The vandals struck with precision in the woods outside Stangheck, a small German village near the Baltic coast of Schleswig-Holstein. They felled the only oak for miles around, containing the metre-wide nest of a prized pair of white-tailed eagles. The birds had bred there for six years. Shocked locals instantly formed a “committee against bird murder”, offering a €3,000 (£2,200) reward for information. But the hunt has drawn a blank so far.
White-tailed, or sea, eagles are one of the big environmental success stories of German reunification. Numbers have shot up from 185 pairs in 1990 to more than 600 today. The increase is largely due to improved conservation including total bans on shooting the birds and on the use of DDT. The felling of Stangheck’s sea eagle oak has not only provoked an outcry from naturalists: the tourist board is equally furious because the vandalism has deprived the region of a major visitors’ attraction.
Heinz Schwarze, the head of the newly formed committee, suspects that Germany’s booming wind power industry may have been involved. Wind farms are prohibited in areas where protected species nest.