Golden eagle ‘Fred’ disappears 7 miles from Scottish Parliament

Last summer, in partnership with Chris Packham, we satellite tagged a shedload of golden eagles in Scotland (see here for project details).

We haven’t blogged much about these eagles since then because they’ve been hanging around in their parents’ territories and those locations need to remain secret.

However, in mid-January 2018, one of those young golden eagles finally decided to leave home and go exploring. He had hatched at a nest site in the Scottish Borders and his parents are the only breeding pair of golden eagles in the region. This nest site has been protected for decades by the landowner and he is fiercely proud of his eagles, so much so that he named this eagle chick Fred after his grandson. The landowner and his gamekeeper joined us last June as we fitted Fred with a state-of-the-art transmitter and we were all excited at the prospect of following Fred’s movements over the coming years, with the hope that he would thrive and help to increase this tiny, vulnerable breeding population in the Borders.

Golden eagle Fred, June 2017. Photo by Ruth Tingay

Fred headed to the Pentland Hills and spent a few days ‘woodland hopping’ around the northern edge, at one point just half a kilometre from the City Bypass.

His tag was working perfectly and was providing us with accurate and frequent GPS locations.

Maps copyright RPUK:

On 20th January, Fred roosted overnight in a shelter belt overlooking a grouse moor (Black Hill) near Balerno. This is a photograph of the roost site. Fred was in the trees at the top left-hand corner of this field.

Fred’s tag continued to record his position there until just before 10am on 21st January, when his tag suddenly and inexplicably stopped. The last signal came from the trees half-way along this shelter belt:

We didn’t receive any new GPS locations from Fred’s tag until three and a half days later when, on the evening of 24 January, Fred’s tag began transmitting again but the GPS location showed it was in the North Sea, some 10 miles offshore from St. Andrews. His tag continued to provide GPS data until 26 January, showing his final position at approximately 15 miles offshore. No further data have been received.

Dr Tingay of RPUK said: “It is beyond doubt that Fred’s disappearance is highly suspicious. Golden eagles don’t generally fly out for miles over large bodies of sea water but even if Fred had done so, apart from defying everything we’ve learned about Scottish golden eagle behaviour, we would have seen excellent tracking data plotting his route given the reliability of his tag.

“While we will probably never know for sure, it seems likely that Fred was killed soon after 10am on 21 January, his tag was hidden to suppress the signal and then he and the tag were dumped in the North Sea. If this is indeed the case, it’s just the latest example of when those who have killed a protected bird of prey have tried to cover up evidence of their crime”.

Chris Packham said: “Once again, we have the suspicious disappearance of a satellite-tagged golden eagle in an area managed for driven grouse shooting. What’s truly shocking about this case is that it didn’t take place in a remote Highland glen miles from anywhere, but it happened within a stone’s throw of Edinburgh, right under the noses of the Scottish Government. What must the good people of Edinburgh think, to learn that golden eagles aren’t even safe on their doorstep? That they’ve been denied the opportunity to see this iconic, magnificent bird in their local hills? This doesn’t bode well for the planned reintroduction of golden eagles to south Scotland, due to begin later this year”.

Over the coming days we’ll be blogging about the implications of Fred’s disappearance for the proposed South Scotland Golden Eagle Reintroduction Project, which was already a controversial issue before Fred’s story even began.

When we launched this golden eagle satellite tagging project at the British Birdfair last year, we said that our project would be different from other satellite-tagging projects in that if any of our tagged eagles ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances, rather than sit on that information for months/years and then only give a vague description of the location where the bird had vanished, we would publish much more detailed information as soon as any police investigation was complete. We’ve fulfilled this promise and we’ve also made a video which includes an exclusive interview with Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham. You can watch it here:

We are immensely grateful to Roseanna Cunningham for granting us an audience despite her incredibly busy schedule. We are also grateful to Police Wildlife Crime Officer Andy Loughlin and the RSPB Scotland Investigations for their quick and diligent response to our concerns.

If anyone has any information about Fred’s disappearance, please contact Police Scotland on 101.


Daily Express here

Scotsman here

STV news here with a fascinating quote from Scottish Land & Estates:

We understand that the bird’s disappearance is not being investigated as a crime.

We need to learn the full facts prior to establishing any conclusions but it should be noted that the location where the eagle disappeared is not an area of intensive grouse shooting“. We’ll be blogging about this quote soon.

The Times here (behind a paywall)

Herald here

BBC news here

Guardian here

Courier here

Press & Journal here


103 Responses to “Golden eagle ‘Fred’ disappears 7 miles from Scottish Parliament”

  1. 1 Jimmy
    February 15, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    The criminals that haunt our uplands places can’t help themselves

    • February 15, 2018 at 2:27 pm

      Those criminals haunt all of our countryside, whether they wear red and chase mammals with hounds or skulk about setting snares and shooting raptors, they are all the same and seem to be protected by those in high places.

      • 3 Nigel Raby
        February 15, 2018 at 4:25 pm

        Unfortunately they are them in high places or employed by those in so called high places.

      • February 15, 2018 at 6:33 pm

        exactly . but also too many people are given gun licences. we had a red kite around us recently for a few months. suddenly he has gone. we know that there are idiots with not a brain cell between the ears who gain some sort of thrill from going out at night and killing. I believe that gun licences should be returned to the police from many people

  2. 5 Dave Dick
    February 15, 2018 at 2:27 pm

    Nowadays most ships and boats of any size carry geolocators…it should be possible to identify what vessel was carrying the tag?..

