GOLDEN eagle chicks could be taken from nests in the Highlands next summer in a bid to save the struggling population in the south of Scotland from disappearing.

A recent survey by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) showed there are now a record 508 pairs of the raptors in Scotland.

But while Scotland’s national bird of prey has slowly recovered since the lows of 19th century persecution, there remain only “three or four pairs” in the south of the country.

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Now RSPB Scotland, working with SNH and landowners, wants to reinforce the golden eagle population in Dumfries and Galloway by using up to 50 chicks from the Highlands.

Under the proposals, young birds will be removed from their nests under licence and introduced in their new habitat over five years.

If successful, the first group of up to 10 chicks could move in June to August 2017.

An SNH report has found that the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway hills could support 16 breeding pairs of golden eagles annually.

But without importing chicks it is feared the southern Scottish population could disappear altogether, as has occurred in England.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Species and Land Management, said: “In the south of Scotland – south of the Forth/Clyde – there are presently three or four breeding pairs of golden eagles annually.

“We are looking to reinforce that population by taking birds under licence from nests in the Highland range and releasing them in the south. We are going to apply to SNH for a licence to take up to 10 birds a year over five years. All being well, we could go in 2017.”

Scottish golden eagles have already been used to help a reintroduction project in Ireland.Despite losing chicks, the Highland population is estimated to continue to grow.

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RSPB Scotland is hoping to receive more than £1million in Heritage Lottery funding for the project, which has already received a “first round pass” of around £80,000, meaning the project meets HLF criteria for funding with potential to “deliver high-quality benefits and value for lottery money”.
Further funding could allow the project to start in June.