Archive for March, 2018


New information reveals more about Golden Eagle Fred’s suspicious disappearance

RPUK/Chris Packham press release:


On 21st January, a GPS satellite tag fitted to a young golden eagle called Fred suddenly and inexplicably stopped sending data close to a grouse moor in the Pentland Hills on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Up until that point the tag had been working perfectly and was providing accurate and frequent location information about Fred’s travels.

Photo of Fred by Ruth Tingay:

Strangely, three and half days later, the tag began to transmit again for a short period, but astonishingly, it was in the North Sea, 15 miles offshore from St Andrews. No further GPS data have been received.

Map showing Fred’s movements in the Pentland Hills and the last known position of his tag in the North Sea:

The researchers who had been tracking Fred’s movements (Dr Ruth Tingay of Raptor Persecution UK and broadcaster and campaigner Chris Packham) alerted experts at RSPB Scotland who immediately notified Police Scotland who began an investigation into Fred’s suspicious disappearance.

The analysis of new technical data, provided by the tag manufacturer, has now shed some light on the approximate location of Fred’s tag during those three and a half days of lost GPS transmissions.

Although the tag’s GPS transmissions were suppressed, the tag’s technical data, which includes time & date, shows that the tag was still functioning and was periodically communicating briefly with a series of mobile phone masts closest to the tag’s then location. These data, that gave locational information for the phone masts, suggest that in the days after Fred’s disappearance his tag moved eastwards away from the Pentlands, along a route similar to that of the Edinburgh City Bypass and subsequently the A1 towards Haddington, before it travelled to the North Berwick area on the East Lothian coast. From there, it is likely that the tag went into the sea as the data then show that the tag began to connect with phone masts along the Fife coast, across the Firth of Forth. Later, the tag was then able, briefly, to resume giving locational GPS transmissions, but by then it was well offshore.

Map showing the phone masts (red dots) with which Fred’s tag was communicating between 21-25 January 2018. The green dot shows the final known GPS position of the tag on 25th Jan. (Map: RPUK)

Dr Tingay said:That someone might have been travelling around the Edinburgh City Bypass with a dead golden eagle in the boot of a vehicle is sickening.

These new tags we’re using to track golden eagles like Fred offer a highly sophisticated technical opportunity, not just to learn about the eagles’ movements when they’re alive but also, it seems, an insight in to the lengths someone will go to try and remove evidence to cover their crime”.

Chris Packham said:We don’t know whether this tag was still attached to Fred as it travelled across East Lothian and in to the North Sea but we do know that the tag’s movements are a clear indication of foul play.

Whether it was an amateurish attempt to mask the illegal killing of Fred in the Pentlands by dumping the tag, and possibly Fred, in the North Sea to make it look like he had drowned, we’ll never know. We do know that, once again, we’ve lost a young golden eagle in the vicinity of a grouse moor and nobody will be held to account.

The Scottish Government needs to do more, immediately, to protect Scotland’s birds of prey. It’s crystal clear that raptors continue to be killed and the criminals responsible think they are untouchable”.

Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland said:This new information makes the probability of Fred’s death being a wildlife crime even more likely.

The continued denials of any suspicion around the case, and attempts at coming up with elaborate alternative versions of events, have been identical to those in virtually every other case where a satellite-tagged raptor has disappeared.

It is a great shame that some representatives of the gamebird shooting industry, who profess to be “true conservationists” and “guardians of the countryside”, are the same individuals who seek more to shoot the messenger than to face up to and marginalise the criminals who exist in plain sight in their community.

Lothian MSP Andy Wightman said:The evidence uncovered from Fred’s satellite tag is sufficient to convince me that he died in suspicious circumstances. Further details may never be known but it is beyond contempt that protected species such as Golden Eagles continue to be persecuted across Scotland.

I urge all those who use the Pentlands Regional Park on a regular basis to remain vigilant and am extremely grateful to Dr Ruth Tingay and Police Scotland for their diligence and perseverance in a very difficult case.

