Environment Minister refuses to recommend golden eagle as national bird

Fearnan2We’ve been following the progress of the RSPB’s submission to the Scottish Parliament to have the golden eagle declared as Scotland’s national bird.

The process began in November 2013 when RSPB Scotland launched a public petition to have the golden eagle named as Scotland’s national bird (see here). 1836 signatures were gathered and the petition was duly submitted for consideration by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee on 7th December 2013.

On 28th January 2014 the Petitions Committee took evidence in support of the petition from RSPB Scotland’s Duncan Orr-Ewing and wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan (see here).

The hearing descended in to farce when one of the Committee members suggested the golden eagle was an unsuitable candidate as it was representative of Nazi symbolism (see here).

The official report of the hearing can be read here: Public Petitions Committee official report 28 Jan 2014

Nevertheless, the Committee agreed to progress the petition by seeking advice from SNH, the Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) and the Scottish Government.

Later in February, written submissions were made by SNH and the SRSG. The SRSG was in full support of the petition, arguing that the designation of the golden eagle would go some way to reducing the current illegal persecution of this species. SNH, however, refused to support the designation, suggesting that other species were also worthy of consideration, including the red grouse!! (see blog here).

SRSG submission: SRSG response to petition 1500 Feb 23 2014

SNH submission: SNH response to petition 1500 Feb 19 2014

We argued that SNH was engaging in double standards given their response to an earlier petition to designate the Scots Pine as Scotland’s national tree. In that response, SNH supported the nomination of the Scots Pine and dismissed other potential contenders. We also argued that SNH had missed an important opportunity to promote the conservation of the golden eagle – a species known (in part from SNH-commissioned research) to be in trouble in large areas of the country (notably in areas managed for driven grouse shooting).

Last week, the written advice from Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse was submitted to the Petitions Committee. You can read it here: Wheelhouse response to petition 1500 Mar 13 2014

In a nutshell, Wheelhouse recognises the continued persecution that this species faces and is “not opposed to the idea of the golden eagle as a national bird” but he will not recommend the golden eagle as Scotland’s national bird.

His reasoning is more than a little ironic given the current debates surrounding independence. The main thrust of his argument is this: “I am not yet convinced that there are compelling arguments in support of having a national bird“.

Eh? Isn’t he a member of the Scottish National Party? What’s the problem with having a national bird? Is it so unusual for a country to designate a national bird? What damage has designating a national bird ever caused to any other country? Would designating a national bird cause irreparable damage to Scotland?

Scots pine wheelhouseIt’s all very strange, especially when you consider Wheelhouse’s response to the recent designation of the Scots Pine as Scotland’s national tree. Following that designation, Wheelhouse revealed plans were in place to have a National Tree Week and to set up a special fund to help promote Scotland’s national tree! He was quoted as saying that having a national tree was a “clear symbol of our affinity with Scotland’s trees, woods and forests, and their importance to us all” (see here). That’s what we should expect from an Environment Minister. His response to the petition to designate the golden eagle as Scotland’s national bird is, frankly, absurd.

So where does this leave the petition? We’re not sure. We had expected that a public consultation would be called but it now seems even that is in doubt, as Wheelhouse is first urging a wider debate on the concept of having further national symbols.

Very, very disappointing.

17 Responses to “Environment Minister refuses to recommend golden eagle as national bird”

  1. March 18, 2014 at 11:48 am

    Very disappointing indeed. However, this goes along with information coming into us at Project Raptor that certain departments, people with influence and authority would like to bury the Scottish raptor persecution issue at every opportunity, for motives that we can only guess at. So having a goldie as Scotland’s national bird would only help to highlight the plight of these raptors in Scotland and so we would say that this was possibly a factor in Mr Wheelhouse’s thinking.

  2. 2 Dave
    March 18, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    I don’t see the point of a national bird (or a national tree either) but surely it should be one that’s unique to Scotland, such as the Scottish Crossbill?

  3. March 18, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    It seems obvious to me that SNH and Wheelhouse are frightened of being seen to be pro-RSPB.
    Of course that also means they are frightened of upsetting landowners.
    Wheelhouse is obviously more interested in his next job than wildlife.
    The man has been an utter disappointment.
    I lived in Denmark when Svend Auken was Environmental Minister so i know what possibilities there are with a man/woman of vision.
    Wheelhouse has the vision of a blighted potatoe

  4. 4 Ernie O'Malley
    March 18, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    So is it the case that the whole concept of having a clear symbol of Scotland’s affinity with wild birds, places and their importance to us has not convinced the Minister or just that the Golden Eagle is not that bird?! Is that the case closed. Contradictory, political hypocrisy gone mad. Turned a positive and progressive initiative backward for fear of having to face up to real issues. If this is the tiniest reflection of a future under SNP, how can anyone have confidence in this party serving the public interest and guiding our nation through economic and political transition, never mind land reform and a national strategy to upland out-come based management.

