PLANS to increase the number of golden eagles in the south of Scotland have received initial support of more than £1 million from a funding body.
There are currently only two to four pairs in Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders, with limited nesting success.
A new scheme aims to increase the iconic bird’s numbers in those regions to up to 16 pairs.
Conservation body Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) said the plan, known as the South of Scotland Golden Eagle project, has been awarded a first-round pass of £1.15 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), including a development grant of almost £51,000.
The pass means the project meets HLF criteria for funding and those behind the scheme now have up to two years to submit fully-developed proposals to secure the money.
Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “The golden eagle is a truly magnificent bird and is one of Scotland’s most iconic species.
“This project aims to boost the population of eagles in the south of Scotland and I heartily welcome the Heritage Lottery Fund support to help achieve this.
“We know that the area could potentially support more than a dozen pairs of eagles, which offers tremendous opportunities for wildlife tourism and biodiversity.”
The project includes plans for the public to be able to view CCTV images of the young eagle chicks as they grow.
Various environmental bodies are involved in the partnership running the scheme, including RSPB Scotland, SNH and Forestry Commission Scotland.
Group chairman Mark Oddy said: “A revived population of golden eagles offers wonderful opportunities for tourism and wider benefits for people and nature in the south of Scotland.”
Lucy Casot, head of the HLF in Scotland, said: “HLF is delighted to give its initial support to a project which will help the return of this marvellous bird of prey to the skies of the south of Scotland.”