Borders birdspotters’ chances of sighting golden eagles in flight have been boosted by the addition of three chicks to southern Scotland’s current population of four to eight of the birds of prey.
In the first of what will be a series of such relocations to increase the size of the golden eagle population here, conservationists working for the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project transported three chicks from the Highlands to their new home at a secret location in the Moffat Hills, south of Tweedsmuir.
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 marks a major milestone for the project after 11 years’ 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 to get this far.
The £1.5m-plus project is being funded by backers including the National Lottery and the Scottish Government, and the latter’s environment secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, said: “Golden eagles are one of Scotland’s most impressive species, and many people – myself included – will be excited by the increased opportunity to see these magnificent animals in the wild.
“By bolstering golden eagle numbers in the south of Scotland, the project will add to the biodiversity of the area, as well as potentially attracting more visitors, with the accompanying economic benefits that brings.”
Project manager Cat Barlow said: “We are thrilled to welcome our first golden eagle chicks and to see people in the south of Scotland really rallying to promote this wonderful area for wildlife.
“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 continue to inspire and empower them to safeguard its existence for future generations.
“We’re now calling on locals and visitors to help our project staff and members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group in monitoring the birds’ progress, so that we can ensure that we can see even more of these magnificent birds across the south of Scotland’s skies.”
Project chairman Mark Oddy added: “Arguably Scotland’s most iconic bird, in recent decades the south Scotland golden eagle population has been small and fragmented. We want to give it a helping hand to overcome problems in the past which have limited the size and viability of the population.”
“It is amazing to see the first of our first chicks now settling down and soaring majestically above the Moffat Hills.
“We couldn’t have done this without the incredible support we’ve had from supporters, landowners and managers, conservationist partners and the funding we’ve received from the Heritage Lottery Fund and local Leader Programmes.
“It is also reassuring for future biodiversity conservation to see such passion among local children and young people for the project.”
Francesca Osowska, Scottish Natural Heritage’s chief executive, said: “I remember the thrill I felt the first time I saw a golden eagle. The more people who can experience this, the better, and this wonderful project will make that happen.
“Golden eagles are such an amazing part of Scotland’s wildlife, and we’re passionate about returning them to places where they used to be plentiful.
“These striking birds are crucial for all of Scotland’s nature to thrive.”
To report a sighting of a golden eagle, go to www.goldeneaglessouthofscotland.co.uk