    • 5 Jimmy
      March 19, 2014 at 1:44 am

      Its would probably get in the way of the SNP’s policy of covering Scotlands wild lands with industrial wind turbines

  5. 6 nirofo
    March 18, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    I never expected any other outcome given that SNH and many of the members of parliament are probably controlled by the shooting estates and their owners, or they are frightened of the power they can wield over them. It was obvious where SNH allegiances lay when they had the gall to propose the Red Grouse as a suitable candidate, as for Wheelhouse’s wimpish response, well, he’s already shown that he’ll just go along with whoever pulls his strings and is not prepared to disturb the status quo.

    • 7 Stewart Love
      March 18, 2014 at 6:16 pm

      I agree with nirofo. I had hoped the SNP of all the parties in this country would have been more likely to be in favor of the Golden Eagle as our national bird than any other, but it seems that Mr Wheelhouse is as spineless as other ministers. Well we all know now where is loyalties lie. Wonder when he is getting his new tweed jacket and bunnet.

  6. 8 Jimmy
    March 18, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    I suppose it would highligt the SNP’s failure to reign in the wildlife criminals up on the moors

  7. 9 Chris Green
    March 18, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    No surprise there then, they would have to take the persecution of raptors seriously, something that will never happen.

  8. 10 Dave Dick
    March 18, 2014 at 7:32 pm

    I dont think SNP have a coherent policy on landuse/land ownership at all…look at what Wheelhouse was saying in january..http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10552030/SNP-ministers-warn-lairds-about-need-for-radical-redistribution-of-Scottish-land.html

    This sort of thing will certainly make me think twice about voting for them, after we get Independence..whereas in january I was feeling greatly encouraged…whats going on?

  9. 11 Circus maxima
    March 18, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    This is nothing more than what we have come to expect from the Nationalists…they see the environment as something unpleasant you tread in on the pavement.

  10. March 18, 2014 at 10:11 pm

    Its a clear indication that the authorities …….SNH,, Police Scotland & especially the SNP administration cannot protect Scotland’s eagles from the criminal fraternity.

  11. 13 chris roberts
    March 18, 2014 at 10:57 pm

    I am at present touring Florida and it is a pleasure to see countless buzzards in the sky from Orlando to the everglades. As well as many eagles even perching in trees within yards of us without seeming to be afraid of our presence. Such a difference to Scotland where you are extremely lucky to even catch sight of one.

    Our country is a joke regarding wildlife, and the SNP is as bad as all the rest.

    • 14 Paul AJ
      March 19, 2014 at 12:26 am

      Where do you live? NE Scotland is well abundant with Buzzards, despite a bad couple of winters for them, we still see them lining the roadsides and wheeling the skies in search of lunch, even over some of the more sizeable towns. Same goes for the Cairngorms and everything from here down well into Angus (All I can attest to from personal experience).

      • 15 chris robertsz
        March 19, 2014 at 12:43 pm

        Hi paul I live in the aviemore area and whereas I used to see several buzzards I now seldom see any. On a 30 Mile drive to Inverness I may see a couple but on a similar drive in Florida I see dozens. Same with kites. On a drive through the Chilterns I see dozens and through the black isle I’m lucky if I see one. Scotland is becoming a joke with regards to birds of prey. I have recently seen a sparrowhawk after an absence of a couple of years as it was feasting on one of my pigeons in my garden!

        • 16 Dave Dick
          March 19, 2014 at 1:13 pm

          A word of caution on using casual sightings with regards to the health of raptor populations – roadside numbers for instance, are likely to be linked to amounts of carrion, which can vary due to everything from speed and frequency of traffic, to availability of prey [rabbit/pheasnt numbers etc..].

          A good example is an area near Aviemore where tourists who wanted to see an eagle, were always sent – and frequently they did see eagles..but always juveniles. The reason?..eagles were being persecuted heavily on the shooting estates nearby, thus drawing in young birds from a wide area – but “they dinnae bide lang” to use a keeper’s expression. Not a healthy situation and an explanation for the lack of eagles overall.

          The Scottish Raptor Study Groups reports are a far more real record of what is and has been going on.

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