A pioneering project to boost golden eagle populations in the south of Scotland has seen numbers rise to record levels, conservationists have said.
The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project used a novel research method in which juvenile free-flying eagles from Scotland’s Outer Hebrides were caught and translocated to the southern uplands.
The move means the total number of golden eagles in southern Scotland is now 33 – the highest figure since the early nineteenth century.
The project team is continuing to monitor the birds’ progress to see if they settle and breed in the area. If they do, this could be a breakthrough for the project, and could inform other raptor conservation programmes.
The team has had previous success releasing 12 young eagles collected as chicks from nests in the Highlands and Islands.
They said this process is much more widely used in existing relocation programmes for birds of prey. Those eagles have all settled in the south of Scotland, with frequent sightings of interactions including with other native eagles.
Explaining the significance of the most recent translocation, project manager Dr Cat Barlow said: “This new novel-research licence has provided a significant boost in our efforts to ensure golden eagles truly flourish in southern skies.
“Though it is still early days, this is the first in the UK to trial this approach as part of raptor reinforcement. This could be a groundbreaking technique for the global conservation management of golden eagles and other raptors.
“We will continue to monitor these birds to see if they settle, thrive and breed in the south of Scotland, which will be the real measure of success.”
Scottish environment minister Mairi McAllan said: “There are now more golden eagles in southern Scotland than there has been for hundreds of years, with birds even being seen in northern England.
“Scotland was one of the first countries to recognise the twin crises of nature loss and climate change, and this project shows what we can achieve with determined efforts to restore our lost biodiversity.”
The seven new arrivals have been named by a range of individuals, school children and organisations. Sir E Scott School on Harris in the Outer Hebrides, where the eagles came from, named their eagle Rowan – the project is forging links between the school and Sciennes Primary School in Edinburgh.