Golden eagle survey to record numbers
A six month survey of Scotland's golden eagle population is to be carried out.
All of the golden eagles in the UK are found in Scotland, mainly in the Highlands and Islands, except for a solitary male in the Lake District.
The most recent survey in 2003 found the overall number of breeding pairs had increased by 20 to 442 since 1992.
Researchers want to find out whether conservation efforts since then have led to a further increase in numbers.
The golden eagle population has remained stable in recent decades, although long-term monitoring has shown a variation in numbers across different areas.
The survey in 2003 found there had been declines of 24% and 28% in the north central and south central Highlands respectively over the previous 20 years.
The latest survey, which has been funded by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the RSPB, will cover all current known golden eagle hunting and nesting areas.
Places previously inhabited by golden eagles will also be assessed to check for any signs of their return.
Dr Daniel Hayhow from the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science said: "This national survey is really important to the conservation efforts for golden eagles.
"These birds don't breed until they are four or five years old so having accurate numbers of breeding pairs will help us assess how the population is faring at the moment and in the future."
Golden eagles were once common across Britain but disappeared from Wales and England by the mid 19th century due to persecution.
Part of the surviving population in Scotland suffered a sharp decline in breeding success in the 1960s due to pesticide use, although numbers have recovered since then.
Andrew Stevenson, SNH ornithological adviser, said: "Although around half the golden eagle population is monitored every year by the Scottish Raptor Study Group, these broader national surveys are vital to fill the gaps on the status of the whole population.
"We use the results of these surveys to make decisions about the future conservation of the golden eagle."
Mr Stevenson said golden eagles face a range of issues, including wildlife crime in some areas and also poor quality habitats with reduced prey in parts of the west Highlands.
He added: "Intriguingly, there has been a suggestion in recent years that some pairs have learned to cope with fairly extensive forests, despite it being a factor in some range losses historically.
"The potential risks from renewables have also increased as the industry grows.
"Clearly, the factors affecting the conservation of golden eagles need us all to work together."