East Scotland sea eagle chick ‘disappears’ on grouse moor

Sea-eagle chick 1 nestLast year we celebrated the news of the first sea eagle chick to fledge in East Scotland for over 200 years (see here).

This year we’re discussing his ‘disappearance’ (in all likelihood his death) in a well-known grouse moor area in the Cairngorms National Park.

This bird was a significant one. He marked an important milestone in the East Scotland Sea Eagle Reintroduction Project, being the first to fledge from a nest there in over 200 years. He was also our symbol of hope, following the news earlier in the year that the nest tree of another pioneering pair had been illegally felled with a chainsaw, bringing their breeding attempt to an abrupt halt (see here).

When we blogged about the successful fledging of this young eagle last year, we ended the post with this:

Here’s hoping this year’s pioneering young male manages to stay alive (keep away from grouse moors) for long enough to raise his own family – the next big milestone for the East Coast Project will be Scottish-born sea eagles rearing their own young. Good luck kid”.

He didn’t make it. He didn’t even make it to his first birthday.

He had been fitted with a satellite tag before he fledged, allowing researchers to monitor his movements. In mid-April, the signal from his transmitter stopped. The last signal had come from the North Glenbuchat Estate in Strathdon.

North Glenbuchat Estate has been at the centre of a series of wildlife crime investigations over a number of years. These have included the prosecution and conviction of the then head gamekeeper (in 2006) for poisoning offences; the discovery of a poisoned golden eagle in 2011 (killed by Carbofuran – no prosecution); the discovery of a poisoned buzzard in 2011 (killed by Carbofuran – no prosecution); the discovery of a poisoned bait in 2011 (no prosecution), and the discovery of a dead short-eared owl in 2011, that had been shot and stuffed under a rock (no prosecution). (See here for details of these discoveries).

Not only that, but a number of young satellite-tagged eagles have all mysteriously ‘disappeared’ in this area over the last few years, including one in September 2011, one in February 2012, one in May 2013 and now this latest one in April 2014. Including the poisoned golden eagle found in 2011, at least five young eagles are presumed dead. We only know about these young birds because they were all fitted with satellite transmitters. How many other young eagles have ‘vanished’ in suspicious circumstances in similar black holes across the central and eastern uplands, the heartland of driven grouse moors?

North Glenbuchat Estate was bought by the Marquess of Milford Haven in 2008. According to the Glenbuchat Heritage website, he “began an ambitious programme of renovating Glenbuchat Lodge and its dependent properties and improving the grouse moor”.

In 2013, North Glenbuchat Estate became a member of Scottish Land & Estates:

North Glenbuchat joins SLE 2013

Today’s police raid of the estate (reported by the BBC here) is welcome news, although the chance of finding any evidence to link to a suspect is pretty slim, especially if the bird has been shot, as is suspected.

We’re almost at a loss what to say. What can we say that hasn’t already been said each and every time? What words are there to describe the fury, rage, sadness, sorrow and overwhelming frustration about what is going on, right under our noses, in our own countryside? The Untouchables strike again. It is out of control and the Government seems powerless to stop it.

Only they’re not powerless. They’re actually very powerful and they could stop this at the drop of a hat if they really wanted to. The Environment Minister has said over and over again that if persecution continues, he will ‘not hesitate’ to bring in further measures. It’s time to stop hesitating, Mr Wheelhouse – get a grip on this insidious criminality and do what you’re paid to do. No more excuses.

Please email the Environment Minister and demand further action. Email: ministerforenvironment@scotland.gsi.gov.uk


Parliamentary questions asked about poisoned peregrine at Leadhills

Peregrine poisoned Leadhills Feb 2014Three weeks ago we blogged about the discovery of a poisoned peregrine in the Leadhills area of South Lanarkshire, and the alleged response of Police Scotland & NWCU, who both seemed reluctant to handle the case (see here, here and here).

The authorities have refused to discuss the incident, claiming it would be inappropriate to comment on an on-going investigation. We argue that answering questions about how an initial telephone call was handled would have no impact whatsoever on any ‘investigation’ (and we don’t even believe there is an investigation, as the person who reported the dead bird has apparently been told by Police Scotland that a witness statement is not required!!!).

This stone-walling response is pretty common and we’re used to it by now. Many of us have written to the Environment Minister to demand an explanation about why the police and the NWCU allegedly ignored this reported crime but so far we’ve heard absolutely nothing in return. This silence doesn’t fill us with confidence that raptor persecution is being taken seriously.

One MSP isn’t satisfied with this official wall of silence.

