BRITAIN’S largest bird of prey will return to the south coast after an absence of almost 240 years.

Plans to return the white-tailed eagles to the south of England have taken a step forward after a licence was issued by the government’s wildlife licensing authority, Natural England.

The licence was granted to the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Forestry England which will undertake a five-year reintroduction programme.

The last known breeding place of the sea eagles in the region was Culver Cliff, on the Isle of Wight, in 1780.

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Roy Dennis, founder of the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, said: “White-tailed eagles were once a common sight in England and southern Europe, but were lost centuries ago.

“This project aims to reverse that situation by restoring the eagles to their ancestral nesting places.

“We look forward to working with a range of organisations in the Solent area to help make this exciting project a success.”

The reintroduction programme will be based on the Isle of Wight, and will see young birds that are bred in the wild in Scotland, reintroduced on the island.

Bruce Rothnie, South Forest management director at Forestry England, said: “Our woodlands provide a haven for wildlife and we hope that they will become home to these incredible birds on the Isle of Wight.”

Debbie Tann, chief executive of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, said: “This could be a great leap towards a much wider future for the island.

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“The sight of this iconic eagle around the southern English coast cannot fail to inspire people and encourage the kind of love for wildlife which will be vital if we are going to tip the balance in favour of nature’s recovery.

“We have been impressed with the work undertaken by the project team to date.”

Earlier this year, it was reported that a white-tailed eagle was spotted over the New Forest.