Golden eagle numbers rise by 15 per cent since 2003, according to RSPB

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 10 November 2016 in News

Rise brings the population back towards numbers thought to be present in Scotland historically

Eagle - credit: SNH

Golden eagle numbers have risen by 15 per cent since 2003, bringing the population back towards numbers thought to be present in Scotland historically, according to a survey from RSPB Scotland.

The fourth national golden eagle survey shows the population has increased to 508 golden eagle pairs – up from the 442 pairs recorded in the last survey.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham welcomed the figures, but labelled recent disappearances of satellite-tagged birds on or near grouse moors as “disturbing and disappointing”.


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Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland, put the rise down to increased monitoring and satellite tagging of eagles, as well as stronger sanctions against wildlife crime.

Orr-Ewing added: “However, the continued absence of golden eagles in some areas of eastern Scotland remains a real cause for concern and suggests that much more work needs to be done.”

Roseanna Cunningham described the population increase, which means the golden eagle meets the requirements for ‘favourable conservation status’ in the UK, as “extremely heartening”.

She said: “The successes have been down to partnership work and this is continuing with the South of Scotland Golden Eagle project, which aims to boost populations even further.

“But it is clear from this national survey that there are still areas of Scotland, which are ideal habitats for golden eagles to breed and hunt, where there has not been a recovery in population despite a lot of hard work to protect these birds. This seems like a missed opportunity.”

Referring to recent eagle disappearances, Cunningham said: “That’s why I’ve ordered a review of the information being gathered by these tags, to get to the truth about how, where and why raptors are vanishing. This evidence will be a significant factor in deciding the next steps for tackling wildlife crime.”

The survey was based in surveyors from the voluntary Scottish Raptor Study Group conducting a minimum of three visits to over 700 known traditional golden eagle sites, with support also provided by landowners and farmers.

Tim Baynes, director of the Scottish Moorland Group, part of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “Our members are passionate about the golden eagles on their land and it is in large part a tribute to their management and collaboration that the population has increased. They have helped the surveyors and worked with Scottish Natural Heritage in the interest of golden eagles for many years.

“The east Highlands still have the highest level of productivity (young per pair) and a stable number of occupied territories over more than three decades. The south central Highlands, which includes significant areas of driven grouse moor has shown by far the greatest increase in range occupancy – 70 per cent - since 2003.”

The national survey was carried out during the first six months of 2015 and was co-funded by the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage.

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