Liam McArthur MSPLiam McArthur MSP, a Scottish Liberal Democrat representing the Orkney Islands (a very long way from Leadhills!!) has submitted a series of parliamentary questions about this Leadhills case, and more generally about the effectiveness of current enforcement measures to deal with raptor persecution. Good on him.

Question S4W-20745: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 15/04/2014

To ask the Scottish Government what steps Police Scotland is taking to ensure that its staff are aware of their responsibilities regarding the protection of protected species. [Current Status: Expected answer date 15/5/2014].

Question S4W-20746: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 15/04/2014

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will hold an inquiry into reports that Police Scotland told a member of the public that the poisoning of a peregrine falcon in the Leadhills area was not a police matter. [Current Status: Expected Answer date 15/05/2014].

Question S4W-20747: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 15/04/2014

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to combat illegal raptor persecution in the Leadhills area. [Current Status: Expected Answer date 15/05/2014].

Question S4W-20748: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 15/04/2014

To ask the Scottish Government whether there is sufficient evidence to assess the effectiveness of the new enforcement measures to tackle raptor persecution announced by the Minister for Environment and Climate Change on 1 July 2013. [Current Status: Expected Answer date 15/05/2014].


Police investigate ‘illegally killed’ peregrine near Stirling

Peregrine Falcon portrait against a dark backgroundPolice Scotland have launched an investigation after the discovery of a dead peregrine which they say has been ‘illegally killed’.

The cause of death has not been reported.

The dead four year old bird was found by raptor study group fieldworkers at Cambusbarron Quarry, near Stirling, on 15th April 2014.

The local police wildlife crime officer said that Police Scotland takes raptor persecution “very seriously” and will be working with the Scottish Raptor Study Group, RSPB Scotland, and members of the local community to identify the criminal responsible.

As we all know, it’s extremely unlikely that the criminal will be identified, let alone brought to justice, but it’s good to see Police Scotland put out a timely press release, and although the cause of death hasn’t been revealed (perhaps for tactical purposes?), at least this time they haven’t gone all cryptic and said ‘it didn’t die of natural causes’.

The bigger picture, of course, is the on-going illegal persecution of birds of prey. Here’s yet another example, hot on the heels of the Ross-shire Massacre, and the poisoned peregrine at Leadhills, demonstrating that raptor persecution is still happening with alarming regularity, 70 years after it became a criminal offence.

Full details in the Courier here.

Peregrine photo by Martin Eager.


Behind the scenes with the poisons forensics team at SASA

There’s an interesting article published today by the BBC, looking at the behind-the-scenes work of the poisons forensics team in Scotland.

The government’s Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) team is the one that detects poisons in the carcasses of raptors (and other species) and identifies the type of poison which has killed the bird.

This is a highly-specialised field and the SASA team’s work is well-respected by both sides of the poisoning issue  - conservationists and the game-shooting industry alike. Their work forms the basis for the government’s annual ‘poisoning maps of shame’, which depict confirmed poisoning incidents (but still inexplicably exclude the locations of confirmed poisoned baits).

The BBC article can be read here.

The last sentence is interesting: “But visitors can, at least, be assured that the team of scientists here are doing all they can to help the police secure convictions in cases of raptor persecution“. Unfortunately, despite the expert toxicology results provided by SASA, very few convictions are secured against those who poison our birds. Even when SASA has managed to identify the poison, and the same poison is found in the possession of a suspect, the resulting prosecution is usually (with a handful of exceptions) for the lesser offence of ‘possession’ [of a banned poison], as opposed to the offence of actually poisoning a protected species.

The BBC article is illustrated with an image of a dead golden eagle on the post-mortem table. To date, there has not been a single conviction for the illegal poisoning (nor shooting or trapping) of an eagle in Scotland. Our current figures show 31 eagles, 7 years, 0 prosecutions (see here).



Malta: Massacre on Migration

Malta Massacre on MigrationWe don’t often cover raptor persecution issues beyond the UK and Ireland, but the situation in Malta is worthy of an exception.

All this week, Chris Packham and his self-funded team are publishing video blogs about the appalling illegal shooting of birds (including raptors) that are trying to pass through Malta on their northward spring migration.

The videos will be upsetting, undoubtedly, but the situation must be addressed and Chris provides suggestions of how each of us can help.

You will notice some similarities between the situation there and the situation here.

Please visit his website (here) for further information.


Raptors being killed by a mystery virus, not by illegal persecution

virusA top virologist has declared that we’ve all got it wrong – raptors are not being systematically slaughtered across Scotland and northern England – they are falling victim to a mystery virus.

