Ministerial reaction to ‘missing’ golden eagles

Following yesterday’s news that eight young satellite-tagged golden eagles have ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths in the last five years (see here), we were interested to read the response from Roseanna Cunningham MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment.

Here’s the statement that appeared on the Scottish Government’s website:

The Scottish Government has ordered a review of satellite tracking data, following reports from RSPB Scotland that a number of golden eagles have disappeared in the Monadhliath mountains.

Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, said: “The latest reports of satellite-tagged golden eagles disappearing on or near grouse moors are very disturbing and disappointing. That is why I have instructed officials to analyse the evidence from around 90 surviving and missing satellite-tagged eagles, to discover if there is a pattern of suspicious activity.

Grouse moor management does help species such as curlew and golden plover as well as generating much needed rural employment and income but this cannot be at any price. The public rightly expects all businesses in Scotland to obey the law. Let me be clear: grouse shooting is no exception.

As previously stated, the Scottish Government is prepared to introduce further regulation of shooting businesses if necessary. It will be unfortunate if the activities of a few bring further regulation on the whole sector, but that is the risk those why defy the law and defy public opinion are running“.


Yesterday we described her call for a review of satellite-tag data as ‘fatuous’ (see here). Not because such a review is unwelcome; it isn’t. But because the reason given for the review – ‘to discover if there is a pattern of suspicious activity’ – suggests that the pattern of activity is currently unknown. That’s as ridiculous as it gets. Of course the pattern of illegal persecution is already known, and has been for decades. Endless peer-reviewed scientific papers and government reports on golden eagles, hen harriers, red kites and peregrines have unequivocally linked the illegal killing of these raptors with intensively-managed driven grouse moors. Why pretend that this is all news? Why pretend nobody knows what’s been going on?

Taking the example of the Monadhliaths, this area has been a known eagle persecution blackspot since the 1970s! Have a look at this article that was published in the Scotsman on 11 March 1993 (we blogged about it here):


To be fair, in recent years a number of more enlightened landowners in this area have been working closely with conservationists, resulting in a small increase in golden eagle survival on a few local estates, but as clearly seen from yesterday’s news, there are still other estates in the Monadhliaths that have yet to drag their sorry backsides away from the (now illegal) ‘management’ practices of the 19th Century.

Nevertheless, we do welcome the news that the Cabinet Secretary is actually doing something this time, instead of just churning out the same tired old Government rhetoric of ‘We will not hesitate to take further action if necessary’. It is necessary and we do expect to see ‘further action’ without any more stalling or prevarication. If you hear hooves, Cabinet Secretary, look for horses, not zebras.

But it’s not just the reaction of the Environment Cabinet Secretary that interests us. It turns out that another Cabinet Secretary should be taking more of an interest than most. Fergus Ewing MSP is the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity. He also happens to be the Member of the Scottish Parliament representing the constituency of Inverness and Nairn.

If you look at the map of Fergus’s constituency, and then look at the map showing the last known locations of those eight satellite-tagged golden eagles, you’ll see that a good few of the points where the eagles were last recorded lie within Fergus’s constituency boundary.

Inverness Nairn constituency map

FergusEwing Constituency Monadhliaths

ge disappeared

Now, we know that Fergus’s job is to represent the interests of ALL his constituents (estimated at 66,619 voters, according to his website). We know he does a good job of representing the interests of a tiny fraction of those constituents who are involved with the game-shooting industry – here’s a picture of him attending the Moy Game Fair last weekend – and is that a Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association tie around his neck?

fergus ewing sga tie

But what about the interests of the tens of thousands of his other constituents? We’re pretty sure that most, if not all, will be appalled to discover what’s still going on in their area. What will Fergus be doing about that?

Will he be encouraging his constituents to sign this petition calling for the Scottish Government to introduce a licensing scheme for all gamebird hunting?

A good many of his constituents have already signed this other petition, calling for an outright ban on driven grouse shooting (which has just smashed through 90,000 signatures, on it’s way to 100,000 and a parliamentary debate in Westminster).

We’ll watch with interest to see what both these Cabinet Secretaries do next.

39 Responses to “Ministerial reaction to ‘missing’ golden eagles”

  1. August 12, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    “..the activities of a few..”…dear God!

  2. 2 Chris Roberts
    August 12, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    Fergus Ewing is, like Richard Banyan was at Westminster, far more interested in helping ‘killing estates’ and their gamekeepers than the rest of the population. No self respecting politician would attend Moy Game Fair, with all the wildlife criminality that takes place south of Inverness.