    • 6 Alan
      February 15, 2018 at 2:46 pm

      My thought too, those waters must be closely monitored.

    • 7 Mark Lund
      February 16, 2018 at 9:40 am

      Yes my thoughts too. What I thought strange, was it seems that the GPS was transmitting again for a couple of days, showing locations around the same area; why, if they were going to dump the GPS tag, and perhaps the bird, did they not do so as soon as they were offshore? , or at east in the area? I too sure this is what happened but did they take it out on a private boat/yacht, or pay a get a fishing vessel to do so, who maybe forget to dump it for a day or two? (Or am I not understanding the signals shown on the map?)
      As already mentioned, there must be records of boats in the area unless very small perhaps and find out if a target vessel has links to any ‘suspects’.

      • 8 Bill Gilmour
        February 16, 2018 at 4:22 pm

        I’m not sure why you describe the area as “not an area of intensive grouse shooting’. There are several boards around Black Hill that tell us about all the good that grouse moors and their owners do.
        There are all sorts of possible scenarios about how the bird got from Black Hill to the Fife coast. One is that it was thrown off a beach anywhere on the Firth, that the bird floated below water, so that the signal was attenuated. That the tide and westerly winds took the bird out to sea. That after some time the gasses in the bird brought it to the surface, so that the airier was above water and the signals could be heard. That it floated for some time, then the gasses escaped and the body sank.

        • 9 Alan
          February 17, 2018 at 12:39 pm

          Bill, it was SLE who said that! The slightest change of wording and it’s a barefaced lie. I suppose it’s all they are left with. It’s a bit the same as your point below about windfarms, It’s not that these people don’t know the truth it’s that they will do all they can to obfuscate it.

          • 10 Bill Gilmour
            February 17, 2018 at 1:23 pm

            Alan, Thank you. You are right of course. There are also at least three lines of shooting butts on Black Hill. As other people have noted, there is a lot of round the year rough shooting all over the area.

            This story has got to a lot of people. Presumably, because on the edge of Edinburgh, it is so close to so many people. The the recent SNH Report was on bird far from large population. “Of 131 young eagles tracked, as many as 41 (31%) have disappeared (presumably died) under suspicious circumstances significantly connected with contemporaneous records of illegal persecution. These disappearances occurred mainly in six areas of the Highlands (predominantly in the central and eastern Highlands).”.

  3. 11 Winston Roberts
    February 15, 2018 at 2:33 pm

    Certainly no amateur job then. Is there any indication that the Police will follow this up (or have the resources to do so)? This information should surely give the Police a good start for their investigation so it would be a damn shame if there wasn’t the resources to follow it up.

  4. 12 Peter Shearer
    February 15, 2018 at 2:36 pm

    Good words Roseanna, now we need to see the action, which is already long overdue. Again, great work by RPUK and Chris Packham.

  5. 13 Jill Malenoir
    February 15, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    To me it would appear that Fred was shot, placed in a container where the transmissions couldn’t be detected, then taken out to sea in the hope he would sink quickly and tipped in.

  6. 14 J .Coogan
    February 15, 2018 at 3:07 pm

    Roseanna Cunningham is by far the best we have and I believe would be even more progressive if she was given free range .I also realise that we have few allies and are grateful to the ones we have but are we not getting a wee bit sycophantic – “immensely grateful” – “granting us an audience” – “incredibly busy schedule”.( Unless of course it was tongue in cheek but I think not .) She is a public servant, this is her job, we pay her wages , SHE should have been seeking a public outlet to vent her fury at this disgrace happening on parliaments doorstep, and reassuring the people of Scotland that this will not be tolerated. I presume she will be all over the evening news tonight making her disgust known to every body , then again maybe not.

    • 15 Secret Squirrel
      February 15, 2018 at 5:40 pm

      When you have the likes of Fergus Ewing in the same Govt, she will never get a free hand. The Ewings are still incredibly influencial in the SNP, and Fergus is not a neutral when it comes to farmers and the hunting/shooting brigade

    • 17 nimby
      February 15, 2018 at 5:44 pm

      Whilst I comment from a different part of the UK the response from Roseanna Cunningham is far better than that made by Michael Gove. The issue is that action is needed and some exemplar action that will cause ripples (or rather swells that will capsize the rotten barrel)? See also https://markavery.info/2018/02/14/gove-questioned-hen-harriers-spectacularly-doesnt-answer/

      The English parliament is seriously failing to address the illegal raptor persecution as well as wildlife crime in general.

    • February 16, 2018 at 12:45 am

      J Coogan,

      No, we made that comment in all sincerity. We are immensely grateful to her. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to secure an audience with a Cabinet Secretary if you’re not a mainstream journalist or representing a mainstream organisation? She didn’t have to agree to this interview but the fact that she did can be viewed as tacit support for what we’re trying to do here.

      We’ll be publishing the full version of her interview with Chris in another blog very soon.

  7. 23 Robert Grant
    February 15, 2018 at 3:55 pm

    A very sad ending to what seemed a positive and encouraging beginning. It typifies the lengths some will go to to extinguish evidence of their crimes against our wildlife. All in their pursuit of a little ‘sport.’ Let’s use Fred as another example of how much we need licensing and how we can track the culprits. RIP Fred.

