Lonely Planet Writer

Major joy as number of UK’s golden eagles fly past survival threshold

The UK’s golden eagle is flying high again. A new survey on the once-threatened species, show their numbers have soared past the point which would secure their future.

The Golden eagle which has nested in the Lake District for the past 22 years appeared to have died of natural causes
The Golden eagle which has nested in the Lake District for the past 22 years appeared to have died of natural causes
Image by Roy Lathwell / CC BY 2.0

The Guardian reports that in Britain alone there are now over 500 breeding pairs. This jump of 15% crucially surpasses the spot at which the long-term viability of the species is said to be safe. The massive bird of prey, which possesses a two-metre wing span, has benefited from an improved living environment, which has led to less illegal killings of the species. The one real minus in the latest survey, is that the eagles can still only be found in two thirds of the country, with a particularly low numbers left in the east of Scotland. This area is intensely-managed for driven grouse shooting and there also have been many unlawful shootings of eagles taking place in recent times. The survey found 508 breeding pairs – all in Scotland -while earlier this year the last golden eagle in England went missing and is feared to have died.

The recent study, funded by Scottish Natural Heritage and the RSPB, showed a healthier state than in 2003 when there were 442 breeding pairs. Once an imperious presence in the British skies, the golden eagles appear to have been wiped out in England and Wales. In Scotland, their numbers had seriously dwindled by the mid-19th century due to widespread persecution. The remaining birds then fell foul of a serious reduction in successful breeding in the 1960’s because of mass infertility caused by organochlorine pesticides. Golden eagles have the ability to live up to 25 years of age and normally prey on grouse – that is a major reason why they themselves have become targets. The director of the Scottish Moorland Group, Tim Baynes, whose organisation represents grouse moor owners and gamekeepers, said they were “passionate” about keeping the golden eagles on their land.