The golden eagle, regarded by many as Scotland’s national bird, has been steadily recovering from low numbers since the mid-19th century.
The national survey, funded by the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), found 508 pairs of golden eagles in Scotland, an increase of 66 pairs since 2003.
As a result of the findings, the bird of prey can now be defined as having ‘favourable conservation status ‘ in the UK, having surpassed 500 pairs.
The national survey also helped to map out areas of Scotland inhabited by golden eagles. Pairs will occupy a territory, often in remote areas, known as a ‘home range’, used for hunting and nesting.
The survey revealed that the northern Highlands and central area of the country, between the Great Glen and Stirlingshire, saw the greatest increase in eagle numbers in the last 12 years, and other, smaller increases were also noted in the west Highlands and islands.
However, not all areas of Scotland have seen a rise in the bird’s population. The species remains absent in areas of the eastern Highlands, with less than a third of the traditional ‘home ranges’ occupied by a pair and no birds at all in over 30% of them, regardless of the fact these areas provide a very suitable habitat. Driven grouse shooting and illegal persecution of eagles are known to occur in these territories.
Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland, said: “The sight of a golden eagle soaring in the sky above is an awe-inspiring part of our natural heritage, and this increase of numbers of golden eagle pairs is great news.
“Across many parts of Scotland there’s been a very welcome turnaround in how people respect these magnificent birds, part of a more enlightened public attitude towards birds of prey. Increased monitoring and satellite tagging of eagles, as well as stronger sanctions against wildlife crime may be serving as effective deterrents against illegal activity, therefore helping their population to increase. However, the continued absence of golden eagles in some areas of Scotland remains a real cause for concern and suggests that much more work needs to be done.”
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.”