Posts Tagged ‘golden eagle

24
Mar
17

41 eagles, 10 years, 0 prosecutions

Regular blog readers will know that from time to time we publish a list of eagles that are known to have been illegally killed, or have ‘disappeared’ (i.e. their satellite tag suddenly stops functioning) in Scotland.

The last update was in August 2016 when the RSPB revealed that eight satellite-tagged golden eagles had ‘disappeared’ on grouse moors in the Monadhliaths between 2011 and 2016.

Last week we blogged about another ‘disappearing’ golden eagle, this time a young bird that had been tagged in Perthshire in 2014 and whose satellite signal suddenly stopped functioning two years later when the eagle was visiting an Angus Glens grouse moor. It’s time to add that eagle to our list.

As before, a number of eagles included in this list (17 of them, to be precise) may not be dead. However, they are included here because their satellite tags unexpectedly stopped functioning (i.e. they’d been transmitting perfectly well up until the eagles’ last known location, often a known persecution hotspot). Two further satellite-tagged eagles (‘Angus’ and ‘Tom’) are not included in this list as although their transmitters stopped functioning, there had been recognisable problems with their tags prior to the final transmissions and so the benefit of the doubt has been applied.

It’s also worth reiterating that the following eagles are only the ones we know about. How many un-tagged eagles are illegally killed each year?

MAY 2006: A dead adult golden eagle was found on the Dinnet & Kinord Estate, near Ballater, Aberdeenshire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Grampian Police launched an investigation. No prosecution.

JUNE 2006: A dead golden eagle was found on Glen Feshie Estate in the Cairngorms. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary launched an investigation. No prosecution.

AUGUST 2007: A dead adult female golden eagle was found on an estate near Peebles in the Borders. She was half of the last known breeding pair of golden eagles in the region. Tests revealed she had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Lothian & Borders Police launched an investigation. No prosecution.

NOVEMBER 2007: Tayside Police received a detailed tip-off that a young male white-tailed eagle (known as ‘Bird N’) had allegedly been shot on a grouse moor estate in the Angus Glens. The timing and location included in the tip-off coincided with the timing and location of the last-known radio signal of this bird. The eagle has not been seen again. With no carcass, an investigation wasn’t possible.

MAY 2008: A one year old male white-tailed eagle hatched on Mull in 2007 and known as ‘White G’ was found dead on the Glenquoich Estate in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed he had been poisoned by an unusual concoction of pesticides that included Carbofuran, Bendiocarb and Isofenphos. A police search in the area also revealed a poisoned buzzard, a baited mountain hare and 32 pieces of poisoned venison baits placed on top of fence posts on the neighbouring Glenogil Estate. Laboratory tests revealed the baited mountain hare and the 32 poisoned venison baits contained the same unusual concoction of highly toxic chemicals that had killed the white-tailed eagle, ‘White G’. No prosecution.

JUNE 2009: An adult golden eagle was found dead at Glen Orchy, Argyll, close to the West Highland Way. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Strathclyde Police launched a multi-agency investigation. Three years and 3 months later, estate employee Tom McKellar pled guilty to possession of Carbofuran stored in premises at Auch Estate, Bridge of Orchy and he was fined £1,200. No prosecution for poisoning the golden eagle.

JULY 2009: A two year old female golden eagle known as ‘Alma’ was found dead on the Millden Estate in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed she had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Alma was a well-known eagle  – born on the Glen Feshie Estate in 2007, she was being satellite-tracked and her movements followed by the general public on the internet. Tayside Police launched an investigation. No prosecution.

AUGUST 2009: A young white-tailed eagle was found dead on Glenogil Estate in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Tayside Police was criticized in the national press for not releasing a press statement about this incident until January 2010. No prosecution.

MAY 2010: #1 of three dead golden eagles found on or close to Skibo Estate, Sutherland. Tests revealed they had been poisoned; two with Carbofuran and one with Aldicarb. Northern Constabulary launched a multi-agency investigation. One year later (May 2011), Sporting Manager Dean Barr pled guilty to possession of 10.5 kg of Carbofuran stored in premises at Skibo Estate. No prosecution for poisoning the golden eagle.

MAY 2010: #2 of three dead golden eagles found on or close to Skibo Estate, Sutherland. Tests revealed they had been poisoned; two with Carbofuran and one with Aldicarb. Northern Constabulary launched a multi-agency investigation. One year later (May 2011), Sporting Manager Dean Barr pled guilty to possession of 10.5 kg of Carbofuran stored in premises at Skibo Estate. No prosecution for poisoning the golden eagle.

MAY 2010: #3 of three dead golden eagles found on or close to Skibo Estate, Sutherland. Tests revealed they had been poisoned; two with Carbofuran and one with Aldicarb. Northern Constabulary launched a multi-agency investigation. One year later (May 2011), Sporting Manager Dean Barr pled guilty to possession of 10.5 kg of Carbofuran stored in premises at Skibo Estate. No prosecution for poisoning the golden eagle.

JUNE 2010: #1: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: #2: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: #3: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: #4: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: A golden eagle was found dead on Farr & Kyllachy Estate, Inverness-shire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary apparently did not search the property until July 2011. No prosecution.