Last year a Scottish Government-commissioned report showed that 41 of 131 satellite-tagged golden eagles had disappeared (presumed dead) in suspicious circumstances in Scotland, predominantly on or near to some driven grouse moors. In response to that report’s findings, the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, ordered a review of grouse moor management practices with a view to introducing a licensing scheme for game-shooting estates.

Anyone with information about Fred’s disappearance is urged to contact Police Scotland on 101, or the RSPB’s confidential raptor crime hotline 0300 999 0101.


We’ve produced a video about the location of Fred’s tag between 21-25 January:

The new information we’ve been able to retrieve from the tag (as discussed by Chris Packham in the video) deserves a little bit more explanation.

It’s important to understand that the new data do NOT provide detailed GPS locations of the tag – i.e. the new information only tells us which nearby phone mast the tag was communicating with, it does NOT tell us the exact position of the tag when it was ‘talking’ to the phone masts, as the tag’s GPS function was disabled (more on this below).

Nevertheless, the position of the phone masts and the times/dates the tag was communicating with them does show a very clear direction of travel from the Pentlands and out in to the North Sea. For investigative reasons, we are not yet revealing the times/dates those phone masts were ‘pinged’.

The disabling of the tag’s GPS function is interesting. It is surprisingly easy to suppress the tag’s GPS signal. For obvious reasons, we have no intention of providing a description of how to do that, but needless to say you don’t need a Faraday cage or indeed any specialist equipment to block the signal of this particular tag type.

That begs the question, was Fred’s tag deliberately disabled to hide the GPS data transmissions? Let’s assume for a minute that it was. Whoever did that, was smart enough to know how to suppress the GPS signal but not smart enough to know that the tag would still be trying to communicate with the nearest phone mast. Schoolboy error.

An alternative explanation is that the tag was not deliberately disabled at all. Whoever took that tag (and perhaps Fred’s corpse) from the Pentlands might just have been banking on the idea that the tag only sends data at set periods of time inbetween battery-charging periods (as with the Hen Harrier satellite tags), and so they may have thought they could get it to the coast and in to the sea without anybody who was monitoring the tag’s data knowing that something was wrong. They may have decided to dump the tag (and possibly Fred) in to the sea to make it look as though he flew out there of his own accord and simply drowned. Again, schoolboy error. We are not using the same type of tag as those used on Hen Harriers.

We know from reading various, frankly laughable, theories posted on social media over the last few weeks that the majority of commentators have no clue/understanding of (a) the type of tag we are using, (b) the tag’s capabilities, and (c) the high frequency rate that the tag was transmitting data, throughout every day and night.

We’ve released this new information about the route Fred’s tag took from the Pentland Hills to the North Sea in the hope that someone will come forward to help progress the police investigation into Fred’s highly suspicious disappearance. If you know anything, please contact Police Scotland on 101 or the RSPB’s confidential raptor crime hotline 0300 999 0101.

We’d like to put on record our immense gratitude to the two Police Wildlife Crime Officers who have been leading this case. They have gone way above and beyond what we expected them to do (and again, we are not detailing the specifics of their investigation) and they have impressed us with their diligence and professionalism. Many thanks to them for their efforts to date.

We are also grateful to the tag manufacturer and particularly the senior engineers for providing the additional technical data from Fred’s tag and helping us and the police with the analysis.


Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing condemns the criminals killing raptors on Scottish grouse moors

Last week we criticised Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing for his apparent failure to speak out on illegal raptor persecution, especially following the news that yet another satellite-tagged golden eagle had ‘disappeared’ from a grouse moor within his constituency; a constituency that has been a hotbed of illegal raptor killing for many, many years.

