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Golden eagles score key victory in battle with wind farm firms

Breeding sites of one of Scotland’s most iconic birds of prey are to be given special protection – despite objections from wind farm developers.

A total of six sites across Scotland covering more than 350,000 hectares have been granted special protection status for the golden eagle by the Scottish Government.

Ministers yesterday approved the plans after receiving widespread support in a consultation by Scottish Natural Heritage.

The move will add some 80 additional breeding territories into the current network of eight sites in northern and western Scotland.

Conservationists welcomed the announcement. “I am delighted at the decision by Scottish Ministers to confirm the designation of these sites to protect golden eagles,” said Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland. “This is a major step forward for the conservation of Scotland’s unofficial national bird – a true icon of our country’s magnificent wild places and amongst the most sought-after species by the hundreds of thousands of tourists that come to see our fantastic wildlife annually.”

The designation of SPAs requires conservationists, led by the Government, to avoid pollution or deterioration of habitats and ensure there are not any disturbances affecting the birds, in terms of nearby developments or changes to land management.

Susan Davies, north areas director of SNH, said the conservation of golden eagles would help boost wildlife tourism in Scotland which, according to a recent SNH study, generates £1.4 billion a year for the Scottish economy.

“Along with other birds of prey, golden eagles can bring benefits to the local economy through wildlife watching,” she said.

“These new sites are a significant contribution to conservation efforts to support birds of prey.”

Almost all breeding golden eagles in Britain – where there are 442 pairs – are in Scotland, although poor habitat quality has previously meant that even if an adult pair can survive they will rarely breed successfully.