  3. August 12, 2016 at 2:10 pm

    Cant really expect justice with that plonker involved in the decision making.

  4. 6 crypticmirror
    August 12, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    A review? Oh come off it, we all know that reviews and committees are simply a tool to park inconvenient issues where a minister hopes they will wither away out of public view. Well I personally am not falling for it, and I’m also sick and tired of defending the SNP on this issue. I’ve defended them through thick and thin, I’ve stuck my neck out for them, and I’m not doing it any more. This is the line for me. They either do something this time, or like Scottish Labour in 2006 I am walking away from them. Whether I am alone in that or not I don’t know, but I do know I’ve dropped my local SNP MSP a line telling them that. I hope other people are using http://www.writetothem.com to tell their own local SNP MSP and MP’s that.

    • 7 Will O the Wisp
      August 12, 2016 at 6:25 pm

      My family have not renewed their SNP memberships after seeing Fergus Ewing slobbering all over the SGA at Moy and I agree with you regarding the procrastination of the Scottish Government on wildlife crimes and nefarious shooting estates.
      Sack Ewing, vicarious liability/ immediate cessation of subsidies to the obvious culprits, non shooting judiciary/ police dealing with wildlife crimes and stronger powers with immediate effect to the SPCA would be a start.

  5. 8 Secret Squirrel
    August 12, 2016 at 3:00 pm

    “Grouse moor management does help species such as curlew and golden plover”. Is there any independent scientific evidence of this (By which I mean not GWCT, BASC or other vested interest, which sadly these days must include SNH)? Or is it just another mantra spouted by SGA/SLE etc that has become accepeted fact by virtue of it’s constant repitition?

    • 9 crypticmirror
      August 12, 2016 at 3:08 pm

      I can’t back this up with a reference, but I’m sure I read somewhere that golden plovers particularly were in decline on grouse moors due to muirburn at nesting times. Sorry that this is just anecdata and not real data.

    • 10 JohnM
      August 12, 2016 at 6:29 pm

      Public claims were made today that 600 pairs of Lapwing and 300 pairs of Curlew were censused by BTO nesting this year on a single grouse moor. No doubt this claim will be found to be erroneous, but this is how mis-information is deliberately used these days to permeate and cloud the internet before it can be debunked.

    • 13 Marco McGinty
      August 12, 2016 at 8:15 pm

      Of course, with the zero tolerance approach to all predators, then it is obvious that certain prey species will benefit on grouse moors, much the same as if you eradicate all insectivorous birds from any given area, then invertebrate populations will benefit. It’s not exactly sound conservation practice, though. The wilful removal of any key component from any ecosystem should not be seen as appropriate conservation methods in any right-minded person’s head, as all it does is create a localised imbalance, and with that serious problems which does no good to the local and wider environment.

      Furthermore, in the recent past, the shooting industry has admitted that any increase in other bird species (such as wader species) is a simple by-product – in other words it is not done intentionally – but as is typical with underhanded types, they have now started to claim it as a deliberate construct.

      On the whole, yes, wader populations might be slightly higher on land managed for grouse shooting, but this is at the expense of White-tailed Eagles, Golden Eagles, Red Kites, Hen Harriers, Goshawks, Sparrowhawks, Kestrels, Peregrines, Buzzards, Barn Owls, Tawny Owls, Short-eared Owls, Long-Eared Owls, Ravens, Carrion Crows, Hooded Crows, Rooks, Jackdaws, Magpies, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Common Gulls, Foxes, Otters, Pine Martens, Stoats, Weasels, Polecats, Badgers, Wildcats, Mountain Hares, not to mention the indiscriminate killing of domestic pets.

      So we have to consider whether that is an acceptable trade off? Is it worth losing 30+ species in certain areas, for the sole benefit of 1 species, along with the inadvertent benefits to a further three or four species.

      • August 12, 2016 at 9:07 pm

        Marco…. well put, but you forgot the plants, they suffer real extinctions and when they go it can be generations before they get a chance to recolonise (if ever). Big obvious species like Juniper and small mosses and liverworts do not tolerate burning. Fire reduces biodiversity…simples.