  8. 24 Greer Hart, senior.
    February 15, 2018 at 4:41 pm

    Another Bird of Prey, the Golden Eagle possibly, contemptuously killed by some paranoid fanatic who should have long ago disappeared from the landscape; a landscape dominated by those who wish to keep it bereft of any form of wildlife that may affect game bird numbers. What makes this even more unbearable, is the fact that a land owner and his gamekeeper have been protective of this species for a long time. Mohammed Al Fayed of once owning Harrods, released Red Kites of his estate with the assistance of his gamekeeper, and they all got wiped out. The time has now come for decent and protective landowners and gamekeepers to join with us, the champions of Birds of Prey survival, to isolate and name and shame those estates that are causing this deleterious effect on the recovery of such birds. We then must challenge those in political power and in the law enforcement hierarchy, who may be involved in being supportive of a part of the rural economy, which has enjoyed inordinate influence over what is allowed to live and die in our countryside.

    Matters could be helped by questioning the significance of the other half of our Scottish Government Environment Ministry, Fergus Ewing, who has vaunted the importance of the game bird shooting industry, and how the rural economy is such a strategic contributor to the Scottish GDP, with no mention as to that part of it which has been acting illegally and cruelly. Indeed, this Prince Valiant has gained a bad name for ignoring the animal welfare, conservation of rare and protected species of fish, plant, insect, bird and mammal. His track record is strewn with indifference and in intervening to prevent humane progress on various issues. The damage done to the marine environment by our trawling industry; the slaughter of Seals and sea birds around fish farms and their contamination of such lochs and the genetics of wild salmon by escaped hybrid stocks; his resistance to improving the lot of farm animals in being transported long distances to possibly cruel treatment slaughter houses on the Continent and beyond; his interference (Highland Authority Planning territory) in the Coul Links proposed Trump & Others golf courses on internationally (Ramsar) and nationally designated sand dunes, as reported in the Ferret. His conduct has made him and his sort, anomalous anachronisms, and they should be removed from all positions of power in Scotland, and space and influence given to those in all political parties and law enforcement, who are more ethically disposed and whose concerns are for a more just and improved management of our landscape and rural economy. Every time some attempt is made to create a more humane existence for wildlife and animals in general, a constipation occurs, which stifles it. We should be rooting out those responsible for this reluctance, and they be given the laxative of letting them go from their positions.

    Have those who command our political parties, not noticed the presence of so many animal welfare and conservation of species groups, which represent hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of deeply concerned people over how successive Governments have not being attentive enough to their pleas for recognising the suffering and persecution of other life forms? Why do they continue to protect and support such damaging pursuits? Surely, we can have those industries mentioned here, controlled by a more enlightened and compliant with the law, individuals? The outlook on Earth today is one of desolation and dismay where the foragers of resources to supply our damaging industries operate, and where the rampant and murderous poachers and trophy shooters are taking wildlife species to the points of extinction. The omnipresent plastic waste in our oceans, and the contamination of our atmosphere creating diseases and climate change, should be another wake up call. Scotland is playing a part in correcting some of its contribution to these actions, but there are serious gaps and they involve the survival of the diversity of life, and it is there that many people wish to see firm and punitive action.

  9. 25 Les Wallace
    February 15, 2018 at 5:22 pm

    My wildlife mad 5 year old nephew Lomond lives in Currie, I think my family may have walked near where Fred disappeared. If he had seen an eagle it would have been something he remembered the whole of his life – I had to wait til I was 15 before I saw a buzzard and that was in Germany, and am still to see my first wild golden eagle. It would have been great if Lomond had beaten me to it. That driven grouse moor had the reek of death about it, effen lifeless. Appalling for the conscientious landowner and the gamekeeper. Hope there’s a media shite storm about this.

  10. 26 Kevin Twidale
    February 15, 2018 at 6:12 pm

    Knowing who may have committed a crime and proving that a crime was committed and who was responsible for that crime are two different things.
    The starting point would be, [Ed: the rest of this comment has been deleted as potentially libellous]

    • 27 Kevin Twidale
      February 16, 2018 at 12:12 pm

      Whoops, LOL, I thought I had worded it so it wasn’t, (libellous). more just informative of the problem, and we all know what,(who) the problem is.

      • February 16, 2018 at 12:16 pm

        OK, I have worked out who owns that shoot. It is not a landowner I know, or have any influence over unfortunately.

        • February 16, 2018 at 11:58 pm

          There is a lot of land used locally in this area for shooting. Lymphoy Rd is a right of way ,private dirt track and the old road from Currie to Balerno, used just to serve 3 or so houses- and frequented by fairly sparse dog walkers. it is on Malleny Estates, Lord Rosebury land. This is north of the moorland and is edged by fields of rape, cereals, with mature trees boundaring and copses, some dense bush. there were lots of hides built in this area for shooters and there were groups of organised shoots v regularly at weekends until past couple of years- this was no moorland. There was a badger found dead in a snare here , just a few hundred yds from Currie council estate, perhaps 12- 15 yrs ago
          one of the local farmers gives permission for shooters to use his fields whether next to housing estates or not. One of the local farmers seems to advise Italians when he is harvesting, because despite him harvesting a t different times in August the shooters always seem to be there with the harvesters, and the joy of seeing raptors flying high mewing over the harvest fields would be cut short by the sound of shooting – pigeons of course.
          There is / was a Balerno Shooting Syndicate, run by a former professional expert on antique firearms. this gent also has a private company that can organise elite shooting holidays designed to your unique requirements in far off destinations or in uk.
          one of the closest homes to the Black Hill is Bavelaw Castle, which has been owned by the family who formerly owned Jenner before selling to House Of Fraser in 2005. After the shop was sold a shooting estate in the Lammermuirs was bought
          Fred was recorded close to the by pass-Shooting also takes place not infrequently in fields to the north of of the railway line, and I was told at New Year shooting nr Hermiston near the bypass had concerned an individual enough for them to report it to the police.