For those of you not on Twitter, this afternoon Mr Ewing responded by publishing a series of tweets, condemning the continued illegal killing of raptors on Scottish grouse moors. We very much welcome his statement:


Satellite-tagged hen harrier Aalin ‘disappears’ near Ruabon grouse moor, North Wales

They can hide the tags. They can hide the bodies. But they can’t hide the pattern” (Dr Hugh Webster)

RSPB press release (21/3/18):


North Wales Police and the RSPB are appealing for information following the disappearance of a satellite-tagged hen harrier near Wrexham.

The harrier, named Aalin, was tagged as part of the RSPB’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE+ project in July 2016 from a nest on the Isle of Man, in collaboration with Manx Birdlife. Aalin left the Isle of Man in 2016 and spent her first winter in Shropshire, before heading to Wales in the spring of 2017, where she remained ever since.

Hen harrier Aalin (photo by James Leonard)

Aalin’s tag had been transmitting regularly, until it suddenly stopped on the morning of 9 February 2018. Data from Aalin’s tag indicated she spent the last few months in the same area of moorland around Ruabon Mountain near Wrexham, from where the tag unexpectedly sent its last signal at 10.34am. A search was conducted by RSPB Investigations staff, but no tag or body was found and she has not been seen or heard of since.

RSPB map:

Dr. Cathleen Thomas, RSPB Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager, said: “It’s incredibly disappointing to lose yet another hen harrier in these circumstances, especially as this bird is so scarce in the UK. It’s also the first suspicious loss of a bird in Wales for our project, after the elation of tagging our first chicks there in 2017. We were hopeful that heading towards the breeding season Aalin would have nested in Wales and successfully reared chicks this summer, so her loss also affects future generations of this rare and beautiful bird in the area. We believe the loss of Aalin and other recently tagged hen harriers in the UK is having a devastating impact on their conservation status.”

Rob Taylor, Rural Crime Team Manager, North Wales Police, said: “We have been notified by the RSPB of this incident and we are investigating the disappearance, but at this time we have little to go on. We are appealing to the public for any assistance they can give and we hope that foul play hasn’t played a part in the loss of this rare bird.”

Neil Morris, Managing Director of Manx Birdlife, said: “This is heart-breaking news. As well as the sudden unexplained loss of yet another magnificent bird of prey, we still know so little about the behaviour of Manx-born hen harriers. Clearly there is an impulse for young birds to wander soon after fledging. But we don’t really know why or whether any of those that leave the Isle of Man as juveniles make the return journey as mature adults to breed back in their native hills.”

If you have any information relating to this incident, please call North Wales Police on 101 quoting the reference WO28466. Alternatively, you can call the RSPB Raptor Crime Hotline confidentially on 0300 999 0101. All calls are anonymous.

If you find a wild bird that you suspect was illegally killed, contact RSPB investigations on 01767 680551 or fill in the online form:


Dr Cathleen Thomas, RSPB’s Hen Harrier Life Project Manager has also written a blog – here.

We’ve produced a habitat map covering the area of Aalin’s last known satellite-tag fix. The tell-tale heather strips show this as, surprise surprise, a grouse moor:

Aalin was one of the 2016 cohort of young satellite-tagged hen harriers. Here’s what happened to the others:

Hen harrier Elwood – ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths just a few weeks after fledging, presumed dead (Aug ’16).

Hen harrier Brian – ‘disappeared’ in the Cairngorms National Park just a few weeks after fledging, presumed dead (Aug ’16).

Hen harrier Donald – missing in northern France, presumed dead (Autumn ’16).

Hen harrier Hermione – found dead on Mull, believed to have died from natural causes (Sep ’16).

Hen harrier Rowan – found dead in Yorkshire Dales National Park. He’d been shot (Oct ’16).

Hen harrier Tarras – ‘disappeared’ in the Peak District National Park, presumed dead (Oct ’16).

Hen harrier Beater – ‘disappeared’ in the Scottish Borders, presumed dead (Nov ’16).

