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Soaring Cairngorms success for sea eagle pair

By Tom Ramage

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A pair of sea eagles have bred successfully in the eastern Cairngorms.

The success is the first time in around 200 years, says the Cairngorms National Park Authority, with two chicks fledging.

The pair nested on Mar Estate, one of six estates in the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership. Although sea eagles have been in the area for several years, this is their first successful breeding attempt.

The pair is one of five territorial pairs in the park this year, of which three have fledged young.

Exquisite: the sea eagle (library photograph by Dorothea Oldani)
Exquisite: the sea eagle (library photograph by Dorothea Oldani)

Sea eagles, also known as white-tailed eagles, are thought not to have bred in this part of the Cairngorms since the early 1800s.

The species became extinct in Scotland in 1918 but, after an absence of almost 60 years, they were reintroduced to the west coast in 1975, using Norwegian birds.

Further reintroductions in Wester Ross and then Fife have resulted in the national population gradually expanding to around 130 pairs, with pairs in the national park tending to be a mix of birds from the east and west.

The pair on Mar Estate is made up of a male released in 2011 as part of the Fife re-introduction and a female believed to be from the west coast.

"Colonisation of the east of the country has been slower than hoped, due in part to ongoing raptor persecution in some areas," said Mark Nicolson, a proprietor of Mar Easate. "It is therefore welcome news that this pair has successfully established on an estate managed principally for deer and grouse.

“We are delighted to have successful breeding of sea eagles on the estate. Sea eagles have been present for several years, mainly providing spectacular aerial battles with our long resident golden eagles.

"Our hopes that they might settle and breed have been realised, and we look forward to their return next year. After some local input, we have named the young fledglings Victoria and Albert.”

Grant Moir, the park's chief executive officer, said: “Raptor conservation is a key element of the work of the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership.

"Around 50 pairs of moorland raptors – golden eagles, peregrines, hen harriers and merlins – breed in the ECMP area. We are keen to see more raptors in the area so this news is very welcome.”

Shaila Rao, ecologist for neighbouring Mar Lodge Estate and raptor worker, said: “I have been lucky enough to watch these birds nesting all through the season. It is fantastic to have sea-eagles back in the area as part of the raptor assemblage and hopefully they will return in the coming years."

Claire Smith, RSPB senior conservation officer, said “Despite their name, sea eagles are generalist birds that would once have been found breeding across Scotland.

"It is great to see the population increasing across the park and we hope that a reduction in persecution will allow this to continue as there is a lots of suitable habitat for the birds to inhabit.”

The ECMP is a landscape-scale collaboration between six sporting estates and the CNPA, set up in 2015 to take forward sustainable moorland management in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. It seeks to deliver private interests alongside public benefits, including improving the conservation status of raptors, demonstrating best practice muirburn management, expanding the area of woodland and scrub and peatland restoration.

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