A GOLDEN eagle that disappeared in the Borders last year is believed to have been shot.

The bird, named Merrick after the highest peak in the Southern Uplands, arrived in the region as part of the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project in 2022.

She was reported missing in autumn 2023 after her satellite tag suddenly stopped transmitting.

Police officers investigating the case are confident “humans were involved in the demise of this eagle”.

Dr Cat Barlow, project manager at the eagle scheme, said: “Looking at the evidence, Police Scotland believe she was shot then fell to the ground, where she bled considerably through a single wound. Police Scotland believe that someone then removed her body and destroyed her satellite tag.”

The project has had significant success since the first chicks were released in 2018, quadrupling the local population of golden eagles to the highest number seen in the area for centuries. 

Merrick was the fifth eagle collected in the summer of 2022.

The team followed the bird’s journey using round-the-clock surveillance techniques. 

She was thriving before her disappearance and exploring widely across the south of Scotland and northern England. 

Until her disappearance, Merrick’s tag had been transmitting normally. During the eight days before her disappearance, she was exploring the Moorfoot Hills.

On a visit to check on a juvenile eagle in the area, eagle officer John Wright inspected Merrick’s last known roosting spot. 

He said: “I saw a film of blood stretched across the grass stems. It subsequently turned out that a considerable amount of blood was present in and below the moss layer. As I stood back from the feather and blood location, I could see small downy feathers scattered in the dense spruce foliage below the roosting branches.

“Golden eagles, as apex predators, have very few natural predators and so fears that Merrick had been fatally injured whilst roosting were quickly dismissed. Police Scotland have told us that they are confident humans were involved in the demise of this eagle.”

In November, Police Scotland issued a statement stating that they believed she had “come to harm” and were treating her disappearance as “suspicious”.

Dr Barlow said: “The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project is incredibly angry, upset and disappointed that her disappearance appears to have been at the hands of an individual or individuals who consider themselves above the law.

“The project’s translocated eagles have captured the hearts and minds of all our supporters, from conservationists, and raptor workers to landowners and the wider community, including children, visitors and business operators, who all share in our utter shock and disappointment.”

The eagle originated from Rottal Estate near Kirriemuir in the Angus Glens.

Estate owner and Chair of Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) Dee Ward said: “We utterly condemn raptor persecution in the strongest possible terms and it is right and proper that anyone who commits such an act is prosecuted and convicted.

“Merrick is an eagle our own family estate donated to the project and we’re incredibly proud of the part we and many other estates, land managers and gamekeepers have played in the success of the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project. Indeed, the project has otherwise been an incredible success built on respect and co-operation between keepers, farmers, foresters and raptor conservationists.”

Detective Sergeant David Lynn, wildlife crime coordinator, said: “The bird was last seen in the area to the west of Fountainhall, between Heriot and Stow on Thursday, October 12. A full search of this area was carried out and officers believe the bird has come to harm and are treating its disappearance as suspicious.

“We are determined to protect these magnificent birds. We work closely with a number of partners to tackle wildlife crime, which can be challenging and complex to investigate. I urge anyone with any information to contact us through 101 quoting reference number 1193 of October 18. Alternatively, please contact Crimestoppers though 0800 555 111, where anonymity can be maintained.”