Hen harrier Bonny – ‘disappeared’ in the North Pennines, presumed dead (Dec ’16)

Hen harrier Mick – ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, presumed dead (Dec ’16).

Hen harrier Carroll – found dead in Northumberland, PM revealed a parasitic disease & two shotgun pellets (Jan ’17).

Hen harrier John – ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, presumed dead (Oct ’17)

Hen harrier Aalin – ‘disappeared’ in Wales, presumed dead (Feb ’18)

Twelve down, five to go (DeeCee, Finn, Harriet, Wendy, Sorrel).

More evidence then, that DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Action Plan, launched on 16 January 2016 months before these hen harriers even hatched, is a categorical failure. Will DEFRA or any of the other supporters of this pathetic pantomime (Natural England, Moorland Association, GWCT, Hawk & Owl Trust, International Centre for Birds of Prey etc) re-assess and pull the plug? Of course not.

It looks like Mr Carbo needs to update his sketch:



Peregrine confirmed poisoned in North Wales

From North Wales Police Rural Crime Team:


Pilot scheme for special constables to tackle wildlife crime in Cairngorms National Park

Press release from Police Scotland / Cairngorms National Park Authority (16 March 2018):


An initiative to tackle wildlife crime in the Cairngorms was launched today when the first Police Scotland Special Constables to tackle wildlife and rural issues within Cairngorms National Park formally took up their duties.

The Scottish Government and the Cairngorms National Park Authority is funding the pilot project, which will see five officers, who are all currently Special Constables and based across the three Police Scotland divisions which are covered by the National Park area, concentrate on wildlife and rural crime issues. They will engage with other agencies to prevent wildlife crime and build on existing relationships with those living and working in the Cairngorms National Park.

Detective Chief Superintendent David McLaren from Police Scotland said, “Tackling wildlife crime in Scotland is something that Police Scotland takes very seriously. Our priority should be preventing these crimes in the first place and we can only do this through strong partnership working and with the help of the public.

It is our hope that by having this additional policing resource within the Cairngorms National Park we will be able to deter wildlife criminals. By building good relationships with those using the park, for work or leisure, we will also seek to better educate the public in identifying and reporting suspicious activity.”

Grant Moir, CEO of Cairngorms National Park Authority said, “Wildlife crime is unacceptable and damages the reputation of the Cairngorms as an outstanding National Park for nature. I am pleased to see the start of the special constable pilot with Scottish Government and Police Scotland to tackle this issue, but of course I would much prefer that this sort of resource was not needed to tackle an issue that should not be happening in 21st century Scotland.

This is just part of the work that we are all undertaking to tackle this issue and the CNPA look forward to working closely with the Special Constables and Police Scotland.”

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said, “Scotland’s wildlife is precious and a huge part of our national identity, and these additional officers will be a valuable resource in tackling wildlife crime in the Cairngorms National Park.

I announced this programme following a report that found many of our golden eagles are disappearing in suspicious circumstances. Golden eagles are in the news again with reports of another missing bird, which further underlines the importance of this work.

It is my hope that the success of this pilot scheme will allow us extend it more widely across Scotland. We are absolutely determined to crack down on those who commit crime against our wildlife.”

Anyone with any relevant information on the fates of missing golden eagles or suspected wildlife crime in general, is urged to report this to Police Scotland on 101.


This initiative is one of a number of measures announced by Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham last May, in response to the findings of the golden eagle satellite tag review which showed clear evidence of deliberate and sustained illegal raptor persecution, particularly on some driven grouse moors in and around the Cairngorms National Park.

This map shows the last known location of satellite-tagged golden eagles that were either found illegally killed or had disappeared in suspicious circumstances in and around the Cairngorms National Park.

And it’s not just satellite-tagged golden eagles that have been killed / disappeared in suspicious circumstances in this area. A number of satellite-tagged red kites and hen harriers have suffered the same fate, and since the golden eagle report was published (May 2017), another golden eagle has vanished in the area (see here) as has another hen harrier (see here).

