Plans to boost the Borders’ population of golden eagles are set to take flight after landing a £1.3m National Lottery grant.
The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project has been given a payout by the Heritage Lottery Fund to enable it to press ahead with its plans to increase the numbers of the birds of prey nesting here and in Dumfries and Galloway.
The project – run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates, the Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, Buccleuch Estates and the Langholm Initiative – has already been over 10 years in the making.
There are only a handful of pairs of golden eagles in the south of Scotland at present, but research suggests that there are suitable habitats here for as many as 16 breeding pairs.
Work will start on increasing numbers of young eagles in the region in the autumn, subject to a licence application lodged with Scottish Natural Heritage being approved.
In the summer of 2018 and over the next four years it is planned to bring between five and 10 young eagles south from the Highlands and release them into the wild following the same procedure as previous white-tailed eagle and red kite reintroduction projects.
The project team will collect single eagle chicks from broods of two young in the Highlands and raise and release them in a secret location in the Borders.
The initiative is being backed by Scottish Government environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham, and she said: “Many congratulations to all involved in gaining such tremendous support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
“This will ensure golden eagles have a secure footing in the south of Scotland and will bring huge benefits to the local economy and communities through a variety of tourism and educational opportunities.
“I commend the efforts of this special partnership.”
Project chairman Mark Oddy said: “Golden eagles are arguably Scotland’s most iconic species, and this programme will ensure more of us can see these magnificent birds across the south of Scotland’s skies.
“This venture is not just about birds but is also about people, and in the coming months, we will continue to work closely with people living and working in the south of Scotland so everyone can get behind our endeavour.
“The Langholm Initiative will have a key role in hosting the project and in fostering the long-term economic and social benefits to enhance the influence and legacy of this project.
“I thank the Heritage Lottery Fund for their huge support. It is fantastic news for nature.”
Lucy Casot, head of the fund in Scotland, said: “We have some wonderful native wildlife in Scotland, and collectively we have a responsibility for its survival.
“It is the prospect of glimpsing rare species, such as these glorious golden eagles, that attracts visitors to our shores, bringing much-needed tourist income to our communities.
“Thanks to players of the National Lottery, this project gives us all the opportunity to learn more about an important bird of prey and the role it plays in Scotland’s biodiversity.
“It will hopefully inspire people to help safeguard their existence for future generations.”
Project manager Cat Barlow welcomed the funding boost, saying: “We are thrilled to be given this excellent news.
“Once we have the full funding package in place, we can crack on in employing the team to take the work forward, then the really exciting work begins as we see more golden eagles and the people of south Scotland rallying to promote this wonderful area for wildlife.
“One of our first jobs will be to appoint two local officers who can work in the community to build support in advance of the first eagles’ arrival.
“In the years ahead, many hundreds of people will have the opportunity, through trails, events and CCTV, to learn more about the golden eagle and its role in Scotland’s biodiversity.
“I hope it will inspire and empower them to safeguard its existence for future generations.
“I’d also like to highlight the support of members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group who have agreed to supply their considerable expertise of golden eagle conservation to the project.”
The project now needs to raise £200,000 to gets its reintroduction programme off the ground.
Each released golden eagle will be satellite-tagged to enable the project team to build up as much information as possible on the ranging behaviour, survival and health of the birds.
It will consult expert advisers including specialists from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at Edinburgh University Dick Vet School and staff involved in raptor reintroduction programmes in Ireland and Spain.
For more information, visit www.goldeneaglessouthofscotland.co.uk