JUNE 2010: A white-tailed eagle was found dead on Farr & Kyllachy Estate, Inverness-shire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary apparently did not search the property until July 2011. No prosecution.

DECEMBER 2010: A decomposing carcass of a white-tailed eagle was found and photographed on Logie (Lochindorb) Estate, Morayshire. It was reported to Northern Constabulary. By the time the police arrived to collect it, the carcass had disappeared. The police said they couldn’t investigate further without the body.

FEBRUARY 2011: The signal from a young satellite-tracked golden eagle ( ‘Lee’, hatched in 2010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from the North Angus Glens. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MARCH 2011: The body of a young golden eagle was discovered on North Glenbuchat Estate, Aberdeenshire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Grampian Police launched an investigation and raided the property in May 2011. A poisoned buzzard, a poisoned bait and a shot short-eared owl were found. No prosecution.

APRIL 2011: The body of a white-tailed eagle was found at the base of cliffs on Skye. The person who discovered it (a professional medic) considered it to have been freshly shot with a rifle, decapitated with a sharp implement and thrown from the cliff top. He took photographs and alerted Northern Constabulary and RSPB. There was a delay of two weeks before the now probably decomposed carcass was collected. A post-mortem was inconclusive. This incident was not made public until one year later after a tip off to this blog. No prosecution.

SEPTEMBER 2011: The signal from a satellite-tracked young golden eagle (‘Strathy’, hatched in 2010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from an Aberdeenshire grouse moor. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

NOVEMBER 2011: The signal from a one-year-old satellite-tracked golden eagle (#57124) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MARCH 2012: The body of a young golden eagle being tracked by satellite was discovered in Lochaber. Tests revealed it had been poisoned with the banned pesticides Aldicarb and Bendiocarb. Information about this incident was not made public until three months later. No prosecution.

MARCH 2012: The signal from a satellite-tracked young golden eagle (‘Angus 26′, hatched in 2011) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Angus Glens. This bird’s suspiciously damaged sat tag was found in the area. No prosecution.

MAY 2012: The signal from a young satellite-tracked golden eagle (#32857) unexpectedly stopped transmitting when the bird was north-east of the Cairngorms National Park. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MAY 2012: The dead body of a young satellite-tracked golden eagle (hatched in 2011) was discovered near a lay-by in Aboyne, Aberdeenshire. The data from its satellite tag & the injuries the bird had when found (2 broken legs) suggested it had been caught in an illegal trap on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens and then removed, under cover of darkness, to be dumped in another area where it was left to die, probably a slow and agonising death. Information on this incident was not released until almost five months later, by the RSPB. It appears the police failed to properly investigate this incident as we understand that no search warrants were issued and no vehicles were searched. No prosecution.

JULY 2012: The signal from a one-year-old satellite-tracked golden eagle (‘Foinaven’) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

OCTOBER 2012: An adult golden eagle was found shot and critically injured on grouse moor at Buccleuch Estate, near Wanlockhead, South Lanarkshire. The bird was rescued by the SSPCA and underwent surgery but it eventually succumbed to its injuries in April 2013. No prosecution.

MAY 2013: The signal from a two-year-old satellite tracked golden eagle (‘Angus 33′, hatched in 2011) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after its last signal from North Glenbuchat Estate in Aberdeenshire. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

JUNE 2013: A dead golden eagle was found under power lines on an RSPB reserve on Oronsay. This bird had been shot although it is not known whether this was the cause of death or an historical injury.

JULY 2013: The signal from a young satellite tracked golden eagle (‘Cullen’, hatched 2010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after its last signal in Aberdeenshire. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

DECEMBER 2013: A two year old satellite tracked golden eagle (‘Fearnan’) was found dead on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed he had been poisoned with the banned pesticide Carbofuran. No prosecution.

MARCH 2014: The signal from a one-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#129002) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

APRIL 2014: The signal from a young satellite tracked white-tailed eagle (the first fledged sea eagle chick in East Scotland in ~200 years) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after its last signal from the North Glenbuchat Estate in Aberdeenshire. Police raided the property a couple of weeks later. No prosecution.

OCTOBER 2014: The signal from a one-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#107133) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

OCTOBER 2014: The signal from a two-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#119886) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MARCH 2016: The signal from a satellite-tagged golden eagle (tagged in Perthshire 2014) unexpectedly stopped transmiting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Angus Glens. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

MAY 2016: The signal from a less-than-one-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#00000583) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

JUNE 2016: The signal from a two-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#129010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

JULY 2016: The signal from a two-year-old satellite-tagged golden eagle (#129015 ‘Brodie’) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

37 of the listed 41 eagles have either been found dead on, or have ‘disappeared’ on, Scottish grouse moors. (The other 4 have either died or have ‘disappeared’ in other habitat types).

Four of these 41 eagles ‘disappeared’ in 2016. So much for the grouse-shooting industry claiming that they’ve cleaned up their act and that persecution is a thing of the past. The tactics of how to kill an eagle have clearly changed (see here) but the persecution continues.

