The number of golden eagles has soared in recent years, with more than 500 breeding pairs now in Scotland. This means that the species are out of danger for the first time since surveys began.
A six-month survey, carried out in 2015 by wildlife charity Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG), found a 15% rise in breeding pairs since the last survey was conducted in 2003, from 442 pairs to 508. Scotland is now thought to be home to the UK’s entire population of golden eagles, as England’s only golden eagle has not been sighted for over a year and is likely to have died. The latest survey, however, shows that in Scotland the birds now have a ‘favourable’ conservation status.
In the 1960s, the population of golden eagles was dramatically reduced by the use of pesticides, which caused widespread infertility. By banning these chemicals, increasing monitoring and satellite tagging of eagles, as well as increasing sanctions for wildlife crime, golden eagle numbers have gradually recovered. The northern Highlands and the area between the Great Glen and Stirlingshire saw the greatest increase in eagle population between the 2003 and 2015 surveys, and numbers also grew in the west Highland and the islands.
However, in parts of the Highlands west of Inverness, there has been no significant increase in numbers since 2003. The reason behind this is uncertain but the RSPB has stated that factors such as deforestation, disruption of habitats and poor weather may have contributed. In addition, much of the eastern Highlands was absent of golden eagles, despite these areas being ideal habitats for the birds. A major reason for this may be that many of these vacant regions are shooting grounds for grouse. Between 2009 and 2013, four eagles fitted with satellite tags were found illegally killed in this area.
It was also reported that eight tagged eagles have vanished in the Monadhliath mountains, south east of Inverness, in the last five years. RSPB believes that they were illegally killed and had their satellite tracking tags destroyed. It is very encouraging that numbers are recovering so strongly in some areas of the country. However, it is clear that conservation work must be continued and increased in the other regions of Scotland that are also ideal habitats for these impressive and beautiful birds.