16
Jul
14

Golden eagles in southern Scotland: the facts and the fiction

A new report has been published today detailing the recovery prospects for golden eagles in southern Scotland.

The SNH-commissioned report has been written by two undisputed experts (Alan Fielding and Paul Haworth), both of whom were involved with the impressive Golden Eagle Conservation Framework report that was published in 2008.

The report has only just been made available on SNH’s website so we’ve not had a chance to thoroughly digest its findings – although we intend to come back to it in due course.

Having skimmed through it, it looks like a very detailed analysis of the various issues that could affect the recovery of this tiny population (see here for a previous blog entry on the perilous state of the golden eagle population in southern Scotland), including, of course, the effect of illegal persecution. This photo below shows the graphic effect of persecution on golden eagles in south Scotland – this one was found shot and critically injured on a driven grouse moor in 2012 – it later died from its injuries – see here.

Wanlock Head GE Oct 2012

If you haven’t read the new report (and let’s face it, not many people will), you might just base your opinion of it on what has been written in the mainstream media, which would be fine if the media reports were accurate, balanced and didn’t contain any lies.

For example, if you read the BBC report, you’d be forgiven for thinking that golden eagles in southern Scotland are only constrained by impoverished habitat and potentially by climate change, lack of prey (apparently due to a loss of gamekeepers!) and afforestation. You’d read that illegal persecution ‘may have been an historical factor’ but apparently it isn’t any more.

Hmm. Is that what the report actually says? Er, no. The report mentions persecution in several areas (Lowther Hills, Tweedsmuir Hills, Ettrick Hills and Moorfoot Hills) and suggests that it needs to be brought under control if golden eagles are to once again survive in these areas.

So if the report didn’t say that illegal persecution ‘may have been an historical factor’ but apparently isn’t any more, then who did?

McAdam 1No surprises…..Doug McAdam, CEO of the landowners’ organisation, Scottish Land and Estates. We  blogged about SLE’s persistent denial of raptor persecution only yesterday (see here) in relation to comments made by SLE’s Moorland Director Tim (Kim) Baynes during a radio debate. It looks like McAdam was sent the same memo – just deny, deny, deny.

This time, however, we intend to do more than just make fun of him – we’re going to complain to the BBC about publishing such nonsense and we’d encourage as many of you as possible to join in. We’ve even prepared some suggested text that you can simply cut and paste if you’re short of time or not sure what to write. Here it is:

Dear BBC,

I wish to make a complaint about the content of an online article about a new report about Golden Eagles in the south of Scotland:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-south-scotland-28320168

In my opinion, a disproportionate amount of space in the written article is given over to comments made by Mr Doug McAdam, the chief executive of Scottish Land and Estates. This is in complete contrast to the amount of space given to the comments by Prof Des Thompson “who led the research” and Mr Ian Thomson of RSPB Scotland.

In addition I am very concerned that the comments attributed to Mr McAdam reflect a falsehood that is frequently stated by his organisation and others who have a long-term political agenda to downplay the issue of persecution of birds of prey. Mr McAdam is quoted as saying, “Where persecution may have been a historical factor, it is clear from the official government data – published alongside our partners in PAW Scotland in March – that the number of such incidents has dropped significantly in recent years.”

In fact, the figures published by the Scottish Government show the opposite to be the case. In the Scottish Government’s wildlife crime report for 2012:  http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0043/00434716.pdf thirteen birds of prey are listed as being the victims of persecution.

In 2013, twenty three birds of prey were listed as victims:  http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Environment/Wildlife-Habitats/paw-scotland/types-of-crime/crimes-against-birds/Poisoninghotspotmaps/2009-2013

These figures are nowhere near being indicative of “a significant” decline – in fact they are wholly contradictory of such a claim.

I urge the BBC to remove these erroneous comments from the article, given that they suggest to its readers a picture which is patently untrue.

Yours faithfully, (your name).

Here’s where to send your complaint: https://ssl.bbc.co.uk/complaints/forms/?reset=#anchor  [click on ‘Make a complaint’]

Some links:

BBC news article (and accompanying video) here

SNH press release about the new golden eagle report here

RSPB Scotland press release here

Download the new report here: Fielding & Haworth 2014_Golden Eagles in south Scotland an overview

UPDATE 17.40: Interestingly, the BBC appears to have retracted some of McAdam’s quote, but not the offending part! (Many thanks to those of you have already complained – we can see from our site stats that quite a few of you have done so).

Here’s McAdam’s quote from this morning:

Douglas McAdam, chief executive of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “We have been involved with Scottish Natural Heritage and other partners in this study since its inception as we felt it was crucial to understand the real underlying reasons why Golden Eagles were struggling in certain parts of Scotland.

This thorough and detailed study makes clear that SNH believes that habitat improvements are needed to encourage more breeding golden eagle pairs in the south of the country. We fully support this conclusion and we will encourage land managers to work in partnership with SNH and other bodies to make improvements to these habitats wherever possible.

Other factors, including climate change, lack of availability of prey base for eagles – often because these areas are no longer actively managed by gamekeepers – as well as expansion of forestry and changing land use may also be inhibiting eagle presence in these areas. Where persecution may have been a historical factor, it is clear from the official government data – published alongside our partners in PAW Scotland in March – that the number of such incidents has dropped significantly in recent years. However, everyone remains resolute that where persecution exists it must be eradicated.

Golden Eagles are iconic Scottish birds, adding greatly to Scotland’s natural landscape and welcomed by estates as part of our natural heritage. This study will add greatly to our understanding of what limits the presence of these magnificent birds and should therefore help us to understand how best they can be conserved.”

