A report published today finds that South Scotland could support up to 16 pairs of golden eagles.
The Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) report found that, with suitable conditions, many more breeding golden eagle pairs could inhabit South Scotland.
Currently, there are just one to two pairs attempting to breed in Galloway, and one to three pairs attempting to breed in the Scottish Borders. The report finds that South Scotland could support between 11 and 16 pairs. As a whole, the Scottish golden eagle population numbers 440 pairs, mainly in the Highlands and Islands.
The report presents a novel approach in which each of the nine principal regions is assessed for habitat suitability. The study explored several factors which can affect range use in detail, including rainfall, plant growing days, potential recreational pressure, persecution records, wind farm developments, nest sites and woodland cover.
The report suggests the next steps involve monitoring the ranges for any golden eagle activity, developing work to improve habitats and other conditions for eagles and assessing where further eagles might come from, notably in Argyll, Cowal and Arran. Practical work on the ground to benefit golden eagles could be funded through a number of routes, such as the SRDP and FCS woodland grants.
Environment and Climate change Minister Paul Wheelhouse said:
"It is great news that South Scotland could support so many pairs of golden eagles. This offers tremendous opportunities for wildlife tourism and the prospect of re-establishing a special population of these birds. I'm especially pleased to see so many partners have worked together on this project.
"As a resident of the Scottish Borders, I very much look forward to golden eagles once again becoming a regular sight in our skies. We will work hard to ensure that they are given the best possible chance to expand their population and range in the South of Scotland, given the region contains habitat that we would expect to see and sustain a greater population of this most magnificent bird."
Professor Des Thompson of SNH, and chair of the Project Group, said:
"With our partners, we would like to see on-the-ground, practical work to improve the habitat for golden eagles in South Scotland. With habitat improvements, we could see connections with the small reintroduced population in Ireland. This would help both groups of eagles, and could even help bolster the population in North England. The approach is novel, and could work well for other regions and species."
The Project Steering Group includes members of the Scottish Government, SNH, Forestry Commission Scotland, RSPB, the Scottish Raptor Study Group, Scottish Land and Estates, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, British Association for Shooting and Conservation, and CONFOR.
The golden eagle is the UK's second largest bird of prey and has a wing span of around two metres. It was voted the nation's favourite species by the public last year in the Year of Natural Scotland's Big 5 contest.
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NOTES FOR EDITORS Scottish Natural Heritage is the government's adviser on all aspects of nature and landscape across Scotland. Our role is to help everyone understand, value and enjoy Scotland's nature now and in the future. For more information, visit our website at www.snh.gov.uk. SNH media is also now on Twitter at