It’s not often that we can report good news stories for raptor populations in Scotland, and it’s equally rare to find a raptor-related SNH press release that hasn’t been coated in a thick layer of varnished, propaganda-fuelled tosh. But yesterday we had both a good news story AND an accompanying unvarnished SNH press release!
SNH has published a new report: Population and future range modelling of reintroduced Scottish white-tailed eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla), authored by Sansom, A., Evans, R. and Roos, S. (2016), SNH Commissioned Report No. 898.
This is a comprehensive piece of research using predictive modelling to forecast the short and long-term population growth of re-introduced sea eagles in Scotland. In a nutshell, the population is doing very well and is predicted to continue to do well in the coming years as the population grows and re-occupies its former range. The quality of this research looks very good so all credit to the authors, including the late and much-missed Richard Evans. The full report can be read here: wte-population-modelling_snh_2016
Some new blog readers may be surprised by this raptor conservation success story, especially as the UK’s reputation for illegal raptor persecution is such a constant embarrassment, but the reason for the sea eagle’s success is pretty clear when you look at this map (copied from the report) of the eagle’s current core breeding area. These raptors are doing really really well because they’re mostly breeding far away from the intensively-managed grouse moor areas of central, eastern and southern Scotland, all well-known raptor persecution hotspots. Sure, the eagles also have their enemies in the west and there’s an on-going battle there with some sheep farmers and crofters (and this morning there’s an article in the Scotsman about the perceived threat to hill farming from an increasing sea eagle population) but clearly a lot of people in western Scotland have welcomed these eagles with open arms and many are benefiting from the millions of pounds worth of tourism money brought in by visitors who come to see these incredible birds.
Sea eagle population growth in eastern Scotland, following the more recent re-introduction there, remains to be seen. It’s still fairly early days but so far a number of young satellite-tagged sea eagles have either ‘disappeared’ or have been found poisoned on nearby driven grouse moors. And of course there was the now infamous felling of a sea eagle nest tree on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park a few years ago. According to the new report, persecution (and wind-farm related mortality) shouldn’t now affect the overall stability of the Scottish sea eagle population but obviously persecution has the potential for local and perhaps regional effects, as we’ve seen with golden eagles, peregrines, hen harriers and red kites.
The publication of this latest report attracted a lot of media attention yesterday (see links below) but surprisingly we’ve yet to see the usual hysteria from certain quarters, warning people to lock up their toddlers in case a big bad sea eagle mistakes one for prey.
SNH press release here
RSPB Scotland press release here
Scotsman article here
BBC news here