Disaster hits South Scotland Golden Eagle Release Project

The South Scotland Golden Eagle Project has been hit by disaster in an unprecedented set of circumstances.

This is a project to translocate golden eagles from the Scottish Highlands and release them in south Scotland in an attempt to boost the remnant sub-population in the Borders and Dumfries & Galloway. The first three birds were released in 2018 and all have survived so far.

However, this year’s cohort of translocated eagles (three of them) were released in the last week and now one of them is dead, one of them is injured (but recaptured) and one of them is ‘missing’.

The project team believe that one of last year’s birds, a large female called ‘Beaky’, has been the source of the problem. She is known to have been 10 miles away from the release site when this year’s birds were released, and despite not having visited the project’s food dumps for months, she suddenly made a bee-line there and began to display dominant behaviour towards this year’s three (smaller) males. The males responded by cowering in nearby undergrowth and not visiting the food dumps.

One of the eagles has since been found dead and is currently undergoing a post mortem to find out the cause of death. It’s believed he had injuries but it’s not clear whether those injuries were the cause of death or whether he starved to death.

[This is the eagle that is believed to have died. Photo by South Scotland Golden Eagle Project]

A second eagle has been recaptured and is undergoing treatment. The project team has yet to decide the next course of action but if this eagle is to be released it’s probably safe to say it’ll be released at a different site.

The third eagle is apparently ‘missing’, although it is fitted with a satellite tag.

This situation is devastating for the project team (and for all those who helped source the eagles from the Highlands) and to be fair to them, it’s not something that could ever have been predicted. Adult eagles are well known for territorial disputes and these can sometimes result in death, but it’s exceptional for such a young bird (Beaky – one year old) to display such aggressive territorial behaviour that results in death. It’s virtually unheard of.

The future of the project will be under serious scrutiny as a result of this week’s events – it may be that a new release site has to be found – but that’s for another day. At the moment the priority is to rehabilitate the injured eagle and to locate the ‘missing’ eagle. Hopefully the project team is seeking expert help from those with experience of searching for ‘missing’ sat tagged raptors.

23 Responses to “Disaster hits South Scotland Golden Eagle Release Project”

  1. 1 martin inkster
    August 8, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    are the wild eagles not better being left alone

  2. 4 Jonathan Brain
    August 8, 2019 at 6:48 pm

    Mark, the South of Scotland golden eagle population is so diminished it is heading for local extinction if not augmented by imported birds. The gene pool is too shallow to survive.

  3. 5 Jonathan Brain
    August 8, 2019 at 6:49 pm

    Sorry, Martin.

  4. 6 John
    August 8, 2019 at 6:56 pm

    What about a release programme in the lakes
    There was a pair at Shap, a few years ago, one of the birds went missing and there was talk of a bird from Scotland being introduced but it never happened.

  5. August 8, 2019 at 6:57 pm

    Very sad..my thoughts are with the project team who are putting so much work into this.

  6. 8 April Prior
    August 8, 2019 at 7:31 pm

    Surely if you let them over populate their own area they will spread out on their own? Also, there will be a reason there are none in the south of Scotland.

  7. 11 Julie Childs
    August 8, 2019 at 9:15 pm

    So sorry to hear this news after all of your careful planning and hard work. You must all be devastated. Thanks for what you do. Please don’t give up. Thinking of you.

    [Ed: Hi Julie, just to be clear, we have absolutely no involvement with the South Scotland Golden Eagle Project]

  8. 12 Peter Shearer
    August 8, 2019 at 9:38 pm

    Having attended a meeting with their team tonight (just as a member of the public) I think a degree of appreciation of their disappointment is appropriate. These people are trying to help re-establish the birds and I think we should all welcome their efforts.

  9. 13 Ian Malone
    August 8, 2019 at 10:43 pm

    So a bird removed from its nest and raised by humans goes on a killing spree. And the experts say it’s unheard of. Messing with nature has issues, science needs to be self sustaining and needs problems to gain enhanced recognition. Shame no one stands back and takes the time to see the picture

    • 14 Greyandblue
      August 9, 2019 at 7:22 am

      Hear hear !

    • 15 Les Wallace
      August 9, 2019 at 9:13 am

      And a lot of the young eagles taken from their nests for projects like this would have died otherwise – natural mortality – and would also have been interfered with by humans through being shot, trapped and poisoned in their home ranges. Because of the scrutiny in this project there’s a very good chance we’re seeing behavior not properly appreciated before and that too will help in their conservation – territorial killing is not unheard of even in fully wild populations. This project would never have been needed at all in the first place if it hadn’t been for the REALLY nasty human interference involved in slaughtering our birds of prey. I think you need to take your own advice.

  10. 16 Sean
    August 9, 2019 at 7:46 am

    At this time of year wild fledged eagles would have their parents to defend them and also drive out any wandering non-territorial birds from the home range. It’s possible this could occur in rare situations naturally but would happen in such remote areas it would rarely have the opportunity to be recorded by people.

  11. 17 Murray Simmonds
    August 9, 2019 at 8:10 am

    This demonstrates the flaws in this release programme, the Scottish lowlands lack prey species, the Rabbit has been decimated by VHD and the Brown Hare has suffered a huge decline. Three hundred breeding pairs live in the Highlands, eaglets from this population would naturally have sought territories in the lowlands if it was a suitable area. The release site from the information available would not seem to be ideal, large tracts of forestry in this area further reduces the hunting range, the cowering behaviour described from the Males indicates there reliance on man. We should be wary about always blaming persecution for a Birds disappearance when it could be poor management

    • 18 Les Wallace
      August 9, 2019 at 9:40 am

      Murray it was persecution that put this idea on the table in the first place – hardly any eagles left in the Borders and how many of those eagles left to fledge naturally would have subsequently ‘disappeared’ on grouse moors instead?

  12. 19 Dougie
    August 9, 2019 at 9:16 am

    What are the nature of the injuries on the recaptured eagle ?

  13. 20 sennen bottalack
    August 9, 2019 at 12:10 pm

    A I said at the outset of this unwelcome project, the area will not support them, any eagles present are no doubt hunting large territories to sustain themselves anyway.
    Once the killing of eagles by gamekeepers is stopped [ purely to maximise grouse numbers ] they will recolonise suitable areas in UK.
    The project was misguided and set to fail so hopefully that lesson has been learned now.
    There are areas where they could be introduced successfully but that does not remove the underlying problem with grouse moor persecution.
    There is no problem with the basic procedure of captive rearing and release [ hacking ] which has restored raptors worldwide once illegal persecution has been stopped in suitable habitats.
    As with the Hen Harrier schemes of meddling and reintroduction, the basis of this eagle scheme is flawed.
    Having successfully taken part in reintroducing Goshawk across the UK and promoting the rapid range expansion of many other species over many decades, I am in a good position to comment.

    Keep up the pressure !

  14. 21 George M
    August 9, 2019 at 2:12 pm

    Well said, Sennen.

  15. 22 James Kenneth Craib
    August 9, 2019 at 2:17 pm

    I think we need to wait for the post mortem results on the eagle that died and further information on the other two before we jump to any conclusions.

    The eagle that died is certainly looking very healthy and alert in an earlier picture so it would be surprising if he died of starvation. The suspected bully bird from last year would have been unlikely to be present all the time to keep him and the other two from feeding.

  16. 23 Oliver Craig
    August 9, 2019 at 5:58 pm

    Sad to hear this but the combination of shooting estates and sheep farms was always going to be a problem. Maybe as some other correspondents have said about them increasing their range naturally without any interference from us is a valid point. Very sorry for the group who brought this about as at least they tried hard to introduce them.

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