Posts Tagged ‘Cairngorms National Park

06
Jul
21

Rare breeding success for sea eagles in Cairngorms National Park but outlook for chick is bleak

The Cairngorms National Park Authority has issued the following press release today (6th July 2021). My commentary on this news is below the press release:

Raptor breeding successes for East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership

The productivity of breeding raptors in the east of the Cairngorms National Park this season is encouraging and includes the hatching of a sea eagle chick on Balmoral, the first time that the species has successfully bred on the estate.

The breeding pair of sea eagles – also known as white-tailed eagles – have been observed on Balmoral for the last few years. Both adult birds carry satellite tags and close collaboration with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has allowed the Balmoral Ranger Service to follow their weekly movements during the breeding season. A healthy male chick has now hatched and been ringed. Three golden eagle chicks have also recently been ringed as part of long-term monitoring on Balmoral.

Balmoral Estate is a member of the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership (ECMP) which has seen breeding success for golden eagles, hen harriers, red kite, osprey, peregrine and merlin, as well as short-eared owls, in 2021, across the various land holdings.

[The young white-tailed eagle chick on the nest at Balmoral. Photo by North East Scotland Raptor Study Group, a member of the Scottish Raptor Study Group]

Richard Gledson, Estate Manager at Balmoral Estate said: “All at Balmoral Estate are delighted that sea eagles have nested successfully for the first time. A previous nesting attempt in 2017 on the same site sadly failed and we have had our fingers crossed since then. The birds have been with us for a couple of years, and we have been working closely with the North East Scotland Raptor Study Group who ringed the chick last week and with the RSPB who have been sending data from their satellite tags.”

Glenavon Estate – which is home to three pairs of golden eagles, including one of the highest nesting sites in Scotland – has had a golden eagle chick satellite tagged for the first time in recent years. Satellite tags are used by biological researchers on a variety of species including eagles and harriers, and provide valuable insight into their movement and survival. Golden eagle chicks have also been tagged on the Glenlivet Estate and Mar Lodge Estate.

Furthermore, Mar Lodge has hosted six hen harrier nests in 2021. One pair failed early in the season, but the other five nests all have chicks. Two hen harrier chicks have been satellite-tagged in collaboration with the RSPB. Evidence from satellite tags fitted to some of the harriers which are now breeding shows that the birds range widely, foraging across ground on neighbouring ECMP estates.

Last year, Mar Estate witnessed the first successful breeding attempt of sea eagles in Deeside for 200 years, but the relatively inexperienced pair failed this season at the hatching stage, with poor weather likely a contributing factor, however hopes are high for success with continued breeding efforts next season and beyond.

Dr Ewan Weston of the North East Scotland Raptor Study Group, who has carried out much of the satellite tagging on ECMP estates, commented: “This year’s raptor tagging on ECMP estates builds on a positive collaboration with the estates over recent years. Despite a very wet, snowy May, the general picture in the area is that raptors, particularly golden eagles, red kites and hen harriers have done well.”

The East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership is a landscape-scale collaboration between five sporting estates and the Cairngorms National Park Authority. The partnership seeks to deliver private interests alongside public benefits, including improving the conservation status of raptors, demonstrating best practice muirburn management, expanding areas of woodland and scrub and peatland restoration. Partners have been collaborating with a wide range of ecologists in the National Park.

Xander McDade, Convenor at the Cairngorms National Park Authority, said: “We are delighted to hear that productivity of raptors in the east of the National Park looks good for 2021. However, we know that we can still do more for the birds and are committed to finding ways of improving the conservation status of moorland raptors, along with other red and amber moorland bird species. This includes working closely with the five estates that make up the ECMP on a range of conservation measures.”

ENDS

First of all, the breeding success of this pair of white-tailed eagles on Balmoral Estate is obviously very good news and long, long over due.

