Analysis of the SGA’s Deeside eagle report

Last month the SGA released a report into their ‘investigation’ into the death of the Deeside golden eagle (see here to read their report).

At the time we said we would comment on their report once we’d received responses to some pending Freedom of Information requests. We’re now in a position to comment.

So, the motivation for the SGA’s ‘investigation’ into the circumstances of this eagle’s death was because of what they perceived as “irregularities” in the media reports put out by the RSPB. Let’s have a look at those ‘irregularities’ in turn.

May2012 GE tayside grampianThe SGA don’t believe that the eagle was caught in an illegally-set trap because during their discussions with the estate’s staff, it was claimed they only ever use Mark 4 Fenn traps as opposed to Mark 6 Fenn traps (and of course statements made by those involved with grouse moor management should always be believed). The SGA say the Mark 4 Fenn trap is too weak to smash the legs of a golden eagle and it would be impossible for an eagle to get both feet caught inside the trap at the same time. However, if you read the RSPB’s original media statement about this incident (released 24th September 2012 – here) nowhere do they mention a Fenn trap. All they mention is a “spring type trap”, which covers a wide array of different traps, both legal and illegal, that could have caused the injuries sustained by that eagle. Indeed, independent veterinary pathology experts at the Scottish Agricultural College laboratory concluded that the two broken legs sustained by this eagle “could be consistent with an injury caused by a spring type trap”. It’s up to the reader to decide whether the statements made by the estate’s staff and the SGA are more authoritative than those of the independent veterinary pathologist experts at the SAC lab.

The SGA say they visited the precise location of the ‘alleged’ trapping on the estate. They say, “Close by, on one side, was a large multi-catch crow cage. On the other was a 7-8 foot deer fence”. This is an interesting interpretation of what “close by” means. We understand that the deer fence is actually at least 80m away from the location where the bird was static for 15 hours.

The SGA say that the eagle could have broken both its legs by crashing into the fence at a speed that could have been in excess of 50mph (according to their falconer friend). However, the post mortem report clearly states that the eagle’s injuries could be consistent with being caught in a spring type trap, not crashing into a static object at high speed. In the event of crashing into the fence with an estimated speed in excess of 50mph, you might expect injuries to the feet and to the pelvis, as a bare minimum. The post mortem report documented two broken legs as the bird’s only injuries. It’s up to the reader to decide whether the statement of an un-named falconer with an unknown level of ‘expertise’ holds more authority than the statements of the independent veterinary pathologist experts at the SAC lab.

The SGA say that after hitting the fence the eagle “would then have undoubtedly tried to regain flight. This is consistent with the GPS signals which we were shown by the RSPB, which appeared to show variations in the readings. The readings do not show that the bird was “static” for 15 hours”. It seems that the SGA have a limited understanding of how to interpret GPS sat tag signals. The variations in the readings are entirely within the +/- 18m variation quoted by the manufacturer (Microwave Telemetry). In other words, all of the signals received during the 15 hour period in question were within an 18m circle radius. To all intents and purposes the bird was “static”. It’s up to the reader to decide whether the SGA’s interpretation of the satellite data is more authoritative than those of the sat tag manufacturer or the experienced biologists tracking this eagle.

The SGA say, “The RSPB state that the eagle could no longer become airborne. We disagree, having witnessed on several occasions various bird species gaining flight with leg injuries”. But it wasn’t the RSPB who said that the eagle could no longer become airborne, it was the independent veterinary pathologists at the SAC, who said the injuries were so severe “they would prevent the bird from being able to take off”. If anyone has ever watched a golden eagle take off they will know that the bird bends its legs to push off from the ground/perch. Clearly, two broken legs would prevent this from happening. The SGA suggest that the bird could have used the “advantageous slope of the ground” to “get air below its wings”. Actually the area where this bird was static for 15 hours is relatively flat – not on the edge of a high cliff where an injured bird might be able to roll off and find a thermal uplift. So, imagine an eagle with two broken legs on the flat ground – it will be lying on its side, back or front – do you think it could get airborne? It’s up to the reader to decide whether the SGA’s explanation is more plausible than that of the independent veterinary pathologist experts at the SAC lab.

The SGA say that the eagle could have flown 15km in the dark, tried to land but crashed into the tree and fell to its final resting place underneath a tree branch. This crash would, according to them, explain the eagle feathers found between the road lay-by and the dead eagle. Unfortunately the post mortem report doesn’t show any evidence of the eagle having crashed into a dense conifer tree. It’s up to the reader to decide whether the opinion of the SGA is more authoritative than that of the independent veterinary pathologist experts at the SAC lab.

To conclude then, the SGA’s version of what happened to this eagle was that it died as a result of a terrible accident. However, they haven’t been able to provide any convincing evidence and what they propose happened is not supported by the evidence provided by the independent veterinary pathology experts.

The RSPB’s reaction to the SGA’s report included this statement:

This is a rather desperate statement from the SGA, which seemingly does more to reveal their nature as apologists for the worst types of wildlife crime, as they try to defend the indefensible. Indeed, it calls into question their very commitment to the aims and objectives of the partnership for Action Against Wildlife crime Scotland (PAWS)”.

