Sea eagles from Scotland are to be relocated to the Isle of Wight to found a new population in England, where the species has been extinct for two centuries.
The move is part of a wider plan to increase the distribution of the species across western Europe and improve its chances of long-term survival.
Scotland is currently home to around 130 pairs of sea eagles, also known as white-tailed eagles, following a successful reintroduction project that began in the 1970s using birds from Norway.
Over the past four decades they have bred and spread, and are now found across the west Highland coast and islands such as Skye and Mull.
Estimates suggest the population could rise to at least 500 pairs by 2040.
Research has shown that the Scottish birds are the closest match genetically to the extinct English population.
Conservationists have been granted a licence to collect up to 60 young sea eagles over the next five years as donor stock for the project.
The youngsters will only be taken from nests containing two or more chicks.
It is hoped that a newly established breeding population in England will eventually link with emerging Dutch and French populations, as well as Scottish and Irish birds.
This would extend the range of the species in Europe and improve its survival prospects.
The project will see collaboration between nature agency Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Forestry Commission England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation.
“Sea eagles used to be widespread across the UK, before they finally became extinct due to human persecution in the early 1900s,” said Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management for nature charity RSPB Scotland.
“The sea eagle is now recovering its former range in Scotland, with about 130 breeding pairs here now. The Isle of Wight reintroduction project will hopefully start the process of population re-establishment of this species in England, linking up with wider conservation efforts for this magnificent bird across mainland Europe.”
Francesca Osowska, chief executive of SNH, added: “White-tailed eagles’ re-introduction to Scotland is an outstanding conservation success story. They are an awe-inspiring sight for locals and visitors to Scotland alike, and just one way SNH is working to ensure our nature-rich future.
“The work we are supporting on the Isle of Wight is an exciting opportunity to further build a healthy population network of white-tailed eagles across Europe, strengthening their future, and making an important contribution to international biodiversity.”
But the reintroduction of the country’s largest bird of prey, with an average wingspan of 2m, has not been universally welcomed in Scotland.
The massive predators take scores of lambs each year, causing anger among farmers and crofters in hotspots around the west coast.
This has prompted conservationists and farmers to work together in a bid to find a suitable solution.
Trials in conjunction with SNH are now being held to see how the birds can be deterred from killing the lambs.
Methods being tested including distraction food and helium balloons. Scaring devices based on light or noise may also be tried in the future.