Two more satellite-tagged eagles disappear on Scottish grouse moors

Press release from RSPB Scotland (4 Nov 2019):

Two satellite-tagged eagles disappear on the same day

Both last recorded on grouse moors

RSPB Scotland is appealing for information after two young satellite-tagged white-tailed eagles disappeared in highly suspicious circumstances. Transmissions from the tags of both birds ceased on 22nd July this summer, one last recorded over a grouse moor in Inverness-shire, and the other over an Aberdeenshire grouse moor.

[White-tailed eagle, photo by Ben Andrew]

The Inverness-shire grouse moor is in an area with a history of bird of prey persecution, including numerous suspicious disappearances of tagged golden eagles over several years. These incidents led the Scottish Government to commission an independent review in 2016 into the fates of satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland, with the subsequent report finding that a third of these birds had most likely been illegally killed.

The birds that disappeared in July were both from the first generation of chicks from breeding pairs in the tiny white-tailed eagle population in east Scotland. Illegal persecution lead to white-tailed eagles becoming extinct in Scotland in 1918. The birds have returned to this eastern part of the country through a reintroduction project run by RSPB Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage between 2007 and 2012.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, said: “Yet again, rare, protected birds of prey have disappeared in highly suspicious circumstances, with their last known locations on grouse moors. And yet again, we can be almost certain that these birds have been killed, with those responsible destroying all the evidence. The disappearance of these two eagles is more than a loss of two birds; it means any future breeding success they might have had, helping to boost the numbers of these rare birds, has also been destroyed. Illegal persecution is seriously undermining the re-establishment of a white-tailed eagle population in this part of Scotland.”

Satellite tagging technology allows conservationists to monitor the eagles as they establish and develop a breeding population following the reintroduction, as well as providing insight into the threats they face and how best to help them. The tags, designed to transmit regularly, even after a bird has died, are fitted by licensed, trained fieldworkers.  RSPB Scotland was monitoring the eagles’ tag data and, in both cases, they suddenly ceased transmitting, with no prior evidence of any technical issues.

The National Wildlife Crime Unit and Police Scotland were immediately notified and, under routine procedure, were provided with the tags’ data to allow them to make a separate independent assessment of the birds’ likely fates. Follow-up investigations by the police, including searches of the final known locations of the birds, have yielded no further information as to their likely demise. Neither bird, nor their transmitters, have been seen or heard from subsequently, strongly suggesting that they have been illegally killed.

Ian Thomson continued: “In 1999, Donald Dewar, Scotland’s first First Minister, described raptor persecution as a “national disgrace”, but twenty years on, it continues unabated. It’s clear that current legal deterrents aren’t working and is long overdue that the stain of raptor persecution was removed from our nation’s reputation by the introduction of robust regulation of a driven grouse shooting industry that is blighting our country’s incredible wildlife and contributing to its biodiversity crisis.”

White L was a male eagle tagged as a chick at a nest in in Fife in 2016. His tag last transmitted on a grouse moor a few miles from the famous Banchory to Fettercairn Road, in Aberdeenshire. The other chick fledged from a nest in Inverness-shire in 2018 and disappeared on managed moorland near Tomatin in the northern Monadliaths. As well as repeated disappearances of satellite tagged eagles, this area of Inverness-shire has seen numerous incidents of shooting, poisoning and illegal trapping of eagles, red kites and hen harriers.

The independent peer-reviewed report which followed the Scottish Government commissioned review of the fates of satellite tagged eagles provided unequivocal evidence of the link between the highly suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged raptors and criminal activity associated with grouse moor management.

Anyone with information about either of these birds or any other wildlife crime is urged to contact Police Scotland on 101 or call the RSPB’s raptor crime hotline on 0300 999 0101.


21 Responses to “Two more satellite-tagged eagles disappear on Scottish grouse moors”

  1. 1 Stuart MacKay
    November 4, 2019 at 11:37 am

    Well at least at some time in future we can look forward to eagles being shot with non-lead ammunition. That will be progress of sorts. Year after year it’s the same story over and over again.

    With independence coming, what can be done to ensure that this problem does not get shoved well down the queue of priorities as more urgent issues like child poverty get tackled by the new government?

    (It’s a serious question. I don’t how the progress made so far does not get “reset” in some form even if independence is not achieved)

  2. 2 Chris Dobson
    November 4, 2019 at 11:40 am

    Here we go again. Lost in July? Who delays these announcements? & WHY? It’s hard not to be cynical

    • 3 sog
      November 4, 2019 at 12:35 pm

      One has to ask whether the RSPB sees any reason for involving the police. They must know what, if anything, results from police action and if it is worth the months of delay before the story is released.

    • 4 Dougie
      November 4, 2019 at 2:02 pm

      It is beyond credibility to think that there is an innocent explanation for the delays. The situation has long been stinking to high heaven. No matter who is involved from the ground upwards the buck stops with those in power. It begs the question as to whether they are involved in other matters that should be publicly scrutinised.

  3. 5 John F Davidson
    November 4, 2019 at 11:44 am

    When is this going to stop? I am sick and tired of this blatant disregard of the wildlife protection laws. Surely no one can still believe these are all coincidences. The arrogance of these estate owners is staggering. It is well past the time to ban completely this so-called sport and the deer stalking industry.
    Government should employ professionals to cull deer in accordance with scientifically devised quotas. Dismiss the useless Red Deer Commossion. Remove completely the private sector from the process as their interests are different.
    I am equally incensed at the apathy and lack of decisive action from the SNP and they are likely to lose my vote in favour of the Green Party.