Norway donated 85 sea eagles for a reintroduction project in eastern Scotland between 2007-2012, although over a quarter of those didn’t survive (the main known causes of death included illegal poisoning, illegally shot, accidentally electrocuted and being hit by trains). The East Coast reintroduction was the third phase of a national reintroduction project that started back in 1975 on the west coast of Scotland, after the species was extirpated from Britain thanks to persecution in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The first successful breeding attempt in east Scotland in 2013, the first for over a century, was an historic milestone in the project and was hoped to be the beginning of a new and vibrant population in the east, mirroring the successful population growth in the west.

So far though, progress has been incredibly slow and ongoing persecution has been at the centre of that (e.g. see here for the news that a sea eagle’s nest tree was deliberately felled on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens, also in 2013-nobody was prosecuted).

A number of young satellite-tagged sea eagles have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on or next to grouse moors since then, and only last year a young sea eagle was found dead, illegally poisoned, on another grouse moor inside the Cairngorms National Park (see here). Nobody was prosecuted for that crime.

[A police officer examines the corpse of the illegally poisoned sea eagle found dead on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in 2020. Photo by Police Scotland].

So yes, it’s excellent news that Balmoral Estate has hosted a successful breeding attempt this year – well done to the team there – but it’s only half of the story. What happens when that young eagle fledges and disperses from Balmoral later this year?

Will it meet the same fate as this young golden eagle, which fledged from a nest site in the eastern Cairngorms last year and was found dead, ‘deliberately poisoned’ on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate earlier this year?

[An illegally poisoned golden eagle, laying next to a poisoned mountain hare bait, found dead on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in 2021. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

I can see why the Cairngorms National Park Authority would want to issue this press release – not just to deservedly celebrate the successful breeding attempt on Balmoral Estate but probably more cynically, to try and undo some of the reputational damage that has been caused to the Park Authority and to its Eastern Cairngorms Moorland Partnership (ECMP) after the discovery of the poisoned golden eagle earlier this year on one of the ECMP’s partner estates (now no longer a partner) and the deserved criticism that the Park Authority has received for refusing to publish the correspondence it had had with the ECMP about the future of Invercauld Estate as a member of the ECMP following the discovery of the poisoned eagle (see here). This is the same tactic the Park Authority employed a few years ago when illegally-set traps were found on Invercauld Estate (here).

The ECMP can thank its lucky stars that one of its (now five) member estates is Mar Lodge, owned by the National Trust for Scotland, and with a glowing reputation for raptor conservation, especially for breeding hen harriers. Without Mar Lodge’s efforts, the ECMP’s raptor conservation efforts would be looking pretty feeble to date.

Although I noted the irony of the statement in the Park Authority’s press release that, ‘Evidence from satellite tags fitted to some of the harriers which are now breeding shows that the birds range widely, foraging across ground on neighbouring ECMP estates‘.

Er, yeah, but they forgot to mention how many of those hen harriers subsequently ‘disappear’ in suspicious circumstances on grouse moors in the ECMP and beyond (e.g. see here).

It doesn’t matter how far the Park Authority tries to spin the very welcome but too infrequent ‘good news’ stories like the breeding white-tailed eagles on Balmoral – the bottom line remains that large areas of the Cairngorms National Park are still raptor persecution hotspots and until that changes, the outlook for this young sea eagle is bleak.

30
May
21

Game-shooting industry called out on raptor persecution by one of its own

It’s been almost four weeks since we learned that a deliberately poisoned golden eagle was found on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park (see here).

This abhorrent wildlife crime is just about as serious and high profile as it gets.

[The poisoned golden eagle and the poisoned bait. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

The golden eagle (along with the white-tailed eagle) has the highest level of protection of any bird species in Scotland (not just the bog standard protection given to all bird species, but the gold standard that includes protection of its nest site and protection from harassment all year round).

It’s an iconic species, loved by millions and on most wildlife lovers’ list of ‘must-sees’ when they visit Scotland.

The Cairngorms National Park is supposed to be the UK’s jewel in the crown and again is on the list of ‘must-sees’ for many visitors to Scotland.