          Being in the GreenBelt in no way means wildlife is protected

          • February 17, 2018 at 12:37 pm

            Forgot to add Malleny House & Garden at end of Lymphoy Rd a NTS property.
            Ironically Fred must have flown v close to / over SASA ( Scottish Agricultural Science Agency? )at Gogarburn , where RPS can correct me but have been told by police before suspect poisoned wildlife are sent for analysis to identify if any poisons used,

  11. 31 Alan
    February 15, 2018 at 6:41 pm

    Did anyone search for the tag at sea.

  12. 32 Pete Marsh
    February 15, 2018 at 7:34 pm

    I use the vessel finders app for checking the position of the passenger ferry between Douglas and Heysham as it sometimes drags a few seabirds into Morecambe Bay behind it. At the same time, it shows the current position of any boat of any size between north Wales and the Solway. I am not sure whether the app can be “rewound back” to a certain time but if there is an equivalent where this eagle tag went missing……………………

    • February 16, 2018 at 12:23 pm

      I know the east neuk of Fife very well. I spent part of my childhood there and am still a regular visitor. I can see that coast from my office window right now. Most of the boats running out of harbours like St Monans or Lower Largo or Crail are crab fishermen in small boats who do not go very far out to sea at all and are unlikely to have trackers. The boats that go further out are the few remaining trawlers and the boats that go to the Isle of May. Plus, of course, yachts from Anstruther or indeed Edinburgh or East Lothian who are out on a pleasure trip. Some sport fishing boats sail out of Anstruther too.

  13. February 15, 2018 at 8:12 pm

    I have reported shooting activity in this area which raised my concerns many times. Last time I did so, despite even the police call handler saying I had put myself in a dangerous position to try to recover my phone from an armed man who had grabbed and pocketed it after he saw me indicating I was taking his picture, the call to police was not even recorded. But Police have responded on other occasions very courteously and professionally and taken away items at times
    I heard shooting roughly in that area, ( hard to be sure exactly where sound coming from, very roughly around that time in January but I couldn’t be specific even to the week-could be they made several attempts, but shooting could have been at anything . from memory the shooting I heard was a few bursts close together, not shooting that went on sporadically for hours- but I work so only around in gloaming at that time of year. I have certainly thought on a number of occasions in the past supposed pigeon shooters, with pigeon magnets, had their eyes on other birds , and feathers left afterwards on more than one occasion seemed to suggest that could well be the case
    There were regular shoots on land virtually adjoining Currie and a local gamekeeper for many years at least until the past couple of years .on one side land is owned by Rosebury Estates, Earl of Dalkeith , and the other by Morton Estates (Lord Morton) . THere are some local shooters, but there have been regular groups of Italian shooters even on fields between 2 housing estates, but adjoining open countryside, who claim to not speak a word of English between them . it is of concern to me at least that I have since seen one of these men- I clearly recognised-in a situation where I had his name , address, and even date of birth, and could see that he had previously had a history of alcohol dependency, but still given a gun licence.He spoke English fluently of course, although I had previously been unable to converse with him when in out in the fields as he claimed to no no English. I have no substantial evidence against him . unfortunately on times when I could have taken photos my phone not with me

    On a number of occasions, but not for several years now, there were organised shoots on the morning of rugby internationals,in this area, with convoys of vehicles carrying student types, dogs, and the posher 4x4s carrying camouflaged individuals. This seemed to be deer shoots. All shooting finished on these days around midday

    it is hugely disturbing to know we have been visited by such a magnificent bird and it has disappeared in this area, but from past experience I am not surprised at all surprised possible criminal activity of the type you suspect has been carried out even so close to Holyrood

    not such a quiet leafy backwater area

  14. 35 Pheasant beater
    February 15, 2018 at 8:21 pm

    Surprised & disapointed this was not reported on the TV news this evening.
    Good video on the incident by CP. The Scottish Government needs to step up to the mark.

    • 36 nimby
      February 15, 2018 at 11:53 pm

      Main stream media are probably discouraged from running such items of news, but if we collectively keep up the social media ‘campaign’ and ensure that the issue achieves a high profile then they will risk even lower credibility if they do not cover the issue of ongoing / increased incidences of illegal raptor persecution.

      Another angle of course is the impact on tourism, does the Scottish government really want to be seen as weak on crime? Total respect and appreciation to RPUK, Avery, Packham et. al. who do a fantastic job in keeping the issues live.

      • 37 J .Coogan
        February 16, 2018 at 10:43 am

        When need to accept that the media including British Brainwashing Corporation are bias and run by the elite, on behalf of of the establishment ( using our money). We should bypass them and look / spread our news elsewhere. A good idea is of course to write a complaint , I am not stupid enough to believe it will change their policy but their charter demands they process each one , This takes up loads of their time and if we flood them with complaints it might have an effect, at least it will annoy them, plus it makes me feel a little less disenfranchised, after all we pay the bastards huge salaries.

        • 38 Michael Newman
          February 16, 2018 at 8:10 pm

          It is quite amusing that you criticise the BBC of being biased towards the elite (and a guess, by extension hunters, shooters etc.) when THEY complain about the BBC being biased against them!

