Pioneering conservation charity releases record number of golden eagles in the south of Scotland

Press Release

As part of a series of groundbreaking translocations addressing low numbers of golden eagles in the south of Scotland, the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project, which Scottish Land & Estates is a partner of, has recently successfully transported eight golden eagle chicks from the Scottish Highlands to a secret location in the southern uplands of Scotland. This brings the total number of golden eagles  successfully translocated by the charity Project to the area to 12 – already almost doubling the local population of golden eagles.

The eight newly fledged eagle chicks have been named by a range of individuals and organisations, including BBC Autumnwatch and Springwatch presenter Iolo Williams, renowned wildlife film maker Gordon Buchanan, Moffat Mountain Rescue, Southern Uplands Moorland Group, Golden Eagle Champion Lorna Slater MSP, local school children, Daniel Lacey (a volunteer who built aviaries for the chicks) and the project team. Blackadder screenwriter Richard Curtis and actor Rowan Atkinson have also given permission to officially name one of the birds ‘Speckled Jim’ – the project team nicknamed him after General Melchett's favourite carrier pigeon, as he has a very unusual speckled plumage. The other birds’ names include Iona, Sinclair, Ellenabeich ‘Ellena’, Heather and Emma (named after the women’s equality and rights champion Emma Ritch).

News of the birds’ translocation comes as the charity Project prepares to celebrate the new arrivals at the UK’s first Golden Eagle Festival in Moffat, funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.  The festival takes place between 19 and 26 of September 2021 and has been organised to help secure vital support for the charity’s continued conservation efforts and celebrate the vibrant town of Moffat becoming Scotland’s (indeed the UK’s) first Eagle Town. With a keynote speech by Gordon Buchanan, a family fun day, a Big Tree Climb, and live music sessions, the festival will also showcase ways in which people can help golden eagles to flourish in southern skies once again.

Speaking about the arrival of the project’s eight new golden eagles Cat Barlow, Project Manager for the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project said: “Covid-19 affected so many of our plans last year, so it is absolutely amazing now to see these eight youngsters settling into the south and soaring majestically above the Moffat Hills. We are truly thrilled to host our first Eagle Festival to celebrate the new arrivals and thank all our supporters for the vital contributions they make to helping us increase the golden eagle population in the south of Scotland.

“Our success is very much thanks to the incredible support we’ve had from our partners, raptor experts, vets, funders, community groups, high profile ambassadors and estate owners and managers.”

WildLand Limited, a Scottish Lnad & Estates member, donated one of the project’s newest arrivals from their landholding within the Cairngorms Connect partnership area.  Speaking about their involvement Thomas MacDonell, Director of Conservation and Forestry at WildLand Ltd said: “As part of Cairngorms Connect, we are firmly committed to enhancing habitats, species and ecological processes. Indeed, golden eagle numbers are steadily increasing at WildLand Cairngorms under our careful land management.  We were absolutely delighted that we could donate one of our golden eagle chicks to help the important work of the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project in reinforcing the population in the south of Scotland.”

“The project took great care in selecting the chick for translocation and making sure she was fit for her journey south. We, along with many others, will follow her onward journey with great interest. We hope she settles quickly into her new home.”

Francesca Osowska, NatureScot’s Chief Executive and a passionate supporter of the Project, added: “The key aim of this exciting project is to increase the number of breeding pairs in the south of Scotland, a vital part of our work to reverse biodiversity loss and combat the climate emergency. With wildlife declining across the globe, it is fantastic to hear that the project has translocated so many eagle chicks this year. Golden eagles are an exciting part of Scotland’s wildlife, and we’re passionate about returning them to places where they used to thrive.  This is brilliant partnership working, and a great support for the local green economy.  Already, we are seeing great success”

Led by the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project, Scottish Raptor Study Group workers in the Scottish Highlands carefully collected chicks earlier this year under license from NatureScot, before taking them to the release site in a confidential location in the Moffat Hills. The birds were then cared for in specially-designed release aviaries and supplementary fed to help them adjust to their new habitat before their release. Experts at the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies also provided considerable support throughout the process to monitor the health and wellbeing of the birds.

Caroline Clark, Director for Scotland, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “This translocation of eight eagle chicks is fantastic news for the biodiversity of the South of Scotland, and for the country as a whole. It is great to see the partnership working which has created this success, and the way the communities across the South of Scotland have embraced and supported the new arrivals.

“Through our conversations with National Lottery players, we know that nature is incredibly important to them, and the £1.3m funding given to the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project means they can play their part in protecting Scotland’s outstanding wildlife and landscapes.”

The birds’ names were chosen shortly before their release. Iolo Williams, host of BBC’s Spring Watch and Autumn Watch chose the name “Iona” for one of the eagles. He said: “Thank you for the honour of being asked to name one of the eagles released in the south of Scotland this year. I wish Iona all the best and hope she’s given time to settle and breed in the south of Scotland before too long.”