It’s no wonder then, that when one of those wild golden eagles is found slumped and cold in the heather on a prestigious estate in the Cairngorms National Park, right next to a poisoned mountain hare bait deliberately placed to kill wildlife, the news is going to be both shocking and prominent.

And it was.

So how come the game-shooting industry has, on the whole, remained silent about this disgraceful crime? The only statement from a shooting organisation that I could find was from Scottish Land & Estates, the landowner’s lobby group. The statement was vague and short on detail (no mention that the golden eagle had been illegally poisoned and no mention that the eagle’s corpse and the poisoned bait had been discovered on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate, an SLE member, no less, and that this isn’t the first time the estate has been under investigation).

Still, at least SLE published something. As far as I can tell, almost four weeks on there is no statement of condemnation on the websites of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, BASC, GWCT, Countryside Alliance, or Scottish Association for Country Sports.

Doesn’t that silence speak volumes?

I’ve thought a lot about why these organisations, with their vociferous claims of having ‘zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution, should remain silent on such a high profile crime when all eyes are upon them. I haven’t been able to come up with a reasonable explanation because there simply isn’t one. There’s no reasonable explanation, or excuse, for not condemning this crime. None at all.

But where there is ground to benefit is in plausible deniability. In that, if nobody acknowledges that this crime even happened, then the constant denials that there’s even an issue, let alone that it’s an out of control issue, can continue. Think about it. The denials can’t continue if the organisations have previously acknowledged and condemned a recent raptor persecution crime. So the strategy seems to be, shut up, say nothing and it’ll all blow over soon and then we can get back to pretending how much we love raptors whilst simultaneously campaigning for licences to kill them and turning a blind eye every time another one gets taken out on land managed for gamebird shooting.

I’m not the only one to notice the silence and the denial.

The following letter was published in this week’s Shooting Times:

The recent disturbing news of a police raid on Invercauld estate after the discovery of a poisoned golden eagle next to a bait should disgust and anger all in the shooting community. Sadly, for quite a few members of that community, these feelings of revulsion will not be felt.

If any readers can steel themselves to check out the Raptor Persecution UK blog they will find a sickening list [here] of illegally killed raptors from all around the Cairngorms.

If, as shooting’s representative organisations keep telling us, “it’s a few bad apples”, I would suggest that this area of Scotland could well contain the orchard.

Invercauld is one of the most prominent sporting estates in Scotland, with a reputation to uphold around the world, yet this is not the first time it has been investigated in recent years.

This begs the question, how many similar crimes go undiscovered? More pertinently, when they are discovered, how often is the burden of proof insufficient to bring a prosecution?

This fact is well known to the perpetrators, and should be borne in mind when the relative scarcity of successful prosecutions is used by the industry’s representatives to deny the scale of the problem.

Paul Tooley, by email.

I don’t know who Paul Tooley is, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn this Paul Tooley (above) is the same as this Paul Tooley or this Paul Tooley (scroll down to comments section).

Whoever he is, bloody well done for calling out these organisations.

Although as a campaigner I shouldn’t really mind the industry’s silence. In my view it’s indicative of complicity / covering up / shielding the guilty and that just means we’re another step closer to toppling this filthy ‘sport’.

06
May
21

Poisoned golden eagle: confirmation it was found dead on a grouse moor at Invercauld Estate

Earlier today I blogged about how Invercauld Estate Manager Angus McNicol had been quoted in the press saying that the area where the poisoned golden eagle had been found on Invercauld Estate near Crathie was “not managed for driven grouse shooting” (see here).

Shurely shome mishtake?

I’d commented that this seemed an odd claim to make given the amount of strip muirburn (a classic indication of grouse moor management) in the area:

This evening, a comment has been posted on this blog from someone directly involved in the investigation, Ian Thomson from RSPB Scotland:

For anyone struggling to read the small print, it says:

For the avoidance of doubt, the eagle was found poisoned next to a mountain hare bait, in an area of strip muirburn within 200m of a line of grouse butts and a landrover track‘.

That’s that, then.

Thanks, Ian.

