GOLDEN eagle numbers in the UK are declining, according to a new report jointly authored by an MMU biologist.
The report commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) found that only three out of 16 regions in Scotland had stable or expanding populations. These were all in western Scotland.
And it stated that the use of illegal poisons was one of the main reasons behind a decline in eagle populations.
Scottish Environment Minister Michael Russell said the report authored by Dr Alan Fielding of MMU’s School of Biology, Chemistry and Health Science and three colleagues, was further proof that poisoned baits continued to blight the Highlands.
Dr Fielding and his colleagues Dr Doug Whitfield, Dr David McLeod and Dr Paul Haworth, examined the changing habitat and threats to the Golden Eagle population across Scotland. Their studies looked at the whole range of constraints on the bird including vegetation and land cover, commercial forestry, human disturbance, wind farms, persecution and predators.
They found that some parts of the country no longer enjoy viable populations despite having ideal habitat conditions for the species to thrive. The most serious problems were in the central and eastern Highlands where less than half of eagle territories were occupied.
The scientists said the numbers were consistent with several other studies showing that eagles have been subjected to illegal persecution.
Dr Fielding is one of the UK’s leading experts on Golden Eagle conservation. He is an adviser to the Irish Golden Eagle project and a previous organiser of the Earthwatch project on Scottish birds of prey.
Professor Des Thompson, a visiting professor from the School and the SNH policy and advice manager, has appeared on the BBC’s Today programme to discuss the alarming findings.
The report, A Conservation Framework for golden Eagles: implications for their conservation and management in Scotland, is available on the SNH website at www.snh.org.uk/pubs/default.asp