        • 15 Marco McGinty
          August 12, 2016 at 9:39 pm

          I limited my response to avian species, mainly because the shooting industry now concentrate their efforts on the “good” they do for ground-nesting birds. Of course, there will be other impacts on other classes as a result of mismanagement, not just on plants, but on fungi, lichens, invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, etc.

          It would be fair to say that grouse moor management reduces biodiversity.

      • 17 Secret Squirrel
        August 13, 2016 at 12:52 am

        Yeah, that’s pretty obvious, which is why I wondered if there were any indeoendent science on it looking at wader populations and general widllife

  6. 18 chris lock
    August 12, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    The few who continue to kill protected biord of prey have now made it likely the moves will be made to ban driven grouse shooting and they only have themselves to blame

    • August 12, 2016 at 6:10 pm

      Alan Stewart who wrote Wildlife Detective and has a blog of the same name and is pretty conservative on this issue in some ways, wrote in one of his recent blog posts that they have a suicidal instinct.
      I agree, their sense of privilege and being above the law is going to be their own undoing. And they don’t even get it.

  7. 20 Ian Robinson
    August 12, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    As an interested Sassenach who has, as Mark Avery has put it, had it with the grouse shooting industry, can I ask if it lies within Holyrood’s remit to ban driven shooting in Scotland without any reference to Westminster at all ? I

  8. 22 Marco McGinty
    August 12, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    “It will be unfortunate if the activities of a few bring further regulation on the whole sector, but that is the risk those why defy the law and defy public opinion are running.”

    As with Dave (and most probably many others), I don’t consider the criminal element to be restricted to “a few”, however the criminal activities of minority sections of society already impose on the majority of generally law abiding citizens in many aspects of our daily lives. Shoplifting, burglary, motoring offences, etc. all impact us through inflated prices at the shops or through insurance premiums, so instead of making noises, the Scottish Government should just get on with taking some long-awaited and long-promised action.

    In relation to this nonsensical belief that it is just “a few rogue gamekeepers” carrying out these crimes, as has been mentioned by many people, and on many occasions on this site, considering that these crimes are occurring in remote areas, it is very difficult to capture evidence of such crimes, therefore what is uncovered represents the tiny tip of a vast iceberg.

    When you consider the resources that are devoted to catching motoring offences, with portable speed guns, static speed cameras, as well as in-car cameras in Police vehicles, a total of 40,258 drivers were convicted of motoring offences in Scotland during 2013-2014, with 7,454 of those related to speeding offences. I’m making a guess here, but I would imagine that there would be more than 40,000 motoring offences on the M8 in any given 24 hour period, so like all crimes, those resulting in a successful prosecution, represent a tiny minority of crimes committed.

    • August 12, 2016 at 8:56 pm

      I think the most telling evidence that only very few crimes committed are discovered is when gamekeepers with decades in the job, oftentimes on estates lauded by the shooting press, are found to have illegally shot, poisoned or trapped protected species. It beggars belief that such instances are a momentary aberration rather than evidence of an habitual contempt for the law which has gone undetected for many years. I’m sure it would be an interesting area of research to examine the background, employment record, length service, etc of those found guilty of such crimes which
      might allow some sort of projection of the likely true numbers of raptors illegally killed.

      • 24 Marco McGinty
        August 12, 2016 at 10:55 pm

        Spot on, John. In case you haven’t seen it, the following is worth a read. It details the historical killings of wildlife on the Atholl Estates, the cessation of such activities when an enlightened gamekeeper was in charge, followed by the resumption of raptor and owl killings in the 1970s and 1980s. It is clear from the evidence that raptor persecution cannot be categorised as isolated incidents, no matter how hard the shooting industry and governments try to convince us.

        Click to access sb-vol31-no03.pdf

  9. 25 hector
    August 12, 2016 at 9:14 pm

    Oh god . I see as the 12th comes around things get busy on sites like this. Everybody and their uncle is an expert and it does not help the debate . The “celebs” on both sides should stand down and let the grown ups get on with it. While it may be good for fund raising and selling books and the like it would be better if a few of the “great and good ” would get lost and let the conversation that needs to take place get going. The RSPB doing a walk away from the hen harrier plan was a mistake in conservation terms if not in terms of donations. If things are to move on all sides need to sit round a table and talk. I attended a HH day on Mull as a – I was surprised it was there and b- I was curious. The young lady running it was charming and friendly and while I do not agree with her let me have my say. Two other ladies one from London and one from the Whale and Dolphin Trust were also great. The partner of the lassie running the show took tours and in what may be a first for such an event took the punters out and let them have a look at hen harriers on the wing. The event raised a modest sum and I may even have won a book . My point is it is people like this that get things done and get things moving not the career “cellebs ” at the top of the food chain. I can only asume that some of the more vocal posters on this site were attending events in another part of the country as they were not at this one.

