Cubs from the Scottish Borders have become the first ever Golden Eagle Champions.
Led by the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project, the Scottish Borders Innerleithen Scout Group learned from experts and met one of the iconic birds.
And they were presented with their badges in the grounds of Traquair House, following a day of tree climbing and eyrie (nest) building on the estate with Wild Tree Adventures.
Henry Happer (10), a member of the group, designed the special badge awarded to fellow members.
Philip Munro, community outreach officer for the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project, said: “It was fantastic to work on the UK’s first ever Golden Eagle Champions initiative with the Scottish Borders Innerleithen Scouts and their inspiring volunteers.
“The future of conservation depends on initiatives like this which encourage young people to get involved and make a difference.
“Volunteers make a huge contribution in helping to safeguard the future of iconic species like the golden eagle, both in the south of Scotland and further afield.
“We would encourage anyone interested in supporting their local community and conservation initiatives to get involved with the Scouts.
“It is an incredibly fulfilling and worthwhile cause.
“There will also be some opportunities to volunteer with the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project and we would be delighted to hear from anyone interested in getting involved.”
Chris Kennedy, who currently leads the Innerleithen Group, said the cubs were really excited to be involved in an “incredible project”.
He continued: “It was a fantastic opportunity for our cubs to take a hands-on approach, working together with other people in our community as well as some of the country’s leading wildlife and raptor experts on a hugely important issue.
“The young people involved will impact on our natural heritage for generations to come.
“It is a real example of how Scouts can make a difference in their communities.
“It was also a great opportunity for our adult volunteers to get involved in the project. If this sounds like something you would like to help with, we’d love to hear from you.”
But 10-year-old cub Jeigha McCulloch-Graham perhaps summed it up best, saying: “Learning about the golden eagles has been an honour.
“It’s been a big opportunity to actually get to meet a golden eagle and it’s been so much fun.”
The Golden Eagle Champions learned about the majestic species from wildlife experts at the South of Scotland Golden Eagles Project, discovering first-hand how the birds of prey live and survive.
As well as earning them a new badge, it also built their knowledge of the local environment and the abundance of wildlife on their doorstep.
Steve Backshall, a BAFTA-winning naturalist and Scouts ambassador, believes it’s an important lesson for youngsters to learn.
He said: “It’s an amazing opportunity for Scouts in the Scottish Borders to be a part of the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project.
“They will be playing a vital role in the continued protection of many unique and important species.”
The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project was set up to address low numbers of the birds in the area.
Project partners RSPB Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates, Forestry Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Southern Uplands Partnership have been working together for more than 11 years to turn the dream into a reality.
The project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (£1.37 million), the Scottish Government and more than £150,000 from local LEADER programmes.
It is a key initiative in the Scottish Government’s 2020 Challenge for Scottish Biodiversity, which sets out a route map to protect and restore Scotland’s biodiversity.
Viewers of BBC Scotland’s Landward programme were able to find out more about the South of Scotland Golden Eagle project when it was featured last week.
But if you would like to find out more, visit www.goldeneaglessouthofscotland.co.uk.
For more information on Innerleithen Scouts and the other 13 groups across the Borders, visit www.borderscouts.org.uk.
A five year conservation project
Conservationists at the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project successfully transported three golden eagle chicks from the Scottish Highlands to a secret location in the Southern Uplands in August 2018.
Children in local schools adopted the birds, naming them Edward, Beaky and Emily.
The young birds quickly settled into their new homes and are now beginning to fend for themselves.
The £1.3 million project, hosted by the Southern Uplands Partnership, is now calling on volunteers across the south of Scotland to support project staff and Scottish Raptor Study Group members in monitoring and recording sightings of the birds.
There are only between two and four pairs of golden eagle across Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders. However, a supporting study by Scottish Natural Heritage shows that the local habitat is suitable for up to 16 pairs.
The project has also identified that the best way of enhancing this fragmented and vulnerable population of golden eagles is through increasing the supply of young eagles, which will eventually recruit into the breeding population. Over the next four years, the project will bring between three and 10 young eagles south.
The project team is using tried and tested methods for rear and release, derived from previous white-tailed eagle and red kite reintroduction projects and through the co-operation of raptor experts and estates.
Work is focusing on ensuring former and potential nesting sites are reoccupied.
Each released golden eagle has been satellite tagged so the project team can gather information on its ranging behaviour, survival and health.