Page last updated at 16:12 GMT, Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Golden eagles in Scotland could get better protection

Golden eagle
Golden eagles have come under threat in Scotland

Protection for the golden eagle in Scotland could be increased under proposals announced by ministers.

Over 350,000 hectares of northern and western Scotland have been earmarked as potential Special Protection Areas for the species.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) will begin a three-month consultation on the proposals in the new year.

Firms behind a controversial wind farm plan near Inverary in Argyll had called for the move to be put on hold.

Ridge Wind and Wind Prospect, the developers involved in the Stacain wind farm project, have said the creation or further Special Protection Awould sterilise, for years, large areas of Scotland suitable for renewables developments.

The golden eagle prefers the wild countryside of peatlands, uplands and mountains, but is threatened by habitat change and inappropriate development.

There are currently eight Special Protection Areas for golden eagles in northern and western Scotland.

We must find a balance between access, conservation and development to ensure that all sectors can benefit from and enjoy the countryside
Roseanna Cunningham MSP
Environment Minister

Announcing the six new proposed areas, Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham said it was important to try and safeguard the bird's future.

She said: "The golden eagle is the UK's second largest bird of prey and is a species which is synonymous with many of Scotland's wildest and most beautiful places.

"Scotland is an internationally important stronghold for this species. But their future is finely balanced due to their need for large, undisturbed spaces in which to live and they remain highly vulnerable to change.

"While we have a duty to protect our biodiversity for future generations, this should not automatically mean that leisure and economic activity cannot take place in our countryside.

She added: "We must find a balance between access, conservation and development to ensure that all sectors can benefit from and enjoy the countryside."

'Cultural icon'

The proposed protection areas would be from Glen Affric in the central Highlands to Strathconon in Ross-shire, the Cairngorms Massif, Foinaven at Durness, and Moidart and Ardgour near Fort William.

The fifth would be from Glen Etive near Bridge of Orchy to Glen Fyne near Arrochar, and the sixth would be Jura, Scarba and the Garvellachs off the west coast.

Susan Davies, SNH's north areas director, said: "We welcome this move by the Scottish government to look at the possibility of more protected areas for Scotland's golden eagles.

"As a top predator, it is very much a barometer of the health of our natural environment.

"This bird is also a cultural icon and is often what people at home and abroad think of when they think of our country and our wildlife."

The proposals for further protection were also welcomed by RSPB Scotland.

Director Stuart Housden said: "Golden eagles require large home ranges, which can be affected by land use changes such as poorly-located forestry planting, loss of prey such as rabbits and hares, wind farms and - sadly- continuing persecution.

"The new SPAs will ensure that decision-makers consider the needs of the eagles, and land managers qualify for support from the Scottish Rural Development Plan so that they can continue to look after them.

"This is a great day for Scotland's unofficial national bird."

Once the consultation is over, the Scottish government will decide whether to classify any of the suggested zones as Special Protection Areas.

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