views of the birds without disturbing them, and is a partnership between RSPB Scotland, the Mull & Iona Community Trust, Forestry and Land Scotland, NatureScot and Police Scotland. Thanks to social media and television programmes the white-tailed eagles have become well known, and along with the presence of golden eagles here have led to Mull being dubbed “Eagle Island”.

The study can be read here.

A video about the study can be watched here.

Tagged with: Country: Scotland Country: Scotland Topic: Argyll & Bute Topic: Birds Topic: Conservation Topic: White-tailed eagle Topic: Scotland Topic: Scotland