A NEW study has revealed the tourism benefits a majestic bird of prey brings to a Scottish island.

It shows that between £4.9 million and £8m of tourist spend is attracted to Mull each year by white-tailed eagles. This money supports between 98 and 160 full-time jobs on the island, and between £2.1-£3.5m of local income annually.

RSPB Scotland commissioned Progressive Partnership to undertake the study, The Economic Impact of White-Tailed Eagles on the Isle of Mull. It 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 1248 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 in 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%) were not asked these questions.

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

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

The importance of nature overall 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 re-introduction programme began on Rum in 1975, and in 1985 the first wild chick from the re-introduced population hatched on Mull.

RSPB Scotland director Anne McCall 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.

“What the study can’t measure is human benefits less tangible than economic ones, such as physical and mental wellbeing, public education, and cultural resonance. 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.

“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.”