In the south of Scotland – where eagles dare

John Mathew Thompson was brought up in Penicuik, south of Edinburgh. As a youngster, he spent several days raptor watching with the great expert Derek Ratcliffe.


Golden eagle soaring,  L.Campbell

Golden eagle soaring, Laurie Campbell

The news of improving prospects for golden eagles in the south of Scotland is heart-warming. It’s amazing to think we could have up to 16 ranges occupied by these supreme predators. When I was just eight years old, I spent a day with my father and Derek Ratcliffe looking for eagles and peregrines in the south. Derek had written the classic monograph on the peregrine in 1980, and in 1946 had found a golden eagle’s nest in Galloway – the first modern day find of the bird nesting there. Derek visited Galloway annually, with the exception of one year, between 1946 and 2005, and died just days after completing the brilliant New Naturalist volume Galloway and the Borders, published in 2007.


The eagle has landed, Laurie Campbell

In the Moffat Hills we spied a crag where Derek had seen a prospecting male. With a twinkle in his eyes Derek proclaimed eagles would return if left alone and the right management was put in place. I was thrilled by this, and now feel the return of eagles to these parts would be a genuine sign of a healthier environment, and something Derek would be proud of.

Flying high, L.Campbell

Flying high, Laurie Campbell

It is difficult to deny the sense of elusive magic attached to the golden eagle in Scotland – reigning sovereign over wild land. I experience an overwhelming sense of privilege when encountering eagles in their unforgiving environment and am left marvelling at the way this predator has mastered its challenging domain.

Yet, in many ways this is a fabrication, a projection of the observer on to the spectacle, in order to make sense of the species and the environment in human terms. This romantic simplification may in part be why we have overlooked the possibility of the golden eagle in the south of Scotland. But what an exciting prospect it would be to have them back in haunts less than 50 miles from Scotland’s bustling central belt.

Golden eagles feature on pages 16 – 19 of the Autumn / Winter edition of The Nature of Scotland magazine.  For further information take a look at our Golden eagle key facts leaflet and our Naturally Scottish – Raptors booklet.


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