06
May
21

Poisoned golden eagle: examining the statement from Invercauld Estate

Further to the news that a poisoned golden eagle was found dead on Invercauld Estate in March 2021 and the subsequent police raid that took place on the estate earlier this week (Tues 4th May – see here), I want to examine a statement that subsequently appeared in the press (e.g. here), attributed to Invercauld Estate Manager, Angus McNicol.

[The poisoned golden eagle, lying dead next to a poisoned mountain hare bait, on heather moorland on Invercauld Estate. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

The statement was interesting because it appeared in the late afternoon just a few hours after the raids had taken place and importantly, prior to ANY media output from the Police, even though the estate’s statement alluded to a ‘police appeal’. What police appeal? It could be argued that this was a damage limitation exercise by Invercauld Estate.

The statement went as follows:

Angus McNicol, estate manager at Invercauld, said: “We have been informed by the police that the bird that was found contained pesticide. We are very disturbed indeed to learn that a bird of prey has been found on Invercauld in these circumstances.

We wholeheartedly support the appeal about this bird and anyone with information should contact Police Scotland on 101 urgently. Naturally we are offering our cooperation to the police as they conduct their inquiries and hope they are able to identify anyone who is involved.

The area where the bird was found is on a let farm in an area which is managed for sheep farming and is on the edge of an area of native woodland regeneration. It is not managed for driven grouse shooting. Within the last two weeks, we have had to call the police to report an incident of damage to gamekeeping equipment and another of anti-social behaviour on a wetland habitat and this more recent report is a further serious concern for us.

Given the relative proximity of the location to houses and the A93 main road, we are hopeful that a member of the public may have seen something which might help the investigation.

Mr McNicol continued: “So much of what we do at Invercauld is about conservation so this news is particularly distressing. Staff and contractors are actively involved in activities that help conserve many species in the Estate’s valleys, woodlands, moorland and montane habitats. We pride ourselves in the biodiversity this creates and this news is therefore especially disheartening.

We are committed to our conservation work on the Estate and would like to see this incident investigated as thoroughly and quickly as possible.”

I want to look closely at Mr McNicol’s claim that the area where the poisoned golden eagle was found “Is not managed for driven grouse shooting“.

The precise location on Invercauld Estate where the poisoned eagle (and the poisoned bait that killed it) has not been revealed, but the RSPB photograph of the poisoned eagle clearly shows heather and Mr McNicol does give away some information about the proximity of houses and the A93 main road and an area of native woodland regeneration.

We also know, from the official police statement published the following day, that the area was ‘near to Crathie’. That narrows it down considerably.

Here are a couple of Google Earth maps showing Crathie and an area of Invercauld Estate to the NE of Crathie (north of the A93 main road) that I understand to be a woodland regeneration area, and then oh, look, right next to that is a vast area of muirburn strips. You know, the tell-tale burned scars of a moorland managed for, er, driven grouse shooting:

Or have I got that wrong? Is this not a vast area managed for driven grouse shooting at all, but just a large area of moorland that is routinely set alight to create so-called ‘wildfire breaks’? I’m sure I saw some lines of grouse butts when I zoomed in, too. Probably historical, kept for nostalgic purposes, eh?

You can draw your own conclusions about the accuracy of Mr McNicol’s claim that ‘the area is not managed for driven grouse shooting‘.

I also just want to comment about something I’ve read on social media about the timing of the publicity surrounding this crime, and how ‘convenient’ it is that it coincides with the Scottish Parliamentary elections. The clear accusation has been made that ‘anti-grouse moor campaigners’ have somehow conspired to get this in the news this week.

This is absolute nonsense, of course. It was the statement from Invercauld Estate that triggered news coverage of this crime – at that time (Tuesday afternoon, the day of the police raids), nobody had said anything about it. Not campaigners, not the police, just Invercauld Estate. Had the estate kept quiet, I would bet that this news wouldn’t have seen the light of day until at least next week, well after the elections. Indeed, I’m told by my media contacts that Police Scotland was forced to issue an official statement the day after Invercauld Estate’s statement, simply because of the media interest generated by Invercauld’s statement. The police received so many enquiries their hand was forced early and they had to issue a statement.