Not one of these incidents, depicted on this map below, has resulted in a prosecution:

With the greatest of respect to the five wildlife special constables, who undoubtedly want to make a difference by volunteering in their spare time, will this pilot scheme really make any difference? It’s hard to know, of course, until the nine month scheme has ended, but even then, we don’t know the criteria by which success will be measured.

We don’t even know the details of the scheme’s operational framework – how will these special constables carry out their wildlife crime duties within the Park? Will they be targeting specific estates? If so, how? They can’t just rock up and do spot searches without having good reason to suspect a wildlife crime has taken place. Nor can they undertake covert surveillance without authority under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act (RIP(S)A), authority which will not be forthcoming because wildlife crimes are not formally categorised as being serious enough to warrant RIP(S)A authority.

There was mention of “strong partnership working” within the official press release – we’ve come to learn that this is a mostly meaningless phrase often used in the field of raptor persecution detection and prevention as a bit of window-dressing, simply trotted out to portray a harmonious relationship between the good guys and the bad guys but with few, if any, tangible results.

It’s easy to see why the Scottish Government chose the Cairngorms National Park to trial this pilot scheme. It has the full support of the Cairngorms National Park Authority (and presumably any resources the CNPA is able to provide) and some areas of the Park are well-known hotspots for wildlife crime, particularly the illegal killing of birds of prey.

Here is a map of raptor persecution crimes recorded in and around the Cairngorms National Park since 2005. As far as we’re aware, only one of these, just beyond the Park boundary (Kildrummy Estate, 2012), resulted in a successful prosecution:

The following list, which we’ve compiled from various data sources but predominantly from the RSPB’s annual persecution reports, documents over 60 illegal raptor persecution incidents inside the Cairngorms National Park (CNP) since 2002. (The Park wasn’t formally established until 2003 but we’ve included 2002 data as the area had been mapped by then). This list includes just the crimes we know about. How many more went unreported/undiscovered?


Feb: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Tomintoul (No prosecution)

Mar: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + 2 rabbit baits. Cromdale (No prosecution)


Apr: 3 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + 2 grey partridge baits. Kingussie (No prosecution)

Jun: Attempted shooting of a hen harrier. Crannoch (Successful prosecution)


May: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cuaich (No prosecution)

Nov: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)


Feb: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)

Feb: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale (No prosecution)

Mar: 3 x poisoned buzzards, 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Crathie (No prosecution)


Jan: 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Dulnain Bridge (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned raven (Mevinphos). Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Morven [corbett] (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned raven + 1 x poisoned common gull (Aldicarb) + egg bait. Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

May: egg bait (Aldicarb). Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Glenfeshie (No prosecution)


Jan: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Glenshee (No prosecution)

Apr: Illegally set spring trap. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

May: Pole trap. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

May: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Tomintoul (No prosecution)

May: Illegally set spring trap. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit & hare baits. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Jul: 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Ballater (No prosecution)

Sep: 1 x shot buzzard. Newtonmore (No prosecution)

Sep: 1 x shot buzzard. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)


Jan: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Mar: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)


May: 2 x poisoned ravens (Mevinphos). Delnabo (No prosecution)

Jun: rabbit bait (Mevinphos). nr Tomintoul (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x shot buzzard. Nr Strathdon (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x illegal crow trap. Nr Tomintoul (No prosecution)


Apr: Pole trap. Nr Dalwhinnie (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x pole-trapped goshawk. Nr Dalwhinnie (No prosecution)

Jun: Illegally set spring trap on tree stump. Nr Dalwhinnie (No prosecution)

Sep: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Glenlochy (No prosecution)

Oct: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Nr Boat of Garten (No prosecution)


Jan: 1 x shot buzzard. Nr Bridge of Brown (No prosecution)

Mar: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

Apr: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran & Aldicarb). Nr Bridge of Brown (No prosecution)