Professor McPasteur, a distant relative of Louis Pasteur, has been studying the new virus in his top secret laboratory in Ross-shire. He said:

This is a real breakthrough in the world of virus discovery. We’ve uncovered what we believe to be the cause of extensive raptor deaths that have previously been blamed on the activities of gamekeepers. We don’t yet know a lot about this virus but we do know it is transmitted on the breath of grouse moor gamekeepers and is highly contagious. Some gamekeepers have developed a high level of immunity and appear not to be infected; however we have yet to develop an effective vaccine and at the moment the only known control is to isolate the host carriers from the rest of the community“.

He goes on: “This virus is very clever. It can mimic the presence of several banned poisons, but particularly Carbofuran, leading crime investigators to mistakenly attribute a bird’s death to illegal poisoning. It can also fell nest trees, set illegal traps and cause shotguns to self-trigger. It really is remarkable“.

The results of Prof McPasteur’s experiments are expected to be published in the Ross-shire Science Journal in the coming days.


Ross-shire Massacre: local farmers ‘have nothing to hide’

A farmer whose properties have been raided by police as part of the investigation into the Ross-shire Massacre has given an exclusive interview to the BBC (see here).

Ewan Macdonald, on whose land several of the poisoned birds were found, is claiming that he and the local farming community have nothing to hide. The report states that the police have not found anything to link Mr Macdonald to the crimes.


Mr Macdonald runs his farms in partnership with his brother, Shaun. In 2007, Shaun Macdonald was runner-up in the NFU Scotland Farming & Conservation Award, for ‘superb conservation efforts’, sponsored by the RSPB (see here).

Mr Macdonald is calling for an action group comprising landowners, police and RSPB, ‘to investigate the killings’. He suggests that there could be an innocent explanation for the deaths, such as a virus, or somebody feeding meat to the birds of prey which they do not realise has been contaminated.

Hmm. Interestingly, a number of prominent people from within the game-shooting industry have been making almost identical claims on social media in recent days.

Although the police have not yet publicly named the poison involved, it’s not that difficult to make an educated guess as to its identity, given the speed with which these birds died. An article in the Guardian last week (here) reported that a combination of poisons had been used, and also referred to “baits”. That pretty much rules out a ‘virus’ and unintentional feeding of accidentally contaminated meat then, eh?

Meanwhile, in another region of La-La Land, there are more denials about the extent of raptor persecution in Scotland. A row has broken out following Duncan Orr-Ewing’s (RSPB Scotland) comments in Holyrood magazine about persecution levels being comparable to those of the Victorian era (see earlier blog on this here).

McAdam 1In a BBC News article (here), Doug McAdam, CEO of the landowners’ organisation Scottish Land & Estates seems to have taken on the role of the headmaster: “For Mr Orr Ewing to suggest that wildlife crime is returning to Victorian levels is both irresponsible and untrue. He ought to know better“.

Then in a quite astonishing piece of spin, he goes on to say: “Official statistics in recent years have seen, overall, a downward trend in raptor persecution – even at some points demonstrating record low levels of poisoning incidents“.

Conveniently, by using the words ‘official statistics’ and ‘overall’, he has neatly side-stepped the fact that poisoning incidents doubled in 2013, and had the ‘official statistics’ included the discovery of poisoned baits, then the 36 pre-prepared Carbofuran baits found hidden on Leadhills Estate last year would have pushed the ‘official’ figure somewhat higher.

There’s also some waffle from Adam Smith of the GWCT (Scotland), who claims that “for a variety of reasons hen harriers may not be distributed right across the habitats which are suitable for them [i.e. grouse moors], but their national recovery is clear“.

What Mr Smith conveniently ‘forgot’ to mention was that the government’s own commissioned report on hen harrier conservation (published in 2011) demonstrated unequivocally that illegal persecution was the main reason this species isn’t present on large swathes of suitable habitat (i.e. grouse moors), and oh, the results from the latest national survey (conducted in 2010) show a 20% population decline (in Scotland) from the previous survey in 2004 (see here).

And finally, there’s a quote from Des Thompson of SNH. Surely as a member of the Scottish Government’s statutory conservation agency he’d be wanting to make sure that everyone knows that the damning, copious evidence was indisputable, right? Ah…..(we can’t be bothered to type it out – read the BBC article  if you’re interested in his opinion).

For any of you who’ve had a gut-full of the on-going persecution of our raptors, the game-shooting industry’s on-going denial of any involvement, and the authorities’ on-going and almost complete failure to address the situation, you might be interested in this post on Mark Avery’s blog. Hope to see many of you on or around 12th August 2014.

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