The Golden eagle ‘can return to south of Scotland’

The south of Scotland could once again become a stronghold for golden eagles, so says a new report. The study has also raised the possibility of the species returning in large numbers to the north of England.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has said habitat changes could see southern Scotland support 16 breeding pairs. (if they would leave them alone to breed in peace, instead of persecuting them)

Experts believe only one or two pairs currently attempt to breed in Galloway each year and no more than three pairs in the Scottish Borders.

The total Scottish golden eagle population is 440 pairs, with most of the birds to be found in the Highlands and Islands.

Prof Des Thompson of SNH, who led the research, said: “We would now like to see on-the-ground, practical work to improve the habitat for golden eagles in the south of Scotland.

“With habitat improvements, we could see connections with the small reintroduced population in Ireland.

“This would help both groups of eagles and could even help bolster the population in the north of England.”

Researchers studied a number of factors that could affect eagle numbers.

‘Magnificent bird’

These included climatic conditions, illegal persecution, wind farms and woodland cover.

Environment and climate change minister Paul Wheelhouse welcomed the report.

He said: “It is great news that south Scotland could support so many pairs of golden eagles.

“We will work hard to ensure they are given the best possible chance to expand their population and range, given the region contains habitat that we would expect to sustain a greater population of this most magnificent bird.”

However, there has been a warning that illegal persecution continues to threaten the golden eagle population.

RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations, Ian Thomson, said: “The poisoning of the female from a breeding pair of golden eagles in Peebles-shire in 2007 drew everybody’s attention to this.

“We also had a bird shot near Wanlockhead just a couple of years ago.

“The poisoning, trapping and shooting of these birds, and other species, simply must stop.”

‘Underlying reasons’

Organisations that represent Scotland’s landowners and gamekeepers condemn the illegal persecution of birds of prey but dispute the extent of the problem.

Scottish Land & Estates chief executive Douglas McAdam said: “We have been involved with Scottish Natural Heritage and other partners in this study since its inception as we felt it was crucial to understand the real underlying reasons why Golden Eagles were struggling in certain parts of Scotland.

“This thorough and detailed study makes clear that SNH believes that habitat improvements are needed to encourage more breeding golden eagle pairs in the south of the country.

“We fully support this conclusion and we will encourage land managers to work in partnership with SNH and other bodies to make improvements to these habitats wherever possible.

“Other factors, including climate change, lack of availability of prey base for eagles – often because these areas are no longer actively managed by gamekeepers – as well as expansion of forestry and changing land use may also be inhibiting eagle presence in these areas.

“Where persecution may have been a historical factor, it is clear from the official government data – published alongside our partners in PAW Scotland in March – that the number of such incidents has dropped significantly in recent years. However, everyone remains resolute that where persecution exists it must be eradicated.

“Golden Eagles are iconic Scottish birds, adding greatly to Scotland’s natural landscape and welcomed by estates as part of our natural heritage.

“This study will add greatly to our understanding of what limits the presence of these magnificent birds and should therefore help us to understand how best they can be conserved.”

The only known pair of Golden Eagles in  the borders of Scotland

Roxy was a single female eaglet reared in a nest in Galloway.  She was ringed and satellite tagged on 6th July 2010 by David Anderson (Forestry Commission) and Duncan Orr-Ewing (RSPB Scotland), with the help and support of the South Strathclyde and Dumfries & Galloway Raptor Study Groups and the Forestry Commission Scotland.  Roxy was in good condition with no stress bars; there was plenty of prey in the eyrie.

This year it appears  Roxy may have attempted to breed for a second season with a male eagle, possibly even laying a clutch of eggs at an eyrie in the Scottish borders near Tweedsmuir.  Roxy’s behaviour in March and early April suggested she might breed in the same area as last year, but by mid month it looked like something had happened – failed or been disturbed. This was confirmed on 21st/22nd April when she roosted overnight 22 km away and 9 km away on 24th/25 April.

This news is particularly disappointing, had Roxy and her mate been successful rearing a female eaglet from an eyrie so close to the English border, this could possibly have resulted in a female eagle turning up at the Cumbrian territory in Haweswater, the home for over a decade of  a single bachelor male eagle.

Follow Roxy’s movements in the borders of Scotland  here.







2 comments to The Golden eagle ‘can return to south of Scotland’

  • This is fantastic news! Great to hear that Scotland are making these changes, hopefully we’ll see some Golden Eagles before too long.

  • There’s nothing significant in the above article. The habitat is already there for more pairs of Golden Eagles, but what needs to change is for the criminals who continuously poison, trap & shoot them to stop & there’s absolutely no sign that that is going to happen. The RSPB attitude is something that needs to change in respect of the over proliferation of wind farms.