May:  1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

May: 1 x shot short-eared owl, found stuffed under rock. Glenbuchat (No prosecution)

Jun: 1 x shot peregrine. Pass of Ballater (No prosecution)

Aug: grouse bait (Aldicarb). Glenlochy (No prosecution)

Sep: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon

Nov: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon


Apr: 1 x shot short-eared owl. Nr Grantown-on-Spey (No prosecution)

Apr: Peregrine nest site burnt out. Glenshee (No prosecution)

May: Buzzard nest shot out. Nr Ballater (No prosecution)


Jan: White-tailed eagle nest tree felled. Invermark (No prosecution)

May: 1 x shot hen harrier. Glen Gairn (No prosecution)

May: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat


Apr: Satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat

May: Armed masked men shoot out a goshawk nest. Glen Nochty (No prosecution)


Sep: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Lad’ found dead, suspected shot. Newtonmore (No prosecution)


May: 1 x shot goshawk. Strathdon (No prosecution)

Jun: Illegally set spring traps. Invercauld (No prosecution)

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Brian’ ‘disappears’. Kingussie


Mar: Satellite-tagged golden eagle #338 ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Calluna’ ‘disappears’. Ballater

In addition to the above list, two recent scientific publications have documented the long-term decline of breeding peregrines on grouse moors in the eastern side of the National Park (see here) and the catastrophic decline of breeding hen harriers, also on grouse moors in the eastern side of the Park (see here).


Responses to ‘missing’ satellite-tagged golden eagle nr Tomatin

Four days ago we blogged about the ‘disappearance’ of yet another satellite-tagged golden eagle, the 12th eagle in seven years to vanish in suspicious circumstances in this particular area managed for driven grouse shooting.

Here are some of the responses:

Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham –

This golden eagle has disappeared in an area which has long been associated with the illegal persecution of birds of prey. We may never discover exactly what has happened in the case of this latest disappearance. But we do know the illegal killing of Scotland’s magnificent birds of prey continues – primarily in areas which are intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.

No-one should be in any doubt about my determination to act decisively to uphold the law and protect Scotland’s magnificent birds of prey. I look forward to receiving the Werritty Report into how we can ensure grouse shooting is sustainable and complies with the law, which is due to be published early next year”.

We’re in no doubt at all about Roseanna Cunningham’s sincerity on this issue. Like every other sane and law-abiding member of society, she’s appalled that this continues and is probably deeply embarrassed that it continues to happen on her watch, hence her announcement last May of the newly-commissioned grouse moor review panel. We all welcomed that news because finally, after many, many years, it seemed the Scottish Government was finally listening, was in full acknowledgement of the evidence, and was prepared to act.

But it seems from Roseanna’s statement that nothing more will be done for at least another year, and if truth be told, it’ll take longer than a year because as has already been indicated, if the Werritty Report does recommend an introduction of a licensing scheme, the Scottish Government will need to hold a public consultation before any changes are brought in. Can we afford to wait for another year, two years, three years? No, we can’t. The Scottish Government needs to get a grip and tackle the criminal element within the grouse shooting industry with speed and force. There’s absolutely no excuse not to act now.

Rural Economy & Connectivity Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing (in whose constiuency this eagle disappeared)  –

Silence. Again.

Utterly, utterly shameful.

UPDATE 20.00hrs: In email correspondence today with a constituent, Mr Ewing MSP said the Environment Cab Sec “has responsibility to make public comment on this [illegal raptor persecution] but I have done so as well“. If anyone has a record of this public comment we’d be happy to share it here.

UPDATE 22 March 2018: Fergus Ewing speaks out here

David Johnstone, Chairman, Scottish Land & Estates – 

RSPB has stated today that a young golden eagle fitted with a satellite tag disappeared three months ago in the Northern Monadhliath mountains. We have no hesitation in urging anyone who can provide information on the matter to contact Police Scotland.

