The Scottish town of Moffat has been declared Scotland – indeed the UK’s – first ‘Eagle Town’, and its inaugural ‘Golden Eagle Week’ is well underway this week.
The festival celebrates all that is incredible about these iconic raptors, and features talks by special guests such as wildlife filmmaker Gordon Buchanan, conservationist Roy Dennis and many other experts.
There will also be film screenings, family activities such as the Wild Tree Adventure, the chance to get up close to a golden eagle with a handler from Kielder Bird of Prey Centre, a fell run, live music events and raptor identification courses running throughout the week.
The festival is organised by the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project, which recently successfully translocated eight eaglets from the Highlands to the Southern Uplands of Scotland. The project aims to bolster numbers living in the wild and ultimately restore this magnificent predator to the areas it used to inhabit. By rehoming the birds, the project has brought the number of golden eagles living in the area to 12 – almost doubling its local eagle population.
The chicks have been named by a range of individuals and organisations, including BBC Watches presenter Iolo Williams and Gordon Buchanan. Blackadder screenwriters Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson have given permission to name one of the birds ‘Speckled Jim’, after General Melchett’s favourite carrier pigeon, as he has a very unusual speckled plumage.
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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 in the Highlands. The project has established that the best way of bolstering this fragmented community is by increasing the supply of young eagles, which will eventually integrate and breed, giving the raptors a greater chance of survival in the area.
Speaking about the arrival of the project’s eight new golden eagles, Cat Barlow, the project’s manager, says: “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.”
Led by the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project, workers from the Scottish Raptor Study Group in the 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.
The project used tried and tested methods seen previously in the successful reintroduction of red kites and white-tailed eagles in the UK.
Main image: Satellite-tagged golden eagles. © Phil Wilkinson/South Scotland Golden Eagle Project.