    • 26 Marco McGinty
      August 12, 2016 at 11:53 pm

      “I see as the 12th comes around things get busy on sites like this.”

      And your point is?

      “The “celebs” on both sides should stand down and let the grown ups get on with it. While it may be good for fund raising and selling books and the like it would be better if a few of the “great and good ” would get lost and let the conversation that needs to take place get going.”

      I don’t have a problem with celebrities getting involved in certain campaigns, especially if they adhere to the truth. Perhaps you would like to inform us why you find it inappropriate for celebrities to involve themselves in such instances?

      “The RSPB doing a walk away from the hen harrier plan was a mistake in conservation terms if not in terms of donations. If things are to move on all sides need to sit round a table and talk.”

      I disagree. The RSPB eventually did the right thing by walking away from this fiasco of a plan. The time for dialogue is long past, and if the shooting industry can’t get their own house in order, then what is the point of continuing dialogue with an industry that refuses to act? Raptors are being persecuted on grouse moors to this day, more than 60 years after they were afforded full protection, attempted persecution is being uncovered on grouse moors, so what do you honestly expect the RSPB and conservationists to do? I’m genuinely interested in your suggestions, because as I see it, the conservation organisations have done nothing but give, and give more, over the years, and the only things they’ve received in recompense from the shooting industry and its representatives are repeated false claims, slurs, criticism, and general contempt – and a catalogue of persecution incidents to investigate.

      “The partner of the lassie running the show took tours and in what may be a first for such an event took the punters out and let them have a look at hen harriers on the wing.”

      Perhaps because you’re on Mull where raptors are appreciated (or tolerated) by the vast majority, and where there was a decent chance of seeing the species, as opposed to many of the other events that were staged on or near driven grouse moors?

      “My point is it is people like this that get things done and get things moving not the career “cellebs ” at the top of the food chain.”

      Again, I would have to disagree. The grassroots are key to campaigns such as this, but celebrities also have their place, and I’m quite sure that Chris Packham’s appearance against Ian Botham today, has had some result on the increasing number of names added to the petition.

      “I can only asume that some of the more vocal posters on this site were attending events in another part of the country as they were not at this one.”

      Again, you have to consider that the event on Mull would not attract a large number of people from the mainland, especially with two mainland events that weekend. I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make here.

    • 27 crypticmirror
      August 13, 2016 at 12:08 am

      So, just let their lordships change their mind in their own time while everyone else stays quiet?

    • 28 heclasu
      August 13, 2016 at 12:36 am

      Hector! Where have you been? You might be right to a degree, but it is ‘career cellebs” (sic) who pull in the punters! Perhaps I might meet you there next year!

      • 29 hector
        August 13, 2016 at 6:04 am

        Not been anywhere and pop in here from time to time to see if you guys are behaving and glad to see the usual suspects are just as charming and as balanced as usual. I was nearly involved in a car crash when attending HH day as the car in front of me slammed on the brakes as a female harrier was hunting into the teeth of the gale blowing that day. I take it from the tone of a few on here that they did not atttend HH day but that is keyboard warriors for you. I don’t know if I will make next years event but it was worth it for the home baking alone and it is rumoured that I won a book on golden eagles in the raffle which will arrive given time. My point about the ” celebs ” was a serious one and I would pay money not to have to listen to Packham and Botham talk about anything. The HH day in the Highlands was cancelled due to the weather and fair play to the girls on Mull for making a go of it while hanging on to the gazebo. I declined the chance to get my picture taken with a HH sign as I still have a little street cred left and was sad that there was not a clown in a HH suit prancing about but the punters got to see the real thing which was a big hit. If you are on Mull anytime pop in. Just ask at the Bunessan post office as I am not hard to find.

        • 30 SOG
          August 13, 2016 at 11:57 am

          Next time don’t drive so close to the car in front.