    • 40 Chris
      February 18, 2018 at 3:16 am

      This was reported on the local news on Radio Borders Saturday morning.

  15. 41 heclasu
    February 15, 2018 at 8:57 pm

    Well, I have checked the Forth area on ShipAIS for 26th January with no luck. I am unable to check Marine Traffic as one is required to subscribe (financially) to the site in order to get access to Playback data. However, even if the vessel used was equipped with an AIS transmitter, it is highly unlikely that it would have been switched on for obvious reasons.

  16. 42 Mike Mills
    February 15, 2018 at 9:32 pm

    It seems that we need a cross between a Police Wildlife Crime Officer and Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus on the case!
    Re the North Sea tag plots – does the frequency of transmission suggest that the transmitter/ carcass was opened up on, for example, a boat which then travelled a little further before being dumped in the sea to then travel slowly with the current from plot to plot? Surely the distance from that first plot to the next delivers a speed of travel which may by characteristic of something other than a golden eagle?

    • 43 Bill Gilmour
      February 16, 2018 at 10:32 pm

      If you study the map and the caption, you will see that Fred has traveled, without the tracker transmitting, from the Pentlands to 10 miles off Fife in 3 days. Then with the transmitter sending, about 5 miles in about two days. That is about 0.1 miles an hour. He has been drifting in the sea.

      • 44 Mike
        February 17, 2018 at 4:32 pm

        Apologies Bill, I did not explain my thoughts on interpretation of the map very well. The bulk of the sea plots start about 10 miles off Fife Ness. They continue along an increasingly complex path for about 10 miles over the two days which would give a speed of say 0.2m.p.h. which is entirely in keeping with the tidal streams in that area. There is however a single plot half way out from Fife Ness to the main group of plots, representing a distance between it and the main group of say 4-5miles. Now I don’t know the transmission period for the sat tag but I would suggest that this part of the tags journey was not simply a result of tidal drift.
        I think that we should also take into account that these latest sat tags give more frequent transmissions and a greater ability to track precise movements of the birds. If we follow the theory of someone dumping Fred at sea then that person may have ‘unwrapped’ Fred from transmission preventing carriage and not realised that a fix was transmitted before throwing him overboard. If that were the case and a better scale map was available it would be possible to estimate the speed of travel on that small part of Fred’s last journey and see if it fitted with a boat speed.
        Lets face it the raptor persecuting classes have based their dealings with sat tags on the previous generation of tags and this one may have caught them out! It is becoming more and more difficult for them, thank goodness.

        • 45 Bill Gilmour
          February 17, 2018 at 6:25 pm

          Mike, We are in much the same place. The person who killed Fred is very likely reading these posts. I wonder if he realises that he is very catchable. That if Police Scotland want him, it should not be hard to take him.

  17. 46 Mick
    February 15, 2018 at 9:52 pm

    Another disgusting loss because criminals have literally nothing to lose and the people in power who can do something haven’t done nearly enough. Sadly we’ll see more of this until the criminals are put on the back foot, I’d make the minimum sentence a jail term. I’m guessing this young eagle was killed and enclosed in some kind of Faraday Cage to block the signal. It will have been then either dumped in a river and washed out to sea or taken out in a boat and dumped until the Faraday cage was washed off the bird.

  18. 47 Chris Dobson
    February 15, 2018 at 10:58 pm

    A challenge to all the conscientious & law-abiding keepers we keep hearing about; Name & shame! Whoever did this will be feted in raptor persecuting circles. The 1st to get 1 of the hated ”Packham’s Eagles”.

    • 48 nimby
      February 16, 2018 at 12:02 am

      It is indeed a challenge and much as I’d have respect for any gamekeepers who did report illegal acts, sadly, I think it unlikely that any will.

      They will of course be only too well aware that in failing to address this they risk taring all their ‘kind’ (I deliberately omit to use the word ‘profession’ because profession implies professionalism and integrity and the criminal contingent do not deserve respectful recognition IMHO)?

      First they ignore, Then they laugh, Then they fight (I think that’s the current chapter) and then #wewillwin #spreadtheword

  19. 49 lizzybusy
    February 15, 2018 at 11:59 pm

    I think this is probably a stupid question – but I’ll ask it anyway!

    Those woods look ideal for Larsen traps. In our area they tend to put bird traps on the boundary of the estate or on land adjacent to the estate since they want to stop raptors or forbids even entering the land. Almost always the traps are erected in woodland next to the moors or close to buildings and woods. Are there any bird traps out there?

  20. February 16, 2018 at 9:33 am

    Does anyone know who owns that moor? I have started looking for an owner because it might be someone who could be influenced.

  21. 51 Mark Lund
    February 16, 2018 at 9:50 am

    I did wonder why it was not dumped straightaway and was therfore transmitting for days, but I guess it was floating around until it sank or was possibly eaten by a predator fish/mammal? Strange. How are the signals hidden/lost except by destruction? Too much seawater? Depth? being swallowed?

  22. 52 Bob
    February 16, 2018 at 11:19 am

    People seem to be very quick to point the blame to keepers, it’s not like raptors have gone missing and then turned up at a later date. Also isn’t the last know location in the middle of a wind farm ??

  23. February 16, 2018 at 11:27 am

    This is truly awful news. Wildlife crime is deplorable. Why can’t we live in a society that wants to protect the beauty of nature?

