Soaring success: Golden eagles fly high in southern Scotland

A record number of golden eagles have been released into the wild in southern Scotland ahead of the first ever festival dedicated to the country’s national bird.

Eight golden eagle chicks have been successfully transported from the Highlands and set free in a secret location in the southern uplands as part of the ground-breaking South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project.

The new arrivals bring the total number brought into the area as part of the scheme to 12 – almost doubling the existing local population.

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The young eagles have been named Iona, Sinclair, Ellenabeich ‘Ellena’, Heather, Shine, Speckled Jim, after a pigeon in the cult show Blackadder; and Emma, in tribute to women’s rights champion Emma Ritch.

South of Scotland Golden Eagles Project has successfully translocated a further eight chicks from nests in the Highland to the Southern Uplands - bringing the total number of new arrivals to 12. Photograph: Phil Wilkinson

Cat Barlow, project manager for the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project, said: “Covid-19 affected so many of our plans last year, so it is absolutely amazing now to see these eight youngsters settling into the south and soaring majestically above the Moffat hills.

“We are truly thrilled to host our first Eagle Festival to celebrate the new arrivals and thank all our supporters for the vital contributions they make to helping us increase the golden eagle population in the south of Scotland.

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“Our success is very much thanks to the incredible support we’ve had from our partners, raptor experts, vets, funders, community groups, high-profile ambassadors, and estate owners and managers.”

Two of the newly arrived chicks pose ahead of their release as part of the pioneering South of Scotland Golden Eagles Project, which aims to restore a viable population of Scotland's national bird species in the southern region of the country. Photograph: Phil Wilkinson

The chicks were captured at a variety of locations in the Highlands by workers from the Scottish Raptor Study Group, under license from government agency NatureScot.

The birds were then cared for in specially designed aviaries and given extra food to help them adjust to their new habitat before being released.

Experts at the University of Edinburgh’s vet school provided support throughout the process to monitor the health and well-being of the birds.

One of the chicks came from a site belonging to conservation organisation WildLand, which is owned by Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen and part of the Cairngorms Connect partnership.

Thomas MacDonell, director of conservation and forestry at WildLand, said: “We are firmly committed to enhancing habitats, species and ecological processes.

“Indeed, golden eagle numbers are steadily increasing at WildLand Cairngorms under our careful land management.

“We were absolutely delighted that we could donate one of our golden eagle chicks to help the important work of the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project in reinforcing the population in the south of Scotland.”

He added: “We hope she settles quickly into her new home.”

NatureScot chief executive Francesca Osowska said: “The key aim of this exciting project is to increase the number of breeding pairs in the south of Scotland, a vital part of our work to reverse biodiversity loss and combat the climate emergency.

“With wildlife declining across the globe, it is fantastic to hear that the project has translocated so many eagle chicks this year.

“Golden eagles are an exciting part of Scotland’s wildlife and we’re passionate about returning them to places where they used to thrive.”

The latest translocations have come as the charity project prepares to celebrate the species at the UK’s first Golden Eagle Festival, being held in Moffat from September 19 to 26.

The family-friendly festival is also promoting a bid for Moffat to be named Scotland’s first eagle town.

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