We are, however, deeply concerned by the assumption by RSPB that this eagle is most likely the victim of a wildlife crime perpetrated on a grouse moor. Yet again, we see RSPB acting unilaterally as judge and jury without waiting for those professional experts in the police and the procurator fiscals’ office to reach an informed decision as to the actual facts. We believe this continual smearing of grouse moors actually runs the risk of being counterproductive and directly impacting all the good, productive collaboration that has taken place in recent years.

Incidents such as this absolutely do need to be investigated but it is for Police Scotland to lead investigations. They have very extensive powers to gather evidence as they see fit, and we would expect all our members to assist them in their enquiries.

To be clear, we as an organisation – and on behalf of our members – condemn all forms of wildlife crime. We are not saying that wildlife crime never occurs on land managed for grouse shooting and acknowledge that in the past, there were practices, including raptor persecution, that are simply unacceptable but which have declined markedly in recent years and this trend is borne out by the Scottish Government’s own statistics. We also note that RSPB itself describes the area involved in this case as one where eagles have done well in recent years.

Of course, more work needs to be done ensure the decline in wildlife crime continues and we are an enthusiastic member of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAWS). It has been proven time and again that constructive collaboration gets the best results. Alongside this, we and numerous grouse shooting estates are active members of the Heads Up for Harriers project as well as being key drivers in the South of Scotland Golden Eagle reintroduction project. 

Instead, what we have is a sustained effort to blacken the name of grouse shooting without evidence. It is perhaps no coincidence this is happening when the Scottish Government has instigated an independent review into grouse shooting which is ongoing at this very moment. Despite being a member in PAWS, we have seen absolutely no evidence or data from this eagle or from the recent case of Fred which disappeared in the Pentland Hills.

We are fully supportive of the government review into grouse shooting as set up by the Cabinet Secretary, its practices, and the many environmental, economic and social benefits it provides across rural Scotland. We are also fully supportive of the proposals within the Poustie report that recommends the strengthening of penalties with regard to wildlife crimes.

This statement was met with deserved derision on social media.

What we have is a sustained effort to blacken the name of grouse shooting without evidence“, declares Mr Johnstone. Without evidence? Really? Apart from the massively obvious fact that the circumstances of this latest eagle’s disappearance mirror, exactly, the suspicious disappearances of 42 other satellite-tagged golden eagles on or near driven grouse moors in Scotland, as detailed in the Scottish Government-commissioned report published last year. Is Mr Johnstone in open defiance of the findings of that report? If he is, then let’s have the details of his objections.

Once again, with tedious repitition, SLE tries to shoot the messenger (RSPB Scotland) and suggests that the investigation needs to be undertaken by Police Scotland. Perhaps he should re-read the RSPB’s press release which clearly states the police ARE investigating. SLE will also know that the RSPB would not have put out a press statement without agreement from the police. To suggest that the RSPB is acting alone and not in partnership with the police is a wholly disingenuous attempt to discredit the RSPB.

Mr Johnstone also argues that illegal raptor persecution has “declined markedly in recent years and this trend is borne out by the Scottish Government’s own statistics”. SLE was taken to task about this on Twitter by James Reynolds, Head of Media at RSPB Scotland, as follows:

Mr Johnstone cynically infers that the RSPB released the news of this ‘missing’ eagle to coincide with the on-going review of grouse moor management. Ah, sorry, was this news release inconvenient? Hasn’t this argument been used before, with claims made that RSPB news releases on raptor persecution were timed to coincide with the start of the grouse-shooting season? Does it damage the industry’s failing propaganda campaign to portray itself as law-abiding and sustainable? Should the news have been withheld until after the review has been submitted next year?

There was one part of Mr Johnstone’s statement that interested us the most:

“We are not saying that wildlife crime never occurs on land managed for grouse shooting and acknowledge that in the past, there were practices, including raptor persecution, that are simply unacceptable….”

