A new survey by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association has identified golden eagles nesting in 58 occupied territories managed by their members for grouse shooting.
The survey was carried out this year over four key regions covering the Cairngorms National Park and surrounding lands lying outside the National Park boundary.
The findings eclipse the SGA’s previous eagle study of 2013, which showed 55 eagle nests on grouse areas managed by gamekeepers.
New figures also include the driven grouse estate in the eastern highlands which made headlines in late Spring this year when three healthy chicks were fledged from the one nest.
According to RSPB Scotland, eagles usually lay two eggs in a year when breeding has been successful.
In 2014, Invermark Estate in the Angus Glens, managed for grouse and deer, also boasted three young from the one breeding site.
Scotland is home to the entire UK population of eagles with the exception of one male in the English Lakes.
The population is stable, at around 450 breeding pairs, after recovering from a sharp decline in the sixties due to organochlorine pesticides which caused infertility and eggshell thinning.
Ronnie Kippen of The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, one of the four members of the SGA tasked with collating the regional information, said: “It was important to update our previous work from 2013 and it is good to see more eagles nesting on occupied territories where our members are working every day.
“Without their local knowledge, it would not have been possible to pull the survey work together as it covers grouse areas from the Monadhliaths, the Cairngorms National Park and land which lies outwith the boundary.
“Legal predator control and heather management by gamekeepers has been proven to help provide a vital food source for eagles such as red grouse, mountain hare and rabbits.
“The lack of a small prey in the west, for example, is a problem for the eagles on that side of the country so providing this food source is important. Obviously breeding success can vary, depending on weather and food availability but despite the wetness this year, we have heard of good reports of nests coming away with youngsters. Although we have not included them previously in our counts, we also had sea eagles breeding successfully this year on managed ground, which is positive.”
Although the SGA has been advised not to publish a map, in order to protect the birds, nesting eagles were identified in 12 grid referenced territories in the Monadhliaths grouse areas.
Amongst the findings, 19 nesting eagles were located in occupied territories to the west of the A9 corridor.
Golden eagles have been constrained by historic persecution and poor quality habitat, with lack of prey a particular problem in the west of Scotland.
Range loss through afforestation- particularly in the South and West- disturbance and displacement through the spread of renewables have all been cited by scientists as constraining factors.
An FOI by the SGA in 2013 showed that the majority of the 66 golden eagle chicks relocated to Ireland for their golden eagle reintroduction project came from keepered uplands.
A Spokesman for The SGA said: “Where persecution has been a constraint, the SGA and others have worked hard to tackle this through partnership and education. We were pleased to see the number of crimes committed against wild animals in Scotland falling to its lowest level for five years, according to the latest official Scottish Government figures. This shows tangible progress being made although there is an acknowledgement from everyone that more work remains to be done.”