The Norwegian parliament has approved a pilot project that critics say could result in a cull of more than 200 golden eagles.
The aim of the controversial trial is to reduce the population of eagles, which are claimed to kill both lambs and reindeer calves.
While Norwegian golden eagles are protected under the Bern Convention, individual birds can be shot under licence if there is sufficient evidence that they are hunting lambs.
Conservationists fear that the project is designed to make it easier to kill eagles and that it will be rolled out across other parts of the country.
“The total impact of golden eagle predation upon livestock represents less than 2 per cent of the total losses of grazing animals,” said Kjetil Solbakken, director of BirdLife Norway.
“Eagles are not a major problem for Norwegian livestock farmers. Shooting golden eagles is unheard of in Europe and will place Norway in the international corner of shame.”
Solbakken believes the cull is a victory for sheep and reindeer farmers who have lobbied for numbers of golden eagles to be tightly managed in the same way that many top mammalian predators are.
However, Norway’s minister of climate and environment Vidar Helgesen said: “Under no circumstances will culling be allowed to an extent that threatens the Norwegian population of golden eagles. This is in accordance with our obligations under the Bern Convention.”
Duncan Orr-Ewing, for RSPB Scotland, rejected suggestions that the move could lead to calls for the culling of white-tailed eagles in Scotland because of the birds’ alleged impact on lambs.
“RSPB Scotland does not believe there is any justification for a cull of white-tailed eagles,” he said.