Could the skies above the Tweed Valley and wider Borders soon be the domain of one of our most majestic species, the golden eagle? That exhilarating prospect took a step closer following the recent announcement by the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project of a £1.3m Heritage Lottery Fund grant that will enable it to push ahead with plans to reinforce fragile eagle populations in the Borders and Dumfries & Galloway.
Launched in 2015, the project involves a partnership initiated by Scottish Land & Estates, RSPB Scotland and Buccleuch Estates, but which now also includes Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Forestry Commission Scotland. It follows an earlier report by SNH which found that the south of Scotland could potentially support up to 16 eagle pairs – a significant leap from the two to four pairs currently nesting here (and even then with limited success).
Subject to a licence application being approved, work will begin on increasing numbers of young eagles in the autumn. Then, from summer 2018 and over the next four years, the project team will collect single eagle chicks from broods of two young in the Highlands and raise and release them in secret locations in the south of Scotland. It essentially follows the same procedure for past reintroductions of species such as red kite and white-tailed sea eagle elsewhere in the country.
Once a species that ranged across much of upland Britain, but which is now mostly confined to the Scottish Highlands and islands, golden eagles are rarely spotted in the south of Scotland today. Don’t be fooled by the sight of large birds of prey sitting on telegraph poles and fence posts by the sides of the road – they are usually the far more common buzzard.
Golden eagles are a very different proposition. Much, much larger, with a wingspan of around two metres, eagles prefer rugged terrain, and are more often spotted soaring high above the ground on giant, fingered wings.
Returning this potent symbol of Scotland’s wild heritage to part of their former range is seen by those involved not just as an important step in ecosystem restoration, but also as a major boost to wildlife tourism in the area. We couldn’t agree more!
For much more on the project, visit www.goldeneaglessouthofscotland.co.uk
Photograph: Chris Knights/RSPB Images