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RSPB Scotland welcomes report exposing absence of golden eagles in southern Scotland

16 July 2014

RSPB Scotland has welcomed the publication of a report by Scottish Natural Heritage exposing the absence of protected golden eagles from large tracts of suitable habitat in southern Scotland.

The findings are the culmination of more than two years work by independent eagle experts, prompted by the consistent ministerial interest in the species' plight south of the central belt that has followed the poisoning of one of the area's few breeding eagles near Peebles in 2007.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB Scotland Head of Species and Land Management, said: "We commend the publication of this report, which for the first time clearly shows the desperately low level of occupation by golden eagles of eminently suitable habitat across the southern uplands of Scotland.

"These magnificent birds should be given every opportunity to recover and reoccupy lost range, and must be protected in practice from the effects of human persecution, which remains a significant threat to this species, and in particular to this perilously small and isolated population.

"We need to see more work now to create conditions for re-colonisation by golden eagles, including a reduction in illegal killing, targeted habitat improvements to benefit existing pairs and sites with high potential for occupation, as well as a thorough appraisal of the feasibility of translocation as a tool to speed recovery."

Notes

1.  There have been over 150 confirmed incidents of illegal persecution of birds of prey in the south of Scotland in the last ten years, including the poisoning of one adult golden eagle and the shooting of another.

2.  SNH's 2008 species action framework for golden eagle classed the species as being in unfavourable conservation status in Scotland, because fewer than two-thirds of known territories were occupied by breeding birds http://www.snh.org.uk/pdfs/publications/commissioned_reports/193.pdf. In the south of Scotland, this proportion is less than one-quarter of known territories                                                             

3. The new report relied in part on a 2012 analysis of eagle placenames to identify likely lost ranges http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-18352135.

4. Potential eagle habitat is under continuing pressure from land use change, including alterations to grazing regimes, new forestry, and renewable energy developments. However, the main threat is the vulnerability of the population to chance deaths, because of its extremely small size.  Illegal killing is particularly important in this context, because it is targeted at predatory birds and animals.

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