The Eagle's Last Stronghold

An exhibition opens at the Shetland Museum and Archives next week highlighting the story of the white-tailed ‘sea’ eagle in Shetland. Shetland was home to some of the last white-tailed sea eagles in Britain before they were hunted to extinction. The exhibition will open on 22nd June and will be a key part of the upcoming Shetland Nature Festival.

Albino Sea Eagle (Shetland), George Lodge, 1915

The White-tailed eagle is Britain’s largest bird of prey, they and can live for over 20 years and pair for life. White-tailed eagles prey on carrion, rabbits, fish and birds but have also been known to take lambs and hens. Dr. Ian Tait, Curator at Shetland Museum and Archives said, “It was for this reason that humans became the eagle’s deadly enemy. People climbed cliffs to raid the eggs, and guns and poison were used in an attempt to control this majestic raptor. Laws to protect the birds began in the late nineteenth century and Reverend Ernest Sorby was fined the equivalent of £1,500 today’s money for killing a bird in 1904 in Yell.”

Known as an ‘Ern’ in Shetland, the eagle is shrouded in folklore, myth and legend. ‘Ern’ is apparent in a number of local place-names such as ‘Ern Stack’ (Eagle Rock) and ‘Earnahoull’ (Eagle hill), places where eagles are known to have frequented. Legend tells of an eagle stealing the infant Mary Anderson in Unst and flying to Fetlar with her in 1693. Local lad Robert Nicolson is said to have climbed the cliffs and recovered the child whom he later married.

Dr. Tait continued, “The last White-tailed eagle in Britain was shot in Northmavine in 1918 and a painting of that eagle is a highlight of our exhibition. It is the first time this painting has been on display in Shetland and was painted by artist and conservationist George Lodge in 1914.”

In 1968 attempts were made by the Fair Isle bird observatory to re-introduce the eagle. Although the experiment did not work in Shetland, it paved the way for successful reintroductions in the Hebrides and they have now spread north as far as Orkney. The exhibition runs from 22nd June to 22nd September and is sponsored by the Shetland Bird Club. As part of Shetland Nature Festival Dr. Tait will be delivering a talk about the exhibition entitled ‘Shetland’s guilt in a national extinction’. The talk will take place on Monday 8th July at 7:30pm at the Museum and Archives and can be booked here. For more information see www.shetlandamenity.org/shetland-nature-festival.

Related Posts

The Eagle's Last Stronghold

Visit the Fair Isle Chairs exhibition from the comfort of your own armchair

The Shetland Museum and Archives are delighted to extend their learning programme online with the launch of a new video exploring the ...

Read more
The Eagle's Last Stronghold

The Man Behind the Lowrie Stories

Sometime in the 1920s a middle-aged businessman in Lerwick began to write stories. He didn’t write about his native town. The hero ...

Read more
The Eagle's Last Stronghold

His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

We are saddened to hear of the passing of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Read more
The Eagle's Last Stronghold

Why burn peats?

As part of the Between Islands project, Shetland’s new online exhibition, ‘Fair Game’ examines three customs that are now ...

Read more
The Eagle's Last Stronghold

Shetland Amenity Trust reopens Shetland Museum and Archives

The Shetland Amenity Trust will reopen its doors to the public at the Shetland Museum and Archives this week following careful ...

Read more
The Eagle's Last Stronghold

Get Your Skates On!

The weather has changed, the temperature risen, wind and rain are back, the frosty winter fun gone. In 1909 though, one organisation ...

Read more
The Eagle's Last Stronghold

Why hunt whales?

Pilot whales were important to islanders’ survival, providing many useful products. Subsistence whaling was unpredictable, because ...

Read more
The Eagle's Last Stronghold

St Sunniva's Tableware

The pandemic meant no cruise liners came to Lerwick, but not many Shetlanders realise that an important one lies on the seabed at ...

Read more
The Eagle's Last Stronghold

Winter Sports

We’ve had a fine spell of weather of late, snowy, frosty, crispy. Out for a walk one day I was told someone had been spotted skiing, ...

Read more
The Eagle's Last Stronghold

Why hunt fowl?

As part of the Between Islands project, Shetland’s new online exhibition, ‘Fair Game’ examines three customs that are now ...

Read more
The Eagle's Last Stronghold

Missing Crowds

Today is the last Tuesday in January and would traditionally be Up Helly Aa day 2021. This is a much anticipated date for many ...

Read more
The Eagle's Last Stronghold

Up Helly Aa has a most interesting history

With the cancellation of Up Helly Aa there will be no torchlit procession, galley burning or all night partying this year. These ...

Read more
The Eagle's Last Stronghold

'Fair Game’ a major new online exhibition launched as part of the Between Islands project

The project highlights the historical cultural links between the islands of Shetland, Orkney, and the Outer Hebrides, while exploring ...

Read more
The Eagle's Last Stronghold

Museum and Archives to remain closed

Shetland Museum and Archives will remain closed to the public after the festive period due to the latest advice from NHS Shetland on ...

Read more
The Eagle's Last Stronghold

New Baltic ware collection on display for the first time at Shetland Museum

A collection of colourful Skovi Kapps which highlight Shetland’s trading and maritime links with Russia during the 19th century is ...

Read more