Most of the white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) populations in Europe experienced dramatic declines during the twentieth century. However, owing to intense conservation actions and the ban of DDT and other persistent pollutants, populations are currently recovering. We show that despite passing through demographic bottlenecks, white-tailed eagle populations have retained significant levels of genetic diversity. Both genetic and ringing data indicate that migration between populations has not been a major factor for the maintenance of genetic variability. We argue that the long generation time of eagles has acted as an intrinsic buffer against loss of genetic diversity, leading to a shorter effective time of the experienced bottleneck. Notably, conservation actions taken in several small sub-populations have ensured the preservation of a larger proportion of the total genetic diversity than if conservation had focused on the population stronghold in Norway. For conservation programmes targeting other endangered, long-lived species, our results highlight the possibility for local retention of high genetic diversity in isolated remnant populations.