Last summer, in response to the news that eight tagged golden eagles had ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths over a five year period, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham ordered a review of satellite tag datato discover if there is a pattern of suspicious activity“.

We are expecting the review to be published some time in April and we expect it to show what decades of scientific research has already clearly demonstrated: that golden eagles (and several other raptor species) are routinely killed or suspiciously ‘disappear’ on land intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.

We expect this review to be a seminal piece of research and if it shows what we anticipate it will show, the Scottish Government can expect to be put under enormous pressure to respond appropriately.

15
Mar
17

A few sandwiches short of a picnic

As we mentioned yesterday, some individuals within the game shooting industry have recently been doing their level best to discredit the work of raptor fieldworkers, and particularly anything associated with tagging raptors, be it leg rings, wing tags or satellite tags. As usual, their level best falls way short of the mark.

Some of it amounts to libel (so we won’t be discussing that here as legal action is being considered), some of it is quite disturbing (distributing images of children without parental consent and without any attempts to pixelate faces) and some of it is either a complete fabrication or a gross distortion of the truth. All of it is being done as a crude and cynical attempt to undermine the findings of the forthcoming raptor satellite tag review, which we anticipate will provide damning evidence of the extent of satellite tagged raptors that ‘disappear’ on Scottish grouse moors.

Here’s a good example of some of the propaganda being peddled by the game shooting industry. This photograph has been repeatedly posted on Facebook and other social media platforms as an example of ‘bad practice’ at a raptor tagging event. It shows a group of people at an eagle nest site in Perthshire in 2014. According to Bert Burnett of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, who has posted this image several times, these people, including Duncan Orr-Ewing of RSPB Scotland, are “having a picnic underneath an eagle nest” for several hours and thus by implication are causing unnecessary disturbance at the site and causing the adult birds to desert.

What’s actually happening here is a group of people, including four licensed experts and their invited guests, have climbed to an eagle nest site and while the climbers have gone to retrieve the eaglet from the nest so its satellite tag can be fitted in safety on the ground, Duncan is eating a sandwich. That’s it. It’s a few sandwiches short of a picnic, or is that just Bert?

Another photograph that Bert has circulated was also taken at this site on the same day. It shows Duncan quite rightly checking the fit of the young eagle’s sat tag harness before the bird is put back in its nest.

This photograph elicited all sorts of comments on social media, with suggestions that sat tagging golden eagles is harmful to the birds, that it’s detrimental to their survival and one person even claiming that “they [the raptor fieldworkers] are a far greater threat to birds than any shooting interests“.

He posted another photograph (which we won’t post here for legal reasons) that shows a woman and her son on the nest ledge after the eagle had been returned to its nest. Bert said this about it: “What happens to birds after tagging is very questionable. Allowing your families and friends to climb up intae the nest just for photo shoots is totally out of order and shows no concern for the birds future welfare“. On a later post he also claimed the woman had been “hoisted in to the nest“. What the photo actually shows is a Schedule 1 licence holder and her son who have just climbed to the nest to return the eagle after tagging. It’s probably hard for Bert to comprehend that a woman might actually be a Schedule 1 licence holder and that she’d be capable of climbing to the nest without being “hoisted in” (surely her breasts would get in the way?) but when your mindset is firmly stuck in the 18th century then it’s probably no surprise at all.

As for Bert’s comment, “What happens to birds after tagging is very questionable“, well, it’s not questionable in this case. This eagle was satellite tagged in Perthshire in 2014. The bird fledged successfully and its movements were tracked until 2016 when its tag signal suddenly stopped transmitting and the eagle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens. We’d respectfully suggest that this eagle’s disappearance (probable death) was not caused by Duncan eating a sandwich at its natal site two years earlier nor by it being put back in to the nest by a woman, but was more than likely caused by illegal poisoning, illegal trapping or illegal shooting on or near a grouse moor in the Angus Glens.

A week ago, Bert again posted the photograph of Duncan eating a sandwich and he wrote the following on his Facebook page:

Once again, Bert hasn’t checked his facts. This eagle territory has NOT been deserted since Duncan and his colleagues safely fitted the satellite tag to the young eagle in 2014. On the contrary, the breeding pair has remained on territory and produced chicks every year since. In fact last year’s chick, ‘Freya’, was seen by millions of viewers as she was filmed being satellite tagged for the BBC’s SpringWatch programme!

Now, we can take the mick out of Bert all day and as long as he continues to spout nonsense we’ll continue to call him out – it’s actually quite enjoyable and he’s helping our cause no end. But there’s a darker side to what’s going on, with the targeted harassment of certain named individuals, and we’ll be blogging about that shortly.

In the meantime, have a look at a blog written by Duncan today (see here) for a more serious view on raptor tagging procedures and also check out this statement from the BTO which details the stringent requirements that must be met before anyone gets a licence to ring and tag birds in the UK: Overview of BTO Ringing Scheme training and licensing procedure

20
Feb
17

Raptor persecution data & golden eagle conservation status – anyone see a pattern?

This first map will be familiar to many of you. It’