It’s interesting (and obviously totally unrelated) to learn that in a recent meeting with the Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse, the SGA were told very clearly that they would not be issued with licences to kill raptors for the foreseeable future due to the ongoing incidents of criminal raptor persecution. According to the police, the case of this particular eagle obviously falls within that category.  

Unfortunately we’ll probably never find out who was responsible for this eagle’s death. Had a full police search, under warrant, taken place then further supporting evidence might have been retrieved. As it stands, it appears that this supposedly ‘on-going investigation’ is as dead as the eagle.

This bird will simply join the long list of other dead or ‘missing’ eagles whose killers have never been brought to justice: 26 eagles in six years at our last count, including ‘Alma’ who was found poisoned in 2009 on, er, this estate.

8 Responses to “Analysis of the SGA’s Deeside eagle report”

  1. 1 Chris Roberts
    March 16, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    I know who I believe, and it certainly isn’t the discredited SGA. Good news regarding Paul Wheelhouse!

  2. 2 Marco McGinty
    March 16, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    Regarding Paul Wheelhouse, I’m afraid I have to disagree with you Chris. Perhaps I misunderstand his statement, but does this mean that if the grouse-shooting industry eventually starts operating within the law then licences to kill raptors will be issued? This is a really worrying turn and as far as I am concerned, this idea should not be tolerated and should not be even be in discussion.

    So, these people and organisations that have carried out illegal killings for years suddenly stop, then the government will make sweeping changes to the law, enabling the criminals to carry on the killing, but legally? What kind of message does this send out to criminals throughout the land? Burglars being given TVs, computers and iPods if they stop their thieving ways? Car thieves being offered new cars? Shoplifters being given given shops? It is quite evident that some folk are just not up to the job, and if Paul Wheelhouse is seriously considering raptor licencing as a deterrant to stop the illegal killing, then he appears to be one of those people.

    • 3 Chris Roberts
      March 17, 2013 at 1:32 pm

      I totally agree with your findings Marco, I guess I was just pleased with the fact that they wouldn’t be issuing licences in the “forseeable future”. I do emphasize that I would never like to see licences issued.

      • 4 Marco McGinty
        March 18, 2013 at 4:11 am

        I understand, Chris. I realise that if you were to scan over the text, then it could be easy to accept Wheelhouse’s statement as a positive step forward in the fight against raptor persecution. This was most probably his and the government’s aim, but if he finds this an acceptable method, then I am sure he will have a fight on his hands.

  3. 5 Merlin
    March 16, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    Just a couple of points to add regards the falconers statement, in the later stages of training birds of prey for falconry a creance is used, this is a strong line attached to the birds jesses usually up to 100 meters long. I’ve personally witnessed birds reaching speed only to be pulled up suddenly by the creance catching on something, its extremely rare for a bird to suffer any trauma from this, birds of prey have exceptionally strong legs, part of the killing method is caused by the impact of the feet striking and clenching. I believe most falconers would not agree with this falconers statement. also a bird hitting a fence would only have marks to the front of its legs, in a trap front and back of the legs would show marks. Its also possibly worth mentioning that some grouse falconers loathe Eagles. In north America falconers will drive miles to get out of eagle territories to fly their falcons, they nickname the Golden eagle the dragon, falconers over there have learned that if their falcons make a kill in eagle territories they tend to get robbed of their prey or even killed on it before the falconer can retrieve his bird. Finally and sadly it is also worth mentioning that once again the major shooting organisations and magazines failed to make a stand for the good name of their law abiding members, preferring instead to round on the RSPB for criticizing the SGA’S ridiculous attempts to cover up this disgusting incident, just a reminder to these people what strong leadership looks like and how this situation should have been dealt with, I’ll remind you of what Des Crofton, Director of NARGC had to say over the shooting of a Buzzard
    . This is inexcusable. If I ever found one of my members was responsible for something like this, he would be out of the association so fast his feet wouldn’t touch the ground”.
    There you go, no pussy footing around saying they don’t use traps that big and we’ve found someone who says it might be possible its been abducted by aliens, get the estate black listed

  4. March 17, 2013 at 9:58 am

    I’m wondering if there is anywhere a list of those MPs who own or have interests in UK shooting estates? This because I’m writing a ‘rant’ text for my new website and one of the subjects I’m covering is the continuing persecution of our beloved raptors, in particular of course the Hen Harrier. Would the introduction of vicarious liability legislation in England, were it to happen (?), actually make any difference? (I’m assuming that the estate staff and managers would just become more adept at hiding their crimes . . .) Most grateful for any enlightenment!

  5. March 17, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    I don’t believe it will & I don’t believe it will in Scotland.

    • 8 Paul V Irving
      March 19, 2013 at 1:41 pm

      I suppose that if you assume that the bird had a “natural death” which precluded being in a trap then the SGA argument could hold a little water. However their starting point is that the bird was not illegally killed but all the EVIDENCE, INDEPENDENTLY VERIFIEDsuggests that the much more likely scenario is as described by the examining vets and RSPB. Have SGA put out enough smoke to damage the credibility of that argument? Amongst us NO but who knows. I believe that all the SGA have done once again sully their own already at rock bottom reputation. THEy appear to be apologists for the wrong doers, does this mean we can assume the wrong doers were some or one of their own? That is the logical explanation.

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