Project partners RSPB Scotland, Scottish Land & Estates, Scottish Forestry, NatureScot and the Southern Uplands Partnership, worked on the project together for more than 11 years before releasing the first eagle chicks in 2018.  Funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, project partners and the Scottish Government, the initiative is a key project under ‘Scotland’s Biodiversity. A Route Map to 2020’, supporting the Government’s ‘2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity’.

For the latest project and festival news, or to donate to the charity initiative, visit:


About the South of Scotland Golden Eagles Project

  • Before the project began, there was only between two and four pairs of golden eagles across Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders, however a supporting study by NatureScot shows that the local habitat is suitable for up to 16 pairs.
  • Since 2018, the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project has now successfully translocated 12 golden eagles from the Scottish Highlands to the south of Scotland.
  • The first four birds have all settled into their new habitats and are fending for themselves.
  • Covid-19 restrictions prevented the charity from translocating eagle chicks in 2020.
  • During the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, Beaky was the first of the project’s eagles to venture south of the border and visit the North Pennines area, where there have been no breeding pairs of eagles for many years. She was also later seen demonstrating potential courtship behaviour with Skan, one of the male eagles translocated to the area by the project.
  • The project has identified that the best way of enhancing this fragmented and vulnerable population of golden eagles is through increasing the supply of young eagles, which will eventually recruit into the breeding population. Recent satellite tagging work of golden eagles in Scotland has shown that the south of Scotland golden eagle population is greatly isolated from larger populations of this species from the Highlands.
  • For the next two to -three years, the Project will bring between three and ten young eagles south.
  • The project team is using tried and tested methods for rear and release of the young golden eagles derived from previous white-tailed eagle and red kite reintroduction projects, and through the cooperation of raptor experts and estates.
  • The project team has collected single eagle chicks from broods of young in the Highlands and raised and released them in an undisclosed location in the Moffat Hills area.
  • Work is focussing on ensuring former and potential nesting sites are re-occupied; to identify any additional habitat management measures that will bring further improvements in food supplies in these areas; and wider work with local communities, schools, and enterprises to bring much wider benefits. 
  • In 2019, the project revealed that over 10,000 volunteers and special project participants of all ages (aged 4 to 92) have taken the golden eagles under their wings, as they’ve supported the project through a wide range of tasks and initiatives.
  • Those who have participated in the initiative to date come from a range of backgrounds and organisations, including: the UK’s first ever Golden Eagle Scout Champions at the Scottish Borders Scouts; over 360 pupils from primary schools across the south of Scotland and one in the Scottish Highlands; Borders College; the Scottish Raptor Study Group; Kielder Bird of Prey Centre; HMP Dumfries; and local businesses like Wild Tree Adventures. Earlier this year, the Philiphaugh Estate near Selkirk also announced that it plans to open a Golden Eagle Centre which will support the project’s conservation and community engagement work.
  • Each released golden eagle will be satellite tagged to ensure the project team builds up as much information as they can on the ranging behaviour, survival, and health of the birds.
  • Project staff are working with a variety of expert advisers, including specialists from the Edinburgh University Dick Vet School, and from Ireland and Spain who have been heavily involved in successful raptor reintroduction programmes.
  • The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project is:
    • supported by Scottish Land & Estates, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Forestry, NatureScot, and The Southern Uplands Partnership.
    • funded by:
      • £1.37 million from The National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund;
      • the Scottish Government; and
      • Scottish Power Renewables.
    • licenced to undertake the work by NatureScot (formerly Scottish Natural Heritage).
  • The project also received more than £150,000 match funding from the Scottish Government and the European Union – LEADER 2014-2020 programme.
  • The Scottish Raptor Study Group are supplying considerable expertise of golden eagle conservation to the project.
  • Thanks to National Lottery players, the Heritage Lottery Fund invests money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife.

About Cairngorms Connect

Cairngorms Connect is a partnership of neighbouring land managers, including Scottish Land & Estates members, committed to a bold and ambitious 200-year vision to enhance habitats, species and ecological processes across a vast area within the Cairngorms National Park.

The Cairngorms Connect area stretches over 600 square kilometres - it is a landscape of superlatives: Ancient woodlands intersected by sparkling rivers and lochs, encircle an Arctic-like mountain massif – the most extensive and wildest of its kind in Britain; there are vast tracts of blanket bog, tranquil wetlands and secret woodland bogs. It is a place where eagles soar, wildcats prowl and red squirrels forage; home to plants, insects, birds and mammals found in few other places.

The strength of Cairngorms Connect is the coming together of like-minded managers committed to delivering habitat enhancement at a scale unparalleled in Britain. The four Cairngorms Connect partners are WildLand Ltd, NatureScot, Forestry and Land Scotland and RSPB Scotland.