  4. 6 Les Wallace
    November 4, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    There is no way the east coast sea eagle population can sustain this level of loss. My stomach is actually heaving at this news, I feel sick. Both these birds must surely have gone past the period when natural mortality risk was highest, and must have spent significant time away from grouse moors..yet they move on to them and ‘disappear’. About time we had another demo at the Scottish parliament about what’s happening about our birds of prey, mountain hares and beavers. The latter did get official protection (whatever that means) on May the 1st after public outcry about their slaying on parts of the Tay, but simultaneously a licence system was brought in to allow ‘control’ up to their killing. Revealingly there was also a ban on moving beavers into ANY new territory in Scotland including where they could directly aid conservation work and help people downstream by reducing flood risk. This was obviously to appease the usual suspects who want rural Scotland to be nothing more than a place where you put metal into salmon, grouse and deer or subsidy ranch – sod everybody else including those who’ll end up with a stag coming through their windscreen. So it’s easier to shoot a beaver in Scotland or send them to England than it is to take them where they’ll help curlew conservation or increase the chances families can keep their homes dry. A digression from the topic, but I think shows how this goes across the board and highlighting that might be the best option of dealing with it all and any of it. Plus of course, how can we protest legally and safely where these birds are ‘disappearing’?

  5. 7 Karen
    November 4, 2019 at 3:36 pm

    Unfortunately does not surprise me especially the area in Invernesshire after coming across some of the land management staff there. Without going into detail they just laughed when I suggested I would report their dangerous and inappropriate behaviour to the police.

  6. 8 David Spiers
    November 4, 2019 at 4:15 pm

    So without posting on here what seems like every couple of weeks , what else can we do , organise a protest there must be something , enough is enough , not sure how much more of this I can take .

    • 9 Lizzybusy
      November 4, 2019 at 5:01 pm

      Phew – there’s loads you can do!

      Get yourself trained up in wildlife law and go out on those moors and report these people. The National Anti Snaring Campaign and the LACS (possibly) do free short courses on how to find traps and snares and how to identify record and report potential crimes.

      Help wonderful people like Jean Thorpe or other people running wildlife sanctuaries dealing with the consequences of these criminal thugs.

      Help conservation groups maintain animal and bird friendly habitats without killing the inhabitants!

      Sign the Wild Justice petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

      Petition MPs and campaign groups to take up the issue.

      That should keep us busy for a while!

      • 10 AndyH
        November 4, 2019 at 7:56 pm

        Well said Lizzybusy. Action – not words – is required!

      • 11 David Spiers
        November 4, 2019 at 9:45 pm

        Lizzybusy all of that already keeps me very busy , and more , just feel like its not going to go away , believe me , I spend a good 20 + hours a week on the moors , recording & reporting .

        • 12 Lizzybusy
          November 4, 2019 at 11:01 pm

          David – what you have just said is exactly why I love this web site! I genuine believe that what you are doing will be making a difference. Thank you.

          Honestly, there are so many amazing, kind, active, intelligent people commenting on this blog site that it makes me feel certain that change will come.

  7. 13 sennen bottalack
    November 4, 2019 at 4:32 pm

    This entirely foreseeable situation is a very elegant example of the old protocol ;
    Do not reintroduce raptors to those areas where the old reasons [e.g. criminal destruction ] still persist.
    Brood meddlers, south of England Hen Harrier introducers, south Scotland doomed eagle movers etc etc please take note !
    Fortunately the criminals are steadily nailing shut their own coffin and eventually the UK uplands will be fit for large raptors.
    Hopefully the number of immature White tailed entering the breeding population on the east coast will tip the balance in their favour and the criminals will be swamped and unable to destroy the attempt.
    However, the area probably acts a sink for the west coast young being killed as well, so the situation is even more dangerous to Scottish WT eagles.
    We will win one day and even the Scottish politicians will have to address this obvious stain on their time in power.

    Keep up the pressure !

  8. 14 Ros lane
    November 4, 2019 at 4:41 pm

    How can this long delay in asking for information possibly be justified?

  9. 15 AnMac
    November 4, 2019 at 5:06 pm

    Another sad tale for the sea eagle population.

    How can we persuade Countryfile/Landward to do a proper programme on such information. It sticks in my throat of the way the British countryside is portrayed by the BBC. All goodness and light.

  10. 16 mrs linda m morton
    November 4, 2019 at 5:22 pm

    Despair as I live near Tomatin and this area is a death trap for birds. No point releasing birds in these areas until the problem of raptor murder is solved.

  11. 17 David Beaumont
    November 5, 2019 at 8:23 am

    Why are you not naming the actual estates they disappeared in – and who owns and runs those estates?

    Please do so.

  12. 18 Boaby
    November 5, 2019 at 8:36 am

    The police continue to have absolutely no effect of reducing wildlife crime.

    Surely it must be time to involve the SSPCA who continue to prove they can make a difference.

    Change is needed now

    • 19 Lizzybusy
      November 7, 2019 at 12:01 am


      If you report a potential wildlife crime the RSPCA and SSPCA have to refer the case to the police since they do not have authority to enter the land so the police will end up dealing with the case.

  13. 20 Paul V Irving
    November 5, 2019 at 11:20 am

    After suffering the usual anger and disgust at this news, yes despite there being regular reports of raptor deaths and disappearances it still all makes me angry. I thought about the time delay since the incident and the police appeals it could be indicative of two things:- That they have been heavily involved in a long and through investigation or such crimes are treated as low priority and they have done the minimum before finally issuing appeals.
    I know which I think and whilst this continues on an almost daily basis the politicians do FA but wait for the bloody Werritty report.
    Its election time lets tell them how we feel and as a result how we might vote, the dark side will !!!

  14. 21 Chris Green
    November 5, 2019 at 8:11 pm

    I have commented about this before on Mark’s blog, but does anyone know if it is possible to track these satellite tags. Obviously those that fit the tags can, but could anyone else, eg, gamekeepers, shoot owners.

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