  24. 60 Alan
    February 16, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    Regarding whether the location is “an area of intensive grouse shooting”, I did a bit of work on this last night and it’s on the BDGS Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/bandrivengrouseshootingpetition/

  25. 61 Michael Newman
    February 16, 2018 at 6:34 pm

    “On 20th January, Fred roosted overnight in a shelter belt overlooking a grouse moor near Balerno. His tag continued to record his position there until just before 10am on 21st January, when his tag suddenly and inexplicably stopped.

    However, three and a half days later, in the evening of 24 January, Fred’s tag began transmitting again but the GPS location showed it was in the North Sea, some 10 miles offshore from St. Andrews. His tag continued to provide GPS data until 26 January, showing his final position at approximately 15 miles offshore. No further data have been received.”

    And your BEST explanation of that is:
    1. Fred was killed by the shooting interests at or near Balerno and the tag stopped working.
    2. The body was transported 12 miles to the sea.
    3. The body with non-functioning tag was put on board a boat or ship.
    4. After two or three days the tag starts working again for two days and then fails again.

    Really? Really?? That’s pretty thin. And I would love to see you defend that in court. Only the fourth item on that list is in any way supported by your evidence.

    For instance here’s one a defense council might try:
    1. The tag was defective and stopped working.
    2. Later it started transmitting again but the data send was inaccurate.
    3. Finally the tag failed totally.

    The scientist in me can’t help notice that my argument is much simpler and Occam’s Razor might be invoked.

    • February 16, 2018 at 10:50 pm

      You are of course correct…. the eagle was mugged by a passing turtle who was feeling let down by the quality of radio trackers they have been forced to endure…..

      No… If i was the polis i’d be looking for a gamekeeper with a friend that works on a fishing boat based in the east neuk….

      I assume they took Freds DNA when the tracker was fitted?

    • 63 Bill Gilmour
      February 16, 2018 at 10:53 pm

      As a scientist, you should know that Occum’s razor is an abstraction, with nothing to do with empirical science.

    • 64 Mike
      February 16, 2018 at 11:26 pm

      Think that you’re missing a few points there! It would seem that;-
      1. The sat tags are very reliable so failure of this sort is highly unlikely.
      2. If a tag fails it is usually the culmination of some malfunction which gives an indication.
      3. If however the bird drops dead then the tag keeps transmitting and can be recovered where the bird dropped.
      4. If the bird is not recovered at the site of last transmission then it is a strong indication that it has been shot or killed by naughty person(s) who then need to get rid of the evidence as the last transmission site becomes a focal point.
      5. To throw investigators off the trail naughty person perhaps encloses tag so that signal cannot transmit – inside suitable containment c.f. your mobile with no network, then tag/carcass can be transported elsewhere without transmitting and giving the game away.
      6. Subsequent removal of tag from container and throw into sea where it carries on transmitting despite wallowing in salt water, another indicator of durable and reliable tag.

      So I think that most of us are of the opinion that the tag probably didn’t stop working near Balerno and start again at sea before finally stopping, rather that naughty person was trying to avoid the consequences of killing an eagle carrying a rather hot bit of equipment. Other explanations may be available but you’re dead right – it wouldn’t stand up in court unless there’s some pretty strong supportive evidence. Unfortunately the likelihood of an intermittent malfunction and a maritime flight by a golden eagle make the above theory perfectly plausible, IMHO.

      • 65 Michael Newman
        February 19, 2018 at 7:42 pm


        Thanks for your well considered reply. I note that:

        1. Sat tags are very reliable but not TOTALLY relieable.
        2. A tag fails usually as a cumlination of some malfunction. But not ALWAYS.
        3. Fair enough.
        4. Yes an indication of nefarious activity but not PROOF.

        You needn’t bother replying to those points, I realise they are quite trivial. However:

        5. & 6. Is that what raptor persecutors do? It seems unnecessarily complicated. Why not destroy the tag and the bird on-site or nearby? I guess even the best tag wouldn’t repond well to a 4lb lump hammer and the countryside is a large place where a bird could be buried or burned clandestinely. Why go to the trouble of transporting the bird and/or tag by vehicle in a Farady box, transferring it to a boat and then chucking overboard?

        I would be interested to hear a reason why the boat theory seems plausible beacuse if feels pretty unlikely to me.

        • 66 Bill Gilmour
          February 19, 2018 at 9:44 pm

          Michael Newman,

          You ask, “Why not destroy the tag and the bird on-site or nearby?” Well if Fred was shot, that is obvious. To make it look as though the bird did not die in the Pentlands but in the sea. That act also meant it was very unlikely to be recovered and forensically examined.

          You ask for PROOF (as you type it) but you are speculating more than anyone. You also claim to be a scientist but they do not speak of proof, they deal with probability.

          However, as I have written below, this exchange is a divergence from the fact that an eagle has been killed and transported many miles to cover the act.

          • 67 Michael Newman
            February 22, 2018 at 8:34 pm

            When I was asking for proof I was thinking of legal proof (beyond reasonable doubt and all that (or whatever it is in Scotland).

            Let’s be honest there is not much “science” in the orignal post at the top of this thread but a fair amount of finger-pointing and implied accusations of criminal activity without much hard evidence (legally speaking) to back them up.

            I don’t claim to be a scientist, because I’m not, but my education and training were in the sphere of science. And, yes, I do understand that science deals in probabilities. I spend a lot of each working day trying to get the general public to understand probabilities and risk (usually without success). You try and get someone to understand the difference between absolute and relative risk!

            Anyway thanks for taking the time to respond.

            • 68 Bill Gilmour
              February 23, 2018 at 11:09 am


              You say there is not much “science” in the original post.

