Two artificial nests have been erected on a private estate in southern Scotland to encourage golden eagles to breed in the region. The nests have been placed high in the trees on the Duke of Northumberland’s Burncastle estate, close to where three young satellite-tagged golden eagles have been spotted. The nests are the first to be placed on private land, with more than 17 privately owned estates including shooting estates with grouse moors supporting the South of Scotland Golden Eagle project.
A series of translocations have increased the area’s population from a few pairs to 38, the highest number recorded for three centuries. The nests are designed to encourage the eagles to establish territories and breed in the coming years. The project’s manager, Dr Cat Barlow, said estates including grouse moors have been keen to join the project because the eagles help to manage predators.
“In the absence of golden eagles, predator species such as crows and foxes and even buzzards are probably at slightly abnormal levels. Having golden eagles around on an estate might balance things out a little bit. Estates also want to demonstrate what they are doing for biodiversity and are keen to show that the history of persecution is in the past now. Having a pair of golden eagles is quite a visible way to doing that,” Barlow explained.
Illegal persecution has brought the golden eagle to virtual extinction outside its Highlands stronghold. There were between two and four pairs of golden eagles across Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders before the project began in 2018. Scientists calculate there is habitat suitable for 16 pairs. The South of Scotland Golden Eagle project aims to translocate golden eagles from the Highlands to the south of Scotland to help establish a viable breeding population in the area.
Michael Clarke, the chair of the project, said that the eagles help to maintain healthy ecosystems. “They support the survival and prosperity of all healthy prey species, and are brilliant for ecotourism, too.” The Duke of Northumberland expressed his delight that golden eagles had re-established themselves in southern Scotland, saying, “It has been exciting to see these magnificent birds occupy a range close to Burncastle. The estate was very keen to play a part in helping the birds, and the opportunity to build the eyries on Burncastle will hopefully raise the prospects of new chicks being born in the future.”
The South of Scotland Golden Eagle project has successfully moved 18 juvenile golden eagles from the Highlands to the south of Scotland alongside seven young adult birds between six months and three years old. One tagged bird was found dead in February of currently unknown causes, but Barlow said the survival rates of the translocated birds had been “absolutely astounding”. Some of the translocated birds have visited the Pennines and Northumberland, and it is hoped that a successful population could spill over into northern England and the Lake District. England’s last resident golden eagle disappeared in 2015.
The new eyries are close to where two 18-month-old females and one male have been spotted in Burncastle and the western Lammermuirs. Older birds first released by the project in 2018 could also establish territories in the area and use the nests. Golden eagles typically begin to breed at three or four years old.
The role of private estates, many of which have grouse shooting interests, in supporting the South of Scotland Golden Eagle project has been pivotal in many ways, including the provision of 90% of the eagle chicks translocated from north to south, according to Ross Ewing, the moorland director at Scottish Land & Estates.
With the support of private estates and the successful translocation of eagles, the project has been able to increase the area's population of golden eagles from a few pairs to 38. The new artificial nests are designed to encourage the eagles to establish territories and breed in the coming years. The project hopes to continue to increase the population and establish a viable breeding population in the area.