And here’s what’s currently online at 17.40: 

Scottish Land and Estates chief executive Douglas McAdam said: “Where persecution may have been a historical factor, it is clear from the official government data – published alongside our partners in PAW Scotland in March – that the number of such incidents has dropped significantly in recent years.

However, everyone remains resolute that where persecution exists it must be eradicated.

Golden Eagles are iconic Scottish birds, adding greatly to Scotland’s natural landscape and welcomed by estates as part of our natural heritage.

This study will add greatly to our understanding of what limits the presence of these magnificent birds and should therefore help us to understand how best they can be conserved.”

Come on BBC editors, get your act together!

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15 Responses to “Golden eagles in southern Scotland: the facts and the fiction”


  1. 1 Beefsteak
    July 16, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    “We’ve even prepress some suggested text” tut tut RPS!! Putting words in people’s mouths to put your argument across. I agree with a lot of your good work, but not that.

    [Ed: Eh?]

  2. 2 Douglas Malpus
    July 16, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    It’s about time we gave the land owners and gamekeepers nowhere to hide their hideous crimes. Watch them like a HAWK should be our aim. There are enough walkers and bird watchers. With fairly ordinary technology, smart phones and cameras, I am sure we can catch these criminals. Nowhere to hide, gamekeeper or estate owners. Your time is up!!!! Perhaps the police should investigate properties where poisoning and trapping has occurred to find the evidence of both illegal banned poisons and traps. But this where corruption and deceit comes into play.

    In Scotland some years ago I know of 3 Hen Harrier nests where the nearly fledged young disappeared overnight. One corpse was found and handed to the Game Conservation mob, their analysis – fox predation. What a surprise.

  3. 3 Dave
    July 16, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    Be wary of just copying and pasting the text, they tend to ignore large scale mass emailings fo the same letter

  4. 4 Carrie
    July 16, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    I’ve used the text here as a template for my complaint, but the text here has to be edited to fit their complaint form anyway – they have a 1500 character limit.

  5. 6 BSA
    July 16, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    It is clear from the Referendum campaign that you can no longer expect decent journalism from the BBC. It is likely that they did not even read the full Report and simply went for the easier option of including McAdam’s version of it.

  6. 7 Anand Prasad
    July 16, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    I have written but don’t really know why i bother. It must be less than a year ago that i wrote to the BBC news on line about their claim that Golden Eagles were not persecuted based on the fact that their numbers are relatively stable.

  7. 8 Anand Prasad
    July 16, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    I guess it is understandable if not forgiveable that a politician like Wheelhouse uses the ‘numbers are dropping’ defence but when it comes from the spokesperson of the organisation xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx it is shocking.

    It is like the pope saying everything is hunky dory because priest paedophilia cases are dropping.
    I commend the RSPB for the ‘zero tolerance’ demand. That really is the essence of it for me. There is no room for more political bullshit.

    [Ed: Thanks Prasad, had to make a minor edit. You’ll understand why!]

  8. 9 Mike
    July 16, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    I find it very sad that in the SNH press release Paul Wheelhouse is quoted as saying ” It’s great news that S.Scotland could support so many pairs” (11-16 pairs of golden eagle ), whereas it is actually appaling news that it doesn’t support a fraction of that number! If he thinks that such a bad situation is good news it surely shows what a poor grasp he has on the realities of raptor persecution!

  9. 10 RJ. Clark
    July 16, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    If there were more eagles in Southern Scotland then hopefully some may join the lonely Male at Haweswater, I live in hope, tampering with eagles is unforgivable,jail is the only place for them, they are so vulnerable to bait put out for crows, .

  10. 12 Chris
    July 17, 2014 at 12:56 am

    I found the same as Carrie, but still submitted a complaint.

    [Ed: Thanks, Chris]

  11. July 17, 2014 at 10:06 am

    I used your template to complain, but it had to be edited slightly to meet their maximum characters criteria.

    [Ed: Thanks, Robin]

  12. 14 peter hoffmann
    July 18, 2014 at 10:25 am

    1500 wrds max on complaint form so redacted your template…
    see below..

    Dear BBC, I wish to make a complaint about the content of an online article about a new report about Golden Eagles in the south of Scotland: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-south-scotland-28320168 A disproportionate amount of space in the article is given over to comments made by Mr Doug McAdam, the chief executive of Scottish Land and Estates. This is in complete contrast to the amount of space given to the comments by Prof Des Thompson “who led the research” and Mr Ian Thomson of RSPB Scotland. Mr McAdam is quoted as saying, “Where persecution may have been a historical factor, it is clear from the official government data – published alongside our partners in PAW Scotland in March – that the number of such incidents has dropped significantly in recent years.” In fact, the figures published by the Scottish Government show the opposite to be the case. In the Scottish Government’s wildlife crime report for 2012: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0043/00434716.pdf thirteen birds of prey are listed as being the victims of persecution. In 2013, twenty three birds of prey were listed as victims: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Environment/Wildlife-Habitats/paw-scotland/types-of-crime/crimes-against-birds/Poisoninghotspotmaps/2009-2013 These figures are nott indicative of “a significant” decline – in fact they are contradictory of this claim. I urge youto remove these erroneous comments, given that they suggest to its readers a picture which is incorrect regards ..

    [Ed: Many thanks, Peter]

  13. July 24, 2014 at 8:05 am

    Re SNH report.

    When the report state this, what more do you need to know.

    ‘Given that the shooting estates (in southern Scotland) have large quantities of
    potential golden eagle prey but no breeding golden eagles, it is clear that an abundance of
    prey, by itself, is not a good indicator of golden eagle distribution.’

    I have got to wonder about the common sense behind these wordy reports.


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