Could Mr Johnstone or anybody else from SLE please tell us which incidents on grouse moors, in the past, he now accepts as being confirmed raptor persecution crime?

Anonymous spokesperson from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association –

If anyone has information they should contact Police Scotland. If it is proven any harm has come to this bird and if it transpires there is evidence that that harm was the responsibility of an SGA member, they will be subject to our very strict wildlife crime disciplinary code.

The legal process deserves respect before people automatically jump to apportioning blame.

It is becoming increasingly impossible to gain full transparency surrounding these incidents when those holding the data are the tag owners who then dictate process and message.

At the same time, these tag owners are actively lobbying to persuade government to legislate against grouse moors.

If investigations were to have the best chance of success and procedural transparency, this data would be held centrally by an impartial body who could look into everything such as the reliability of the tag, who fitted it, the evidence of criminality which exists and the full range of other factors which could cause a mechanical device to stop signalling after many months in the wild.

When a tag from a Hen Harrier stopped signalling on one of RSPB’s own nature reserves in the Cairngorms National Park, the charity stated the last known location of a tag was ‘only an indication of the broad general area’ where that bird was spending time.

That being the case, the public deserve to see the hard evidence which exists that the lost signal was down to grouse management and not any other cause such as a faltering tag, natural mortality, eagles fighting over territory or any of the other land uses in the broad general area which include farming, forestry and wind energy.”

‘The legal process deserves respect’. Good grief!!!! We can hardly be bothered to respond to this unmitigated tosh from the SGA. Let’s just look at what happened the last time the SGA was given access to the data of a satellite-tagged golden eagle (see here) and leave it at that.

On a brighter note, in response to the news of this latest satellite-tagged eagle to go ‘missing’ in highly suspicious circumstances north of Tomatin, the Shooting Times tweeted this:

Whether you agree with shooting or not is irrelevant. The Shooting Times deserves much credit for showing unprompted condemnation and leadership. Perhaps the Editor can be invited to serve on the PAW Scotland Raptor Group in place of the SGA (who are currently refusing to attend meetings), then we might actually start to see some progress.


Police warning as dog dies from banned pesticide at Muir of Ord, Ross-shire

From North Star News, 16 March 2018:


THE death of a dog has prompted a police probe and sparked a warning to members of the public to avoid walking in an area of Muir of Ord.

Police said this afternoon that acting on information received following the death of a local dog, searches were carried out in the vicinity of Faebait Farm near Muir of Ord yesterday.

A statement released today said: “Following consultation with the Scottish Government Rural Payments Directorate, Police Scotland is requesting that dog walkers and members of the public do not enter the fields in the area of Faebait Farm or the immediate vicinity until further notice.”

Inspector Mike Middlehurst said: “This is a precautionary request until the investigation is complete.

Traces of a banned pesticide has been detected in the area and we do not wish a member of the public, another dog or any other animal to become unwell where it can be avoided.

I can confirm that the dog that died belonged to the owners of Faebait Farm.

They are co-operating fully with the investigation and support this request to other members of the public and dog owners.

Police have asked that anybody who has information about banned pesticide possession or misuse should contact Police Scotland immediately on 101 or pass on information anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.


So far, the police have not revealed the name of the banned pesticide(s) involved. It has to be one of eight active ingredients banned by the Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005:

Aldicarb, Alphachloralose, Aluminium Phosphide, Bendiocarb, Carbofuran, Mevinphos, Sodium Cynaide, Strychnine.

Four years ago, almost to the day, 22 birds of prey (16 red kites and 6 buzzards) were found dead in a small area of Ross-shire close to Conon Bridge. Toxicology tests revealed poisoning by the banned pesticides Aldicarb, Carbofuran and Carbosulfan. The case became known as the Ross-shire Massacre, for which nobody was ever prosecuted.

The Muir of Ord lies 3.5 miles to the south of Conon Bridge.

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