Innerleithen youngsters go for gold to back eagle project

Handler Douggie McKenna holds Kasia the golden eagle as cubs Moya McLaughlin and Innes Reilly look on.
Handler Douggie McKenna holds Kasia the golden eagle as cubs Moya McLaughlin and Innes Reilly look on.

Youngsters in Innerleithen are keeping an eye on the sky to show their support for a project to boost southern Scotland’s golden eagle population.

The town’s scout group has been signed up by the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project as its first champions as part of an initiative to help safeguard the future of the birds of prey in the region.

The scouts will get the chance to learn all about the iconic birds and will design a badge to display their champion status.

Philip Munro, community outreach officer for the project, said: “It is fantastic to see our golden eagles thriving and fending for themselves only five months after their release.

“Significant community support has been key to this early success and will continue to play a vital role in ensuring that golden eagles truly flourish in the south of Scotland.

“We are absolutely delighted to be working with the Borders’ scouts and their trailblazing Innerleithen group on the UK’s first-ever golden eagle champions initiative.

“The future of conservation depends on initiatives like this that encourage young people to get involved and make a difference.

“Their involvement will truly lead the way for other local scout groups and make a huge contribution to helping to safeguard the future of this iconic species in the south of Scotland and beyond.”

Scout group leader Chris Kennedy said: “We are really excited to be part of this incredible project to help protect Scotland’s golden eagles.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for our scouts to take a hands-on approach, working together with other people across our community as well as some of the country’s leading wildlife and raptor experts on such a hugely important issue.

“The young people involved really will get a chance to impact on our natural heritage for generations to come and are a real example of how scouts can make a difference in the communities they live in.

“And the opportunity isn’t just for our young people – our adult volunteers will also get the chance to be involved in the project.”

Scout ambassador Steve Backshall said: “This is an amazing opportunity for scouts in the Borders to be a part of the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project.

“They will be playing a vital role in the continued protection of many unique and important species, such as Scotland’s golden eagles.”

Francesca Osowska, Scottish Natural Heritage’s chief executive, said: “Congratulations to Innerleithen Scout Group for being the UK’s first-ever golden eagle champions.

“This is a wonderful programme, and I’m sure they’ll love seeing and learning about these magnificent birds in the Borders.

“It’s fantastic to see the golden eagles doing so well in South Scotland, and we’re thrilled to help return them to places where they were once an important part of our wildlife.”

The project got off the ground last summer by releasing three chicks from the Highlands in the Moffat Hills, south of Tweedsmuir, to add to the region’s previous population of four to eight of the birds of prey.

Morer such relocations will follow to further increase the size of the golden eagle population here.

The chicks have been adopted and named Edward, Beaky and Emily by pupils at Moffat Primary School, St Peter’s Primary in Galashiels and Priorsford Primary in Peebles.

Other schools will be given the chance to name future chicks released here.

The chicks’ release marked a major milestone for the £1.5m-plus project after 11 years’ preliminary work by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates, Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, Buccleuch and the Southern Uplands Partnership.

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