          • 31 hector
            August 13, 2016 at 8:56 pm

            I will try harder but must have been far enough back as I stopped in time. Single track roads are no fun at this time of year but that is the price we pay for stunning landscapes and wildlife. The wildlife tours are having a good year with lots of puffins ,whales and dollphins and even the odd hen harrier so the punters seem happy.

        • 32 Marco McGinty
          August 13, 2016 at 7:14 pm

          “My point about the ” celebs ” was a serious one and I would pay money not to have to listen to Packham and Botham talk about anything.”

          I have a dislike of some celebrities myself, many if the truth be known, however I have respect for those that tell the truth, so I have a genuine question to ask of you on the issue of celebrity endorsements.

          Do you disagree with charities, events and benefits, such as Children in Need, Comic Relief, Sport Relief, Live Aid, etc., all which rely/relied on the contributions and endorsements of many celebrities?

    • 33 Marco McGinty
      August 14, 2016 at 5:46 pm

      “If things are to move on all sides need to sit round a table and talk”

      And yet you are prepared to come onto this site, throw around a few insults, and refuse to answer simple questions or engage in debate. Many would consider that to be a hypocritical stance.

      Just out of curiosity, is this the site you consider to be the “Mad Wildlife Site”?

  10. 34 Jack Snipe
    August 13, 2016 at 3:35 am

    Hector, I think you need to face up to reality. Yes, there may be hundreds of “ordinary” people in the country who know more about the Hen Harrier than Chris Packham, but do you really think the campaign would be getting so much publicity without a “celeb” being prepared to stand up and be counted? For goodness sake, this compassionate and intelligent man is receiving death threats and pressure being imposed on the BBC to sack him, so he’s hardly doing it for careerist motives. Now, Ian Botham (I can’t bring myself to call him “Sir”), that’s a different matter. While he may not have to get involved as his career is over and his future financially secure, the grouse shooting people are pure dead chuffed to have him as a front man. Despite him apparently being intellectually bereft, and so ignorant of ecology that he couldn’t debate his way out of a recyclable paper bag, he gets the airtime, and to many listeners he might sound credible. The destined to be infamous Radio 4 discussion programme, involving a debate between the two “celebs,” was a gift to those of us fighting against raptor persecution on grouse moors. And not just because of idiocy on Ian Botham’s part, but by the skilful and argument for the prosecution articulated by Chris Packham. There was no comparison. Who will forget Botham’s statement that “…it’s the gamekeepers who look after the harriers”? And he said so without a hint of irony.

    Radio Scotland presented an hour long phone-in on the topic which was downright embarassing. So-called experts were almost all from pro-shooting organisations, including Dr Colin Shedden from BASC who put up a lucid but tortured and not entirely accurate defence of grouse shooting. Where were RSPB, Scottish Wildlife Trust or any other expert from any ornithological organisation? However, was Alex Hogg the best advocate the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association could find, spouting a load of rambling nonsense and trotting out Botham’s favourite line about how we wouldn’t have any Lapwings, Curlews or Golden Plover were it not for grouse moors and their “protective” management. Really? Somehow the programme, following Ian Botham’s mantra “You forgot the birds” seemed to forget about Hen Harriers, and the grouse shooting experts got away with not being particularly challenged on that hot topic. Sure, there were plenty of callers opposed to grouse shooting, but mainly without the specialist knowledge to explain why, apart from laudably venting their anger at the cruelty to grouse. Was this merely down to substandard work by the programme’s researchers?

  11. 35 Jack Snipe
    August 13, 2016 at 4:04 am

    Perhaps we should heed the words of Robert Burns, written 240 years ago:

    Thus every kind their pleasure find
    The savage and the tender
    Some social join and leagues combine
    Some solitary wander
    Avaunt! Away! the cruel sway,
    Tyrannic man’s dominion
    The sportsman’s joy, the murdering cry
    The fluttering, gory pinion

  12. 36 Stewart Sexton
    August 13, 2016 at 11:29 am

    I am a long standing tourist to Scotland. Twice a year I have a week in a holiday cottage spending my money in the community trying where possible to use local services. We’ve been from Shetland to Galloway and Hebrides to Speyside plus all areas in between. But. I come for the birds and wildlife. This year my two holidays have been spent in Suffolk. I think these moorland jokers have had enough of my cash. I will not support raptor persecution any longer.

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