The eagles have landed!

After months of anticipation and apprehension, four young white-tailed sea eagles were released on the Isle of Wight — and two more will be later this week.

Their release is the first stage of a five-year project by the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, in conjunction with Forestry England, aimed at reintroducing this beautiful raptor to southern England for the first time in 240 years.

Three pairs of eagles have been acclimatising at a secret Isle of Wight location for four weeks prior to taking to the skies.

The Island was chosen as the location to reintroduce the white-tailed eagles as it offers an ideal habitat for these coastal loving birds. Areas where the cliff edges have slipped will provide quiet areas for the young eagles, and its network of cliffs and woodlands provide many potential nesting sites. The Solent and surrounding estuaries will provide a rich food supply for the eagles, with fish such as grey mullet and water birds forming a key part of their diet.

The IW was also chosen for the project given its central position on the south coast allowing the birds to disperse east and west along this coastline.

The first birds were given thorough medical checks by vet John Chitty, who has worked on similar projects such as the reintroduction of the bustard to Wiltshire.

Then, on Wednesday morning, at 5am, the pens were opened to allow the young birds of prey their freedom.

Over the next couple of days, all were released into the Wight skies.

Roy Dennis, who has been reintegrating species such as the sea eagle to locations in the UK for 60 years, said he was delighted to being them back to the Isle of Wight and hoped some would stay here.

“I have spent much of my life working on the reintroduction of these amazing birds and so watching them take to the skies of the IW has been a truly special moment.

"Establishing a population of white-tailed eagles in the south of England will link and support emerging populations of these birds in the Netherlands, France, and Ireland, with the aim of restoring the species to the southern half of Europe.

"The team is pleased the project fulfils one of the specific aims of the government’s 25-year Environment Plan”

With a licence for 60 birds to be released over the next five years, the expectation is they will spread themselves over the central south.

Tim Mackrill, ornithologist with the foundation, said it was difficult to predict how they would fan out, but with an expected range of 50 kilometres from the release site in the first few years, it was unlikely all would stay here.

"The birds tend to go away then come back nearer to their release site to mate, but that is five years away.

"We have sewn data trackers onto the birds to enable us to track them in their first few years.

"Newly fledged birds are at their most vulnerable and we want to be able to monitor their progress."

The project has not been without objections and a number of consultation meetings earlier in the year sought to allay fears.

Tim said, "I think we dealt with issues such as the birds taking squirrels, lambs etc, which were major worries from farmers and wildlife enthusiasts.

"We listened to their concerns and the answers were that in Ireland and Holland, were birds have been released, there were no incidents of them taking healthy lambs."

Roy Dennis stressed the benefits of the eagles and pointed to the upturn in tourism in the Scottish isle of Mull (estimated to be worth £5 million a year) and in Kerry in Ireland.

Roy said, "When we first took the eagles to Ireland, we had farmers protesting at the airport, trying to block us, but now at least two farmers are looking after the birds out there."

The project has been keen to involve Island people and around 15-20 volunteers have been supporting foundation officer Steve Egerton-Read, a well-known Islander, in caring for the birds.

Two of these, John Willmott, of Gurnard, and Steve Jones, of Ventnor, were on duty this week manning the screens in a tiny caravan at the release site.

John, who has been a birder all his life, said he had grown up with wildlife and remembered his father taking him to fields near his home when he was about eight years old to see his first skylark nests.

"But this has to be a highlight," he said.