Golden eagles will have further protection if the plans are approved. Photo: Maurice Koop

Golden eagles will have further protection if the plans are approved. Photo: Maurice Koop

Scotland’s official nature advisory body is seeking the views of walkers and climbers over plans to extend areas of protection for golden eagles.

Scotland Natural Heritage has launched a public consultation on the proposals to add six further Special Protection Areas for the birds, Britain’s second-largest bird of prey. The consultation, announced by the Scottish Government, will run for 12 weeks from tomorrow.

The areas proposed are: the Cairngorms massif, where the existing SPA for Cairngorm and Caenlochan will be substantially expanded; Foinaven; Glen Affric to Strathconon; Moidart and Ardgour; Glen Etive and Glen Fyne; and Jura, along with Scarba and the Garvellach islands.

SNH said: “The consultation is open to all those who have an interest in the areas. This includes owners and occupiers of the land, recreational users such as walkers and climbers, scientific groups such as ornithologists and people living in the local area.

“All comments received during the consultation process will be collated by SNH and reported to Scottish ministers. Ministers will then consider the comments before deciding whether to approve the new sites.”

If the plans go ahead, the six new areas will be added to six earlier ones, where the landscape is protected to help sustain golden eagle populations.

SNH said: “People’s leisure time has increased and some of this is being spent in outdoor recreational activities such as walking, camping, climbing, and mountain biking.

Buachaille Etive Mòr and most of the mountains on the south side of Glencoe will fall into one of the SPAs

Buachaille Etive Mòr and most of the mountains on the south side of Glencoe will fall into one of the SPAs

“This has led to increasing numbers of people venturing into remote and previously relatively undisturbed areas. Through appropriate awareness-raising and sympathetic management inadvertent disturbance to golden eagles can be avoided.

“Eagles are vulnerable because they need large, undisturbed spaces in which to live. Over the centuries, space for golden eagles has decreased throughout Europe.

“Golden eagles are under threat from persecution, egg collecting, afforestation, disturbance, habitat loss and certain types of development.”

However, the advisory body said it was not planning to stop walkers and climbers using the new areas. “There will be no restrictions on public outdoor access, though access rights should be exercised responsibly, as per the Scottish Outdoor Access Code,” it said. “Existing legislation already gives legal protection against intentional and reckless disturbance of nesting golden eagles and against the birds being killed.

“In the longer term wildlife tour operators and the tourism industry in general may look to capitalise on the SPAs because they protect birds that visitors come to see. Opportunities to view golden eagles in a responsible way can help build people’s awareness and appreciation of their value and importance. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code provides advice on caring for our natural heritage and guidance for those organising a group, an event or running a business.”

The Scottish Government will have the ultimate say on whether the new areas are approved. SNH said: “The Scottish Government welcomes comments of both a scientific and socio-economic nature but the decision on whether or not to designate the sites will be based only on science. However socio-economic comments will be used to identify issues which may need to be tackled in the future.”

Golden eagles once ranged over most of Britain but since the 18th century they have been restricted to the more remote and upland areas of Scotland and are still vulnerable. One golden eagle also nests in the English Lake District.

SPAs are designated under the European Union’s Wild Birds Directive. There are 148 at present in Scotland.

Submissions to the consultation can be made online to SNH.

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