              Dr Tingay is reported to have said, “Golden Eagles don’t generally fly out over miles of large bodies of sea water” and then commented on the reliability of GPS data plotting. Both are deceptively simple statements but both are based on vast amounts of science. Taken singly, they should have us scratching our heads. In conjunction, they should have us nodding. Two highly improbable things have happened to Fred and his tracker that should be further examined by scientists and law enforcement. My speculation is that they will find enough technical evidence to arrest and charge someone, whom I assume is reading this.

              The sun is shining here in Edinburgh, I hope it is on you too.

    • 69 Alan
      February 17, 2018 at 1:39 am

      The scientist in me tells me that you are not a scientist. Or at any rate not a scientist who knows anything about this subject. Or a troll. Who knows but your amateur theorising just make you look foolish at best. If you are for real, which I doubt, start your re-examination by considering whether your supposition, imposed on both the most reasonable account and your own daft one, that the tag stopped working and then started again some days later, is remotely plausible by contrast with the signal being hidden by a something acting as a Faraday cage, and the daft buggers who took it out to sea not realizing that the cover would wash off and the signal read loud and clear again. Occam’s Razor anyone? Just go back to school mate, you’re out of your pay grade. Stop wasting everyone’s time. Unless that was your intent of course.

    • 70 BSA
      February 17, 2018 at 10:32 am

      Prosecution is not the point here. It is clear, for obvious reasons, that neither prosecutions nor convictions give a true measure of the scale or distribution of raptor persecution. The true measure is the association of grouse moors with the disappearance of tagged individuals and the range of other raptor population issues shown in peer reviewed science. It is the industry which is indicted and it is the industry which will ultimately be regulated. Hiding behind the criminal burden of proof in individual cases, which has traditionally been the industry’s short sighted practice, will not save it now or under any future licensing system. Fred’s contribution to that looks quite significant.

      • 71 Michael Newman
        February 19, 2018 at 2:14 pm

        BSA you make some good points there.

        “Prosecution is not the point here.”
        Raptor persecution is, like most countryside crime, very difficult to prosecute successfully. The Police do not have and never will have the necessary resources. My home county has one full-time Rural Crime Officer! My point was mainly that the detailed accusations made were not well supported by the evidence.

        “It is clear, for obvious reasons, that neither prosecutions nor convictions give a true measure of the scale or distribution of raptor persecution. The true measure is the association of grouse moors with the disappearance of tagged individuals and the range of other raptor population issues shown in peer reviewed science.”
        The driven grouse shooting industry does have many problems it needs to address and persecution is probably the most emotive. Certainly persecution distrubution maps suggest that some estates don’t care and kill raptors routinely. The maps also suggest other estates don’t. The broader shooting community is trying to put pressure on to change these out-of-date attitutes but is is an uphill struggle to say the least. It’s a pity that the better estates don’t get any support or encouragement from outside of shooting. Positive reinforcement works better than waving a big stick all the time.

        “It is the industry which is indicted and it is the industry which will ultimately be regulated. Hiding behind the criminal burden of proof in individual cases, which has traditionally been the industry’s short sighted practice, will not save it now or under any future licensing system.”
        I wonder how successful regulation will be, if it comes about? Estates that flout the law are probably going to play loose and free with the regulations as well, don’t you think?
        I work in a highly regulated industry. In my experience there are three types of regulation:
        1. Those which are absolutely necessary or sensible (not that many of those).
        2. Those which are not a bad idea but create a disproportionate about of work and record keeping. Lots and lots of these: regulators are very efficient at generating these!
        3. Ones that are nearly pointless or inappropriate but have to be in place. My favourite is the one that puts a responsibility on my company to notify the authorities if I die. Sadly when I die all the officers of the company will be dead too, since they are me.
        Sadly the abundance of seemingly trivial regulations can be counter productive. The workload they create takes everyone away from doing the primary job and is very frustrating. If the regulators could restrict themselves to truly useful, effective regulations the compliance would be much higher. We spend a week every year updating protocal etc. which will not see the light of day until we update them next year. And I like a good protocol.

        I assume the regulatory system will be funded by direct taxation on shooting. I wonder how effective the regulator will be? In my experience some are excellent, most are awful/useless.

  26. 72 kenneth taylor
    February 16, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    Common knowledge the owners of grouse estates will persecute Birdsof prey everyone knows they do it but they are above the law a hillwalker i know had rented a cottage on mull and took a walk in area he spotted a sea eagle and took some flight shots all of a sudden An RSPB Warden arrived told him he was breaking the law without any warning to keep away from the spott he was reported to police he was fined 1000 pounds so wheres the justice as the gamekeeper caught on camera recently blowing a hen harrier from the sky was not charged so obviously they are above the law .

  27. February 17, 2018 at 8:20 am

    SGA respond: “We also feel that Police should attempt to search the water for the missing tag.” .. Are they seriously suggesting that police search the 750,000 km² of the North Sea for a … bird tag? … EAGLE DISAPPEARANCE: PENTLANDS: https://news.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk/2018/02/eagle-disappearance-pentlands.html?m=1

  28. 74 J .Coogan
    February 17, 2018 at 12:05 pm

    Still nothing on then telly Michael , just saying. Amusing eh.

  29. 75 Hawkeye the Noo
    February 17, 2018 at 3:49 pm

    I don’t know if eagles will pray on common buzzards or not but ,as a local, my impression is that the Balerno area has a higher than average population of buzzards (i.e. their numbers are not decimated by the shooting fraternity) and therefore the presence of an eagle may have been beneficial as a natural predator for the ever increasing buzzard population. Perhaps Fred was moved on by the over population of buzzards?

