The project aims to increase the number of golden eagles. Photo: Tony Hisgett CC-BY-2.0

The project aims to increase the number of golden eagles. Photo: Tony Hisgett [CC-2.0]

Up to a dozen golden eagles could grace the skies of southern Scotland, a minister said.

The Scottish Government’s environment minister Aileen McLeod warned raptor persecution would not be tolerated, when she launched a new project on the moors above the Borders town of Langholm.

The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project aims to increase the number of the birds in the hills of the area. There are currently believed to be between two and four pairs of eagles in southern Scotland.

Scottish Land & Estates, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland and Buccleuch Estates are collaborating in the scheme, following a report compiled by the Government’s advisory body Scottish Natural Heritage last year.

Dr McLeod said: “Golden eagles are truly magnificent birds and it is very exciting that the South of Scotland could potentially support more than a dozen pairs.

“This new project at Langholm Moor is a great opportunity to re-establish this species in this area along with all the environmental and economic benefits that brings.

“It is particularly encouraging to see so many partners working hard to return golden eagles to the skies above the South of Scotland, in a way that enables grouse shooting to co-exist alongside birds of prey.

Aileen McLeod: 'raptor persecution will not be tolerated'

Aileen McLeod: 'raptor persecution will not be tolerated'

“I am absolutely determined that the persecution of raptors will not be tolerated under any circumstances. The Scottish Government has already taken action to put an end to the illegal killing of wild birds and I will continue to take whatever steps are necessary, which could include further tightening the law.”

Duncan Orr-Ewing of RSPB Scotland said: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with SNH, Scottish Land & Estates and Buccleuch Estates to help reinforce the population of one of Scotland’s most iconic species, the golden eagle, in the south of Scotland.

“The initial scoping work by the partnership is showing healthy prospects for a thriving golden eagle population in the future in this area. We hope to secure official approval in due course to make this project a reality, following engagement with local community and other interests to secure their support.”

Roy Dennis, a world expert on raptor reintroductions and a member of the National Species Reintroduction Forum for Scotland, said: “Golden eagle recovery in southern Scotland is an essential part of large ecosystem restoration and I congratulate the minister on this exciting and important initiative, and I wish the project all success.”

Dr Cat Barlow has been appointed as manager and a project team has been formed. The team will focus on further assessing the viability of the golden eagle population, and identifying areas, sites and management measures which could benefit the birds. Guided by the national species reintroduction code, the team will undertake a formal assessment of habitat and other management measures to reinforce the population.

Douglas McAdam, chief executive of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “This project began as a collaboration between Scottish Land & Estates and RSPB Scotland when we agreed to work together to try and understand what was limiting the golden eagle population in the South of Scotland in summer 2008 .

“With the 2014 report, we now have a solid basis on which to move on to a second phase. We are delighted now to be working with our partners towards increasing the number of golden eagles in the South of Scotland.”

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