Golden Eagle – Has the population got the potential to soar in Southern Scotland?
The Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) was once a species which thrived in Scotland. The open highlands and an abundance of prey meant that this species had a high number of breeding pairs. Over the last century however, “raptor persecution” and a change in land management have seen the number of breeding pairs decline rapidly, especially in Southern Scotland. The current population in Scotland is 440 pairs, many in the Highlands and Islands, yet it is thought that only one or two pairs currently attempt to breed in Galloway each year and no more than three pairs in the Scottish Borders. With the correct habitat management and a change in human behaviour, population models have predicted this could increase four fold.
— Wildlife Sightings (@wildlife_uk) January 3, 2014
(Photo by @Jo_Marr_Photo)
The Golden Eagle’s niche habitat is open, treeless areas to lowland woods. Because of the climate in Western Scotland, these conditions are present and a number of pairs are breeding successfully. However, Southern Scotland’s large human population density in comparison to the highlands, means that the Golden Eagle is at threat from local extinction. This bird of prey is highly sensitive to human disturbance and will generally nest in inaccessible areas.
Raptor persecution in Southern Scotland must stop to allow pairs to successfully breed. RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations, Ian Thomson, said: “The poisoning of the female from a breeding pair of golden eagles in Peebles-shire in 2007 drew everybody’s attention to this.”
This welcoming quote from the RSBP’s Ian Thomson and a statement from the Forestry Commission (below) shows that times are changing and this iconic Scottish bird shan’t be reduced to a mere memory of the past. Practical, on the ground conservation is what is needed next to ensure the safety of the Golden Eagle.
“In the past, when too many trees were planted in a golden eagle’s territory, an adult pair’s breeding success was much reduced. Today, when we clear woods of trees, or plant new areas with trees, we are sensitive to the needs of golden eagles for open areas to hunt for prey. We also manage our forestry operations to include exclusion zones around golden eagle nests. We are working closely with a range of partners, including Scottish Natural Heritage and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, to ensure the survival of the golden eagle.”
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