Golden Eagle Numbers On Rise In Dumfries & Galloway

As the latest programme for the Moffat Eagle Festival 2024 (6 to 8 September 2024) is unveiled, the pioneering South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project has revealed a new record number of golden eagles are now soaring in southern Scottish skies.


Following a series of groundbreaking translocations of ‘free-flying young golden eagles’ (aged between 6 months and 3 years) over the winter months, there are now around 47 golden eagles soaring in southern Scottish skies – the highest number recorded here in the last three centuries.


The news comes as the Project announced Hamza Yassin, wildlife cameraman, presenter, author of Be a Birder, and winner of Strictly Come Dancing 2022 alongside professional dance partner Jowita Prystal, will be the keynote speaker for the Moffat Eagle Festival in the UK’s first official Eagle Town. The star features within a festival programme of fascinating and fun events for all ages celebrating one of Scotland’s most iconic species and Hamza’s favourite bird of prey.


Speaking about his involvement, Hamza said: “Golden eagles are my absolutely favourite bird of prey, so it is a real privilege to headline the prestigious Moffat Eagle Festival in the UK’s first official Eagle Town and to support the fantastic work of the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project.
“It’s truly wonderful to hear that there are new record numbers of golden eagles soaring in southern Scottish skies thanks to the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project. My hope is that soon these majestic birds will be seen right across the UK.”


Under a research licence from NatureScot, the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project team successfully caught, transported and released eight free flying (sub adult) golden eagles from the Outer Hebrides between 2023 and 2024, bringing the total number of sub adult birds released to 15. The birds were released almost immediately on arrival in a secret location in the southern uplands of Scotland.


The team previously also collected 28 eagle chicks from the Highlands and islands and released them in southern Scotland from 2018 to 2023. Some of these birds have settled on territory together and begun building eyries (large nests).


In 2022, the project became the first in the world to successfully translocate seven free-flying young golden eagles (aged between 6 months and 3 years) to boost the low population of this iconic bird. Speaking about this success, Dr Cat Barlow, Project Manager for the Project said: “This novel-approach has provided a significant boost in our efforts to ensure golden eagles truly flourish in southern skies and is proving to be a groundbreaking technique for global raptor conservation management.


“This achievement was only possible thanks to the support of National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, our project staff and partners, NatureScot licensing team, raptor specialists, Advisory Panel members, estates, gamekeepers, CalMac Ferries, and of course the community in the south of Scotland. We’re incredibly grateful to them all.
“We look forward to celebrating all our successes at the next Moffat Eagle Festival. We’re really honoured that Hamza Yassin, one of the world’s top advocates for golden eagles has agreed to be our keynote speaker.
“We too would like to see more of these important apex predators soaring right across the British Isles and have great plans to help us achieve this, however, as our initial funding comes to an end, we need the support of new significant funding partners to help us make this a reality. We would encourage any interested parties to get in touch.”


Francesca Osowska, NatureScot’s Chief Executive, added: “The success of the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project is an inspiration, boosting the number of eagles in the region enormously over the last six years. This initiative is a brilliant example of partnership working between land managers and conservation and government agencies to achieve that end. We thank everyone involved for all their continued hard work and determination.
“We’re passionate about returning golden eagles to the places where they used to thrive. With wildlife declining across the globe, this project is a vital part of the wide-ranging work taking place in Scotland to protect and restore wildlife, reverse biodiversity loss and combat the climate emergency.”


The first of its kind in the UK, the community-led Moffat Eagle Festival is one of the award-winning South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project’s many groundbreaking achievements. Now in its fourth year, this year’s festival programme includes a chance to meet a real eagle, a farmers’ market with family fun, an eagle ride out on motorbike, a book event, an Eagle Hill Fell Run, live music, talks by wildlife author Jim Crumley and Peter Cairns from rewilding charity Scotland: The Big Picture, and much more.


In addition to supporting the project’s conservation efforts, there is evidence that the festival is supporting economic regeneration within the vibrant town of Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway. Some businesses have even developed golden eagle themed products to support the charity initiative. And a stunning wooden eagle bench, carved exclusively by Moffat’s own Sam Bowsher (winner of the Canadian Discovery TV series A Cut Above), still sits proudly in the town centre two years after it was unveiled at the very first festival to mark the new Eagle Town status.


Rick Taylor, Community Engagement Officer at South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project and one of the founders of the festival, said: “The Moffat Eagle Festival has become a must-attend annual event for wildlife lovers across the country, bringing fantastic economic, social and cultural benefits to the area. Its continued success is absolutely testament to the community’s phenomenal support for the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project.”


Leys Geddes from the Moffat and District Community Council said: “The Moffat Eagle Festival is a wonderful celebration. In its first three years, many businesses reported that the town was busier than it has been for a very long time. We look forward to building on this in 2024.
“This little town is the gateway to the 300sq km of the Moffat Hills. Our hills are like a mini-Highlands, providing outstanding scenery, green grass for our sheep farmers and a rich variety of wildlife. So Moffat is ideally situated to be Scotland’s First Eagle Town and to celebrate, and be hosts to, one of Scotland’s most iconic species – the golden eagle.”


South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project partners include RSPB Scotland, Scottish Land & Estates, Scottish Forestry, NatureScot, the Southern Uplands Partnership and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.


As the project’s current funding comes to an end, the team is seeking new major funders and donors who can help them fulfil their vision to see golden eagles spread further south to England, Wales and beyond.


To register your interest in becoming a supporting partner or for more information about the project visit: www.goldeneaglessouthofscotland.co.uk