The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project (SSGEP)

The SSGEP is an exciting, ambitious, and collaborative project between land managers and conservationists working to increase the breeding population and range of golden eagles in southern Scotland. Identified by the Scottish Government as a priority for its biodiversity conservation programme (Scottish Government, 2020), Once widespread, the population of golden eagles in the southern Scotland is now small and fragmented. The SSGEP’s legacy will be a healthier and viable population of golden eagles in the south of Scotland, enjoyed and supported by local communities and land managers, and forming the basis for greatly enhanced ecotourism opportunities and wider economic development.

At the SSGEP’s conception, the population of golden eagles in the South of Scotland was small and fragmented; at considerable risk of extinction from external events. The population of just three pairs meant even a small incident could harm this population of golden eagles irreparably. The UK's second largest bird of prey, and arguably Scotland's national bird; the golden eagle is closely linked by the public to Scotland's wild landscapes and is one of our main wildlife attractions. Many residents and tourists regard an encounter with a golden eagle as a 'blue riband' experience- the hallmark of a wonderful time. Eagles have fascinated people for many thousands of years. Depicted in paintings on cave walls in earliest times, the golden eagle has long been revered by our forebears; clan chiefs wore a golden eagle feather in their bonnets to symbolise power and authority; and a primary wing feather is worn as part of the regalia of the Royal Company of Archers, the British Monarchy's protectors in Scotland. The golden eagle has lasting presence in Gaelic culture, and in the finest of Scottish literature and music. Maps of Scotland still reveal the gaelic name for the golden eagle, 'iolaire’. Returning the apex-predator, the golden eagle, to the skies of the south of Scotland is important in reinstating and maintaining healthy ecosystems and controlling numbers of meso-predators such as fox, crow and buzzard.

The pioneering South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project become the first in the UK to successfully translocate free-flying young golden eagles (aged between 6 months and 3 years) to boost a low population of this iconic bird. Alongside four successful golden eagle chick translocations, these additions bring the total number of golden eagles in the south of Scotland to around 39 – the highest number recorded here in the last three centuries. The novel South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project has been awarded the prestigious Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) Tony Bradshaw Award for Outstanding Best Practice. Recognising best practice in the industry, the esteemed CIEEM award is only presented to “exceptional projects that set an overall impressively high standard”. The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project was considered for the award as winner of the institute’s Best Practice in Stakeholder Engagement title. Announcing the award, Jason Reeves, Head of Policy at CIEEM said: “Our vision at CIEEM is to create a healthy natural environment for the benefit of current and future generations, and The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project is a fantastic example of this. Through exceptional stakeholder engagement and partnership working, the project has demonstrated how we can all make a difference by working together to create a world rich in biodiversity for the benefit of us all – now and in the future.”

With over 15,000 people across the south of Scotland having actively engaged with the project, predominantly in rural areas which are likely to be frequented by eagles, the awareness and enthusiasm for golden eagles has been widely promoted and warmly welcomed. The town of Moffat became Scotland’s first ‘Eagle Town’ in 2021 and has embraced this identity, and the opportunities which accompany the accolade, with open arms. The Project hopes that more communities recognise the positive benefits of restorative conservation and that the golden eagles of southern Scotland may be a valuable example and an important stepping stone for other projects of this nature. Alongside the community outreach, the communication with farmers, gamekeepers, land-owners and estates has been of paramount importance to ensure that all who may encounter these spectacular birds are kept informed of the Project’s work. At the project’s conception, the intention was to develop an equal partnership of land management sectors and conservationists that would foster a positive and productive relationship in the future. It is hoped that local communities will feel a sense of pride and ownership for one of Scotland’s most iconic birds and that there will an economic benefit from the eco-tourism possibilities eagles bring to the landscape (this is now the first place in Scotland for people travelling from within the UK that golden eagles can be encountered).