I’ll be writing about Police Scotland’s response to the crime in a forthcoming blog. I’ll also be returning to the claimed conservation credentials of Invercauld Estate.

UPDATE 6th May 2021: Poisoned golden eagle: confirmation it was found dead on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate (here)

06
May
21

Poisoned golden eagle: statement from Cairngorms National Park Authority

Further to the news that a poisoned golden eagle was found dead on Invercauld Estate in March 2021 (see here), the Cairngorms National Park Authority has issued the following statement in response:

GOLDEN EAGLE DEATH

The Cairngorms National Park Authority has issued the following statement in relation to the death of a Golden Eagle in Deeside.

The Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) have been informed by Police Scotland that a golden eagle was found poisoned on Invercauld Estate within the Cairngorms National Park. The CNPA condemns this senseless and irresponsible behaviour in the strongest possible terms. Raptor persecution has no place in 21st century Scotland and no place in this National Park. We are working closely with Police Scotland, NatureScot and a range of other partners on an appropriate, coordinated response to this incident, and will continue to work in partnership to prevent incidents like this occurring in future. We cannot make any further comment on this specific case due to the ongoing police enquiry.”

This statement is issued on behalf of Xander McDade CNPA Board Convener and CNPA Chief Executive Grant Moir.

ENDS

This statement from the CNPA is an improvement on the pathetic effort it made in response to the poisoned white-tailed eagle, found dead on a grouse moor inside the National Park last year (see here), and it’s good that this time the CNPA hasn’t had to be nudged into providing a response, which is what usually happens, but even so, this is nowhere near a strong enough reaction or statement of intent.

I’ll be returning to this subject shortly, but for now readers might want to familiarise themselves with the Eastern Cairngorms Moorland Partnership (ECMP). One of the stated aims of this ‘partnership’, comprising six contiguous estates and the CNPA, is to ‘enhance raptor and other priority species conservation’. Invercauld Estate is one of the member estates.

Things need to change in the Cairngorms National Park. Current policies and so-called ‘partnerships’ are obviously not working when atrocities like poisoning eagles is still going on.

Below is a list of all the known raptor persecution crimes uncovered in the Cairngorms National Park since it was established (it was formally established in Sept 2003 but I’ve included 2002 for context and an indication that National Park status has had zero influence). As far as I’m aware, nobody has been prosecuted, yet alone convicted, for any of these offences, with the exception of one for the attempted shooting of a hen harrier in 2003.

ILLEGAL RAPTOR PERSECUTION INCIDENTS CAIRNGORMS NATIONAL PARK

2002

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

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

2003

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

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

2004

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)

2005

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)

2006

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, Strathdon (No prosecution)

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

2007

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)

2008

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)

2009

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)

2010

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)

2011

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, Strathdon (No prosecution)

May: 1 x shot short-eared owl, found stuffed under rock. Glenbuchat, Strathdon (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

2012

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)

2013

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, Strathdon

2014

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

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

2015

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

2016

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

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

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

2017

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

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

2018

May: Satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle Blue T ‘disappears’. Ballater

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Athena’ ‘disappears’. Nr Grantown on Spey

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Margot’ ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon

Sept: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Stelmaria’ ‘disappears’. Ballater

2019

April: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Marci’ ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon

April: Four geese poisoned and Carbofuran bait found on an estate nr Kingussie (no prosecution)

August: Golden eagle photographed with a spring trap dangling from its foot, nr Crathie, Deeside

September: Satellite-tagged hen harrier Wildland 1 ‘disappears’ on a grouse moor nr Dalnaspidal

September: Satellite-tagged hen harrier Wildland 2 ‘disappears’ on a grouse moor at Invercauld

2020

April: Satellite-tagged hen harrier Hoolie ‘disappears’ on grouse moor nr Newtonmore

April: Satellite-tagged hen harrier Marlin ‘disappears’ on grouse moor nr Strathdon

April: Satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle found illegally poisoned on grouse moor in Strathdon.

