Country’s first Eagle Festival to help protect golden eagles

27 September 2021

The UK’s first ever Golden Eagle Festival (which took place from 19th to 26th of September 2021) saw a wonderful celebration of one of Scotland’s most iconic wildlife species, culminating in the official naming of the town of Moffat in Dumfries & Galloway as the UK’s first Eagle Town.

Organised by the pioneering charity initiative, The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project, with funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and support from Visit Moffat, the Moffat Eagle Festival played an important role in the charity’s continued work to address low numbers of golden eagles in the area.

The festival was a great success, with all of Moffat’s B&Bs and hotels fully booked throughout week and businesses reporting that the town was busier than it had been in a long time.

Renowned wildlife photographer Gordon Buchanan delivered the festival’s keynote speech. He said: “It has been a real privilege to have been part of the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project’s first ever Golden Eagle Festival and to support their important conservation work to ensure golden eagles once again flourish in southern skies. Festivals and events like this play a key role in raising awareness of how everyone can help to protect this magical and iconic bird. Each glimpse of a golden eagle is special, but they should and could be more common in the south of Scotland.”

The town of Moffat, situated less than a mile from Junction 15 on the M74, was officially awarded the title of Eagle Town at a special unveiling ceremony during the festival. The town’s new status is now marked with an official street sign and wooden eagle bench beautifully carved by Sam Bowsher exclusively for the town. Lorna Slater MSP unveiled the bench at the festival.

Accepting the new title for the town Leys Geddes chair of Visit Moffat said: “It’s been a wonderful week. Many of our local businesses are saying that the town is busier than it has been for a very long time - helping our town to recover from lockdowns, restrictions and uncertainty.

“This little town is the gateway to the 300sq km of the Moffat Hills. Our hills are like a mini-Highlands, providing outstanding scenery, green grass for our sheep farmers and a rich variety of wildlife. So Moffat is ideally situated to becoming Scotland’s First Eagle Town and to celebrate, and be hosts to, one of Scotland’s most iconic species – the golden eagle. 

“The people of Moffat, and our thousands of visitors, have taken the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project under their wings and are playing a vital role in welcoming eight more golden eagles, making 12 in total, to their new home.”

As recommended in this month’s Countryfile, Birdwatching and BBC Wildlife (online) Magazines, the Moffat Eagle Festival programme featured falconry displays, wildlife talks, raptor identification courses and live music. The festival concluded yesterday (26 September) with a Family Fun Day with a chance to meet a real golden eagle, falconry displays, a fell race, a Big Tree Climb, an Eaglet Family Fun run and ukulele workshops.

Festival organiser and Community Engagement Officer at the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project Rick Taylor said: “It has been amazing to see everything come together for the UK’s very first Eagle Festival in Moffat. The support we have received from the community, entertainers, conservationists, funders, project partners, festival-goers, local media and our wider project work been truly incredible - it all plays an absolutely vital role in protecting golden eagles in the south of Scotland.

“We’d also like say a special thank you to all those who have been fundraising throughout the festival to support our project’s continued work. Every penny raised will help to ensure that we all see even more of this magnificent species across the south of Scotland’s skies for many generations to come.”

Local whisky makers, Dark Sky Spirits, produced a limited edition Eagle Festival Whisky to raise funds for the work of the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project. Speaking of their involvement Dark Sky Spirits co-founder, Erin Bullard said: “It was brilliant to be part of the UK’s first Eagle Festival in Moffat this week. Preservation of land and wildlife is something we care deeply about and this bottling is our way of putting our money where our mouth is. We are delighted that we have played a part in helping to ensure golden eagles truly flourish in southern skies for generations to come.”

The festival premiered a new eagle themed song written especially for the event, Anthem for Eagle Town. One of the songwriters Christian Garrick from Budapest Café Orchestra said: “It is filmic in style, conjuring scenes of magnificent golden eagles in flight, soaring and wheeling majestically around the thermals and mini highlands of Moffat. On a personal note it is a tribute to my Grandad and also to his falconry tutor, Ashley Smith!

“My Grandad was passionate about all things wings, especially falconry, introducing it to me back in the 1980s. I took a lot of inspiration from those early memories around grandad and the Hawk Conservancy near Andover. As a new resident in Moffat I was also compelled to contribute in some musical way if at all possible.”

Speaking about their support for the festival, Caroline Clark, Director Scotland, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “The Golden Eagle Festival is an exciting new addition to Scotland’s wildlife calendar. It’s another innovative way in which The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project is helping communities learn about this awe-inspiring bird of prey and the role it plays in Scotland’s biodiversity. Thanks to funding from players of the National Lottery, not only will the Festival bring new visitors to discover this beautiful part of Scotland, but it will help safeguard the golden eagle’s existence for future generations.”

Welcoming the festival Paula Ward, Regional Leadership Director, Scotland South said: “The Moffat Eagle Festival is a fantastic addition to the annual events calendar in in Scotland. We’re delighted, but not surprised, to hear that it has been a real draw for visitors. With its spectacular scenery, unique natural environment and year round wildlife calendar, Scotland is one of the best places in the world for watching wildlife.

“As we recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever that we ensure that our stunning landscapes and wildlife are well protected. Tourism is a force for good – creating economic and social value in every corner of Scotland and enhancing the wellbeing of everyone who experiences it. Tourism makes Scotland richer, economically and socially, and without it Scotland would be a much poorer place.”

Since 2018, the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project has almost doubled the local population of golden eagles through a series of groundbreaking translocations to secret locations in the summer uplands. In summer 2021, they transported eight golden eagle chicks from the Scottish Highlands, bringing the total number of golden eagles successfully translocated by the charity Project to the area to 12.

Project partners RSPB Scotland, Scottish Land & Estates, Scottish Forestry, NatureScot and the Southern Uplands Partnership, worked on the project together for more than 11 years before releasing the first eagle chicks in 2018.  Funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, project partners and the Scottish Government, the initiative is a key project under ‘Scotland’s Biodiversity. A Route Map to 2020’, supporting the Government’s ‘2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity’.

For more information or to donate to the charity initiative, visit: South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project