SCOTLAND’S most iconic bird of prey may once again be seen soaring across the skies of southern Scotland if a new reintroduction scheme is successful.
Conservationist have unveiled new plans designed to boost the number of rare golden eagles nesting in the region, where there are currently believed to be as few as eight.
Scotland is home to nearly all golden eagles in the UK, mostly in the mountains and remote moorlands of the Highlands.
Current estimates put the Scottish population at around 430 pairs, plus a handful south of the border in Cumbria.
Under the new scheme birds will be taken from nests in the Highlands and Island and set free in on Langholm estate in Dumfries and Galloway.
As many as eight birds could be released annually over the next three to five years if plans get the go-ahead.
The reintroduction is based on a recent report by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), which found the region could support 11 to 13 nesting pairs.
It is a collaboration between Scottish Land & Estates, RSPB Scotland, SNH and Buccleuch Estates, which is host to the pioneering Langholm Moor Demonstration Project - a 10-year investigation into resolving the conflict between rearing grouse for sport and birds of prey.
Chairman of the group Mark Oddy said: “A revived population of golden eagles offers wonderful opportunities for tourism and wider benefits for the south of Scotland.
“And of course it would be thrilling to see more golden eagles in this wonderful part of Scotland.”
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.”
The importance of such conservation projects has been underlined by recent incidences of raptor persecution.
The new project has been unveiled in the same week as the grouse shooting season kicked off and post mortem results revealed that a rare hen harrier found dead on a grouse moor had been illegally shot.
The protected bird had been tagged with a satellite transmitter as part of the Langholm trial.
Launching the project, Scotland’s environment minister Dr Aileen 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.
“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.”
A campaign to have the golden eagle named Scotland’s national bird was presented to the Scottish Parliament last year.