2021

March: Poisoned golden eagle found on Invercauld Estate.

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).

05
May
21

Police statement on poisoned golden eagle found on Invercauld Estate, Cairngorms National Park

Further to yesterday’s news that Police Scotland had conducted a raid, under warrant, on Invercauld Estate following the discovery of a poisoned golden eagle (see here), the police have just issued the following statement:

Officers are continuing enquiries into the poisoning of a bird of prey found dead near to Crathie in Aberdeenshire

On Friday, 19 March, 2021, a Golden Eagle was found dead on a hillside on the Invercauld Estate.

Subsequent forensic examination confirmed the bird had been illegally and intentionally poisoned.

Extensive enquiries are being carried out and on Tuesday, 4 May, 2021, officers acting under warrant, searched a number of properties on the Invercauld Estate. No arrests were made and enquiries are ongoing.

[The poisoned golden eagle found lying in moorland heather next to a poisoned bait on Invercauld Estate. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

Detective Constable Daniel Crilley, wildlife crime unit said: “Poisoning a bird or animal is not only cruel and callous but it can also harm other wildlife. Illegal persecution of raptors will not be tolerated. It is one of the six priorities set by the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit and Raptor Persecution is the current focus of Police Scotland’s year-long campaign, Operation Wingspan.

We are determined to protect these magnificent birds and here in the North East, we work closely with a number of partners, such as the RSPB and NatureScot, to tackle wildlife crime, which can be particularly challenging to investigate.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Gary Cunningham, wildlife crime lead for Police Scotland, said: “Scotland’s rich, rare and diverse wildlife and landscapes are among its biggest attractions. We cannot allow the indiscriminate use of poisons and pesticides to threaten our natural heritage.

Police Scotland, working with our key partners, is committed to protecting our wildlife habitats and to bringing those who seek to destroy or harm it, to justice.”

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said: “Raptor persecution crimes on grouse moors in this area happen regularly. In 2019, a young eagle was photographed caught in a trap less than two miles from here, and in 2016, a line of illegal traps targeting birds of prey was found set across the hill less than three miles away. The perpetrators of these crimes don’t just threaten wildlife, but put at risk the reputation of the area and the jobs dependent on the associated tourist industry.”

Members of the public are police’s eyes and ears and anyone with information regarding this matter is asked to call Police Scotland via 101, quoting incident number 2757 of 19 March 2021.

ENDS

I will be blogging further about this case and other raptor persecution incidents that have been reported on Invercauld Estate in previous years.

If you are commenting on this blog, please remember this is a live investigation and nobody has been arrested in connection with the poisoning of this eagle, yet alone charged or convicted. Libellous comments will not be published. Thanks.

UPDATE 6th May 2021: Poisoned golden eagle: statement from Cairngorms National Park Authority (here)

18
Mar
21

Online protest tomorrow about ongoing raptor persecution on Scottish grouse moors

Tomorrow (Friday 19 March 2021) is the online protest organised by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) and seven regional moorland groups, who represent grouse shooting estates and their gamekeepers across Scotland.

This is the protest that the SGA has been threatening since November when the Scottish Government had finally had enough with the decades of criminality in the grouse-shooting industry and promised to bring in a grouse moor licensing scheme as soon as possible (see here).

The protest has been named the Rural Workers Protest in an attempt to garner more support from other industries and will be using the hashtag #RWP21 on social media.

Here’s SGA Chairman Alex Hogg promoting the protest at the SGA’s online AGM earlier this month:

It’s still not clear what the SGA et al are protesting about, other than progress and modernisation, although I keep reading that they’re not being listened to, which is an interesting concept given the tv coverage and media column inches they’ve had this last week, as well as the vocal support of a number of MSPs and their ‘friend in Parliament‘, Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing.

