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A conservation framework for the golden eagle in Scotland: refining condition targets and assessment of constraint influences

Whitfield, D. P., Fielding, Alan H., McLeod, David R. A., Haworth, Paul F. and Watson, Jeff (2006) A conservation framework for the golden eagle in Scotland: refining condition targets and assessment of constraint influences. Biological conservation, 130 (4). pp. 465-480. ISSN 1873-2917

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Conservation strategies have three elements: species protection, site protection and, the most challenging component, conservation in the wider environment. Watson and Whitfield [Watson, J., Whitfield, P., 2002. A conservation framework for the golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos in Scotland. Journal of Raptor Research 36(1 Suppl.), 41–49.] proposed a conservation framework for the golden eagle in Scotland whose main innovation, taking a lead from EU conservation Directives, was to incorporate the concept of favourable condition and its maintenance by implementing conservation policies that are regionally targeted at known constraints in the wider environment. Three criteria were suggested to judge favourable condition: a national abundance target of breeding pairs, national and regional targets for breeding productivity, and regional targets for the extent of suitable habitat which is occupied by breeding pairs. Here we refine these criteria, first to take the national abundance target and use it to set regional targets. Distribution targets were implicitly incorporated by this process because abundance targets were set regionally, with regard to the proportion of known territories which should be occupied. This allowed us to dispense with the distribution criterion as originally proposed. Our next refinement was to base regional demographic targets not only on breeding productivity, but also on indirect measures of survival (which are likely to have more influence on population dynamics). Despite apparent overall population stability over the last 20 years, the national golden eagle population failed to meet the abundance target and only 3 of 16 regions where eagles have occupied territories since 1982 were considered to be in favourable condition. The key constraint preventing favourable condition being met was persecution, predominantly in some areas managed for grouse shooting. The advantages of a conservation framework over similar approaches, such as species action plans, are highlighted.

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