    • February 17, 2018 at 11:50 pm

      Hawkeye 3 times in 4 lines you emphasise something that is the exact reverse of anything I have heard from locals. Buzzards are not a frequent site at all- quite the reverse

      • 77 Hawkeye The Noo
        February 18, 2018 at 1:55 pm

        Carol – my personal experience is that I can see three different buzzards whilst I’m driving along the A70 on a regular basis. Buzzards are every where in this locality. Try looking up in the sky above Kirknewton Airfield on any hot summer day when the thermals are rising and you’ll see a number of buzzards circling well,,,,,just like buzzards or vultures, just simply shooting the breeze. The young birds are particularly vocal and draw attention to themselves just like the RAF training Gliders do with their haunting whistling sound. You only have to open your eyes and ears and look and listen which very few members of the public actually do. The name Common Buzzard is very apt for the species in this locality. I’m not being defensive I’m just reporting what I see.

        • 78 Coop
          February 18, 2018 at 10:35 pm

          Then why the subjective “over-population”? Do you not understand what carrying capacity means? If you do, then you’d know that your claim of “the over population of buzzards” (sic. it’s customary to refer to a species with capitalisation) is a complete nonsense.

          • 79 Hawkeye The Noo
            February 19, 2018 at 3:14 pm

            Coop – Okay, point taken. My main point was that there certainly doesn’t seem to be a shortage of Buzzards in the locality and I can certainly say from my own experience that like Badgers and Magpies their numbers appear to have increased significantly in the area over the last 20 years. Hedgehog numbers appear to have decreased over the same period. That’s just from observation – not scientific research which I never claimed this was.

            • 80 Bill Gilmour
              February 19, 2018 at 3:52 pm

              This exchange is a divergence from the fact that an eagle has been killed and transported many miles to cover the act.

              • 81 Coop
                February 19, 2018 at 5:52 pm

                I disagree, Bill. “This exchange” highlights the attitude of those who claim (or infer) that increases of X = decreases in Y with no evidence whatsoever. This is exactly the tactic used by those who seek to justify raptor persecution, and the sterilisation of our ecosystems by the shooting industry.

                • 82 Hawkeye The Noo
                  February 19, 2018 at 6:48 pm

                  Excuse me gentlemen – it highlights a balanced view which has, quite correctly in my view, been permitted by the site moderator.

                  • 83 Coop
                    February 20, 2018 at 1:57 pm

                    I’ve no problem with your views (balanced or not) being permitted by the site moderator (far worse has appeared in the past), but I, and anyone else here, have the right to challenge them.

  30. 84 Matt Cross
    February 19, 2018 at 9:34 pm

    I am a freelance fieldsports journalist and would love to have a really good look at this for the shooting press. Will RPS co-operate in showing me the data they hold on this eagle and helping me to understand it? If robust examination of that data supports the conclusion that this eagle has been illegally killed that is what the Article will say.

    • February 19, 2018 at 9:46 pm


      I know you’ve already read our latest update as you described it as being “funny” on your Twitter feed, but suggest you read it again and take note of the bit where it says new information has been passed to the Police, who are following up leads, and the bit where it says we’re therefore not in a position to comment further at this stage:


      And for the record, there’s nothing “funny” about this case.

      • 86 Matt Cross
        February 19, 2018 at 9:54 pm

        Apologies, I meant ‘peculiar’ rather than ‘amusing’. Bad choice of words. I quite agree there is nothing amusing about this case, it is very serious both for the wildlife and the people involved. I would be more than happy to wait until after the police are done as I too would not want to threaten any potential action.

        As you have read that on my twitter feed I hope you also noted that I have made my feelings in illegal raptor persecution very clear. I am open minded about whether thius is an example of it or not, but I do not deny it occurs and condemn it utterly.

        I’m offering you the opportunity to prove your case beyond reasonable doubt in the very heart of the shooting establishment. The offer is genuine and honest.

  31. 87 alan
    February 20, 2018 at 1:25 pm

    Is there any reason the tag wasn’t retrieved from the sea during that 2 day window?

  32. 88 Ged hogg
    February 22, 2018 at 6:21 pm

    Now that we have such accurate tracking capabilities it is time to be more proactive about thes lowlifes that are responsible for the persecution of these raptors,anywhere that a bird is shot,poisoned or dies in suspicious circumstances there should be a ban on all commercial shoots for an entire season within a 30 mile radius of where the bird either disappeared or was killed,this would make these estates and keepers think twice and would also have the added benefit that they would be more likely to report neighbors who were persecuting the birds so as to protect their own business

  33. 89 WTFoster
    March 1, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    I’ve been reading with interest the RSPB Skydancer blog and specifically the death of the Hen Harrier, ‘Eric’. The blog states “On 27th January 2018, data from Eric’s tag, which continued to transmit as expected, showed that he had made a sudden and unexpected journey eastwards, away from the islands and out into the North Sea. Data from later that day then showed that he had gone down in the water, and shortly afterwards the tag ceased transmitting. All the evidence suggests that Eric drowned.” According to Alan Leitch, RSPB Site Manager on Orkney, quote “The loss of Eric is sad; it coincided with a period of bad weather on Orkney, so it appears likely the strong south westerly winds blew this young bird off course.” Might Eric’s death be explained by the same bad weather and strong south westerly?

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