We do know that Alex isn’t happy about the drink driving laws being applied in rural areas because it ‘affected social cohesion in the countryside’, according to the speech he read out at the SGA AGM a couple of weeks ago. That’s an interesting position given the display of empties lining the walls in the bothy from which Alex was speaking.

What, you don’t remember seeing them? Well that’s maybe because someone might have angled the camera to make sure they were carefully obscured. Compare and contrast these two photos….. the first one was a screengrab from the actual AGM. The second photo, from the SGA’s facebook page, shows a slightly different camera angle from the day before when Alex and his team were preparing the scene.

It’s also interesting that Scotland’s seven regional moorland groups are co-hosting the event, especially when grouse moors in five of those seven regions have been in the last three years, or currently are, under police investigation for alleged raptor persecution crimes (grouse moors in the regions covered by the Angus Glens Moorland Group, Grampian Moorland Group, Tomatin Moorland Group, Tayside & Central Moorland Group and the Southern Uplands Moorland Group). Do you think tomorrow’s protesters will be shouting about the illegal killing of birds of prey, on their grouse moors, right under their noses but apparently without any of them seeing anything suspicious? Or will they be arguing for getting licences to kill birds of prey, as we know that’s what the SGA has been campaigning for for years.

Not to worry. A number of us will be joining the online protest tomorrow, not to complain about modernisation or progress, nor to call for licences to be issued to kill raptors so more gamebirds can be produced for the guns. No, we’ll be there to protest about the ongoing illegal killing of birds of prey, on grouse moors, in Scotland. We’ll also be using the #RWP21 hashtag and we’ll be sharing information and photos with the general public who may not previously have been aware of what is going on. Join us if you can.

[This young white-tailed eagle was found dead on a grouse moor inside the Cairngorms National Park in April last year. It had been poisoned to death with a banned substance. Nobody has been prosecuted for this crime. Photo by Police Scotland]

20
Dec
20

Hen harriers doing well on Mar Lodge Estate but what happens when they leave?

Back in 2016, the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) was celebrating the rare success of a hen harrier breeding attempt on the Mar Lodge Estate, the first such success for decades (see here).

[A young hen harrier fitted with a satellite tag on Mar Lodge Estate in 2016. Photo by Shaila Rao]

The NTS has just published an update on the return of hen harriers to Mar Lodge Estate, detailing further breeding successes in each year since (see here).

This is really, really encouraging news, but it’s only half of the story. Breeding success is meaningless if survival rates are low, and they are low, very low. The most recent national survey of hen harriers in Scotland, conducted in 2016, documented a 9% decline since the previous survey in 2010. It was the second successive decline in the Scottish hen harrier population revealed by national surveys, signalling a worrying trend. In the longer term, over a period of just 12 years, the number of breeding pairs had dropped by 27% in Scotland (see here). Illegal persecution connected to driven grouse moor management is widely acknowledged as being the most significant threat to this species’ conservation, not just in Scotland but across the UK (e.g. see here).

The NTS blog recognises this and states:

However, it’s not all good news. The success of hen harrier breeding at Mar Lodge Estate led to us being involved in the RSPB Hen Harrier Life Project and through this 14 harrier chicks from Mar Lodge Estate were satellite-tagged between 2016 and 2020. But of these 14 chicks, only one still survives in 2020 – a female named Tamara, who spends much of her time in Perthshire. Eight of the satellite tags stopped suddenly, with no trace of a bird or body found, raising suspicions of possible foul play‘.

Some of those young birds satellite-tagged at Mar Lodge didn’t even make it out of the Cairngorms National Park, ‘disappearing’ in suspicious circumstances on driven grouse moors – e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, joining a growing list of other sat-tagged hen harriers that have vanished or been found dead there (e.g. see here, here, here, here). Such is the extent of this issue, the Cairngorms National Park Authority has had to publish statements that illegal persecution continues to be a problem (e.g. see here).

Some of those young birds from the Mar Lodge Estate feature on the grim list of 45 hen harriers ‘missing’ or confirmed illegally killed in the UK since 2018 – see here. I’m led to believe that this list is now out of date (see here).

