The number of golden eagles in the south of Scotland has hit its highest recorded level since the 19th century.
The bird of prey was almost extinct in the area, but 33 have now been recorded following a project to increase its population in the wild.
To save the species, conservationists caught, transported and released seven young, free-flying golden eagles from the Outer Hebrides in a UK first.
Dr Cat Barlow, manager of the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project, said: “Though it is still early days, this could be a ground-breaking technique for the global conservation management of golden eagles and other raptors.
“We will continue to monitor these birds to see if they settle, thrive and breed in the south of Scotland, which will be the real measure of success.”
The birds were carefully captured, under licence from NatureScot, by raptor ecologists Dave Anderson and Robin Reid, and Scottish Raptor Study Group member Graeme Anderson at bait sites in the Outer Hebrides – which has Europe’s highest concentrations of the species.
Project officials said they did not select adult or breeding birds, and transported five females and two males in specially-designed travel boxes before swiftly releasing them at a secret location in the southern uplands of Scotland.
The project team has previously released 12 eagles collected as chicks from nests in the Highlands and Islands, a process which is much more widely used for raptor conservation programmes.
The released eagles have all settled in the south of Scotland, with frequent sightings of interactions including with other native eagles.
Francesca Osowska, NatureScot’s chief executive, said: “This ground-breaking project has accomplished so much over just a few years, bringing a viable population of golden eagles back to south Scotland and inspiring other similar initiatives around the world.
“Particularly during the twin crises of climate emergency and biodiversity loss, it’s wonderful to see a success like this.
“Golden eagles are a vital part of Scotland’s wildlife, and we’re passionate about returning them to places where they used to thrive. This is brilliant partnership working, and a great support for the local green economy.”