07
Dec
20

Grouse moors – ‘a birdwatchers’ paradise’ according to Chair of Scottish Gamekeepers Association

Don’t laugh.

Actually, do laugh.

Alex Hogg, Chair of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, was interviewed last week and he said some pretty baffling things about gamekeeping and grouse moor management, including the fantastic statement, “This is a birdwatchers’ paradise“.

Yep, he really did.

[An illegally poisoned white-tailed eagle, found dead on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park earlier this year – see here and here. What a birdwatchers’ paradise!]

Alex was talking to a presenter on ITV’s regional news programme Representing Border on 2nd December 2020. The programme featured a piece on the Scottish Government’s recent decision to introduce a licensing scheme for driven grouse shooting (here) and it’s well worth five minutes of your time.

The programme is available here (starts at 15.49 mins, ends 22.01).

There was more baffling commentary from Alex, including this unfathomable statement on the effect a licensing scheme would have on gamekeeping:

We’ve done it for 200 years, we’ve kept a balance in the wildlife, and if we, it’s like a three-legged stool, if they take the leg away, we’re gone“.

Eh? I’ve no idea what ‘the leg’ is that he thinks is being ‘taken away’ and why he thinks a licensing scheme means gamekeepers will be ‘gone’. They’ll be gone if they breach the conditions of the licence (assuming it’s effectively enforced) but if they’re not doing anything illegal why would a licence cause them difficulties?

Unfortunately the presenter didn’t follow up on this, or if he did it was edited out. It’s also a shame he didn’t pick up on Alex’s statement about 200 years worth of ‘balancing the wildlife’ and ask him questions about why several species of raptors became extirpated from the UK about 100 years ago? And although some have made a brilliant comeback (with some help), why some populations are still struggling, notably in areas managed for driven grouse shooting? He could also have asked this question of Liz Smith MSP (Scottish Conservatives) who said she didn’t think that “fairly draconian” licensing was needed now!

Other interviewees were much more lucid, including Ian Thomson (RSPB Investigations, Scotland), Claudia Beamish MSP (Scottish Labour) and Mairi Gougeon (Environment Minister), who gave a robust argument for bringing in a licensing scheme now instead of sitting around for another five years doing nothing, including this statement:

There are still persistent problems out there with the illegal persecution of our birds of prey“.

It’s good to see this statement from a Scottish Minister. Can you imagine a similar comment from a Minister at Westminster?

18
Nov
20

Werritty review – one year on & still waiting for Scottish Government response

Today marks one year since the Werritty Review on grouse moor management was submitted to the Scottish Government. And still no formal response.

The review itself took two and a half years to complete after Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced its commission in 2017, on the back of the publication of another Government-commissioned review which showed clear evidence of deliberate and sustained illegal raptor persecution on many driven grouse moors. We’ve since seen more evidence pointing towards the inevitable fate of those birds.

And that 2017 review had been commissioned on the back of an RSPB report in 2016 that over a period of five years since 2011, eight satellite-tagged golden eagles had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on grouse moors in the Monadhliaths in Highland Scotland.

The longer the Scottish Government delays taking evidence-based action against those criminals in the grouse shooting industry, the more eagles (and other raptors) are going to be illegally killed. There is absolutely no question that these crimes are continuing, despite enormous scrutiny and public condemnation, as demonstrated during lockdown when the poisoned corpse of a white-tailed sea eagle was found, face down, on a grouse moor in the middle of the Cairngorms National Park. Nobody has been charged for this horrendous crime. In fact there has never been a successful prosecution for killing an eagle in Scotland.

[A police officer examines the corpse of the poisoned white-tailed eagle, found dead on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park]

For years the Scottish Government has promised further action if current measures proved to be ineffective. Time and time again, after each crime has been publicised, a succession of Environment Ministers has proclaimed, ‘We will not tolerate illegal raptor persecution’ and ‘We will not hesitate to act‘ (see here for a long list of examples).

And guess what? They’re still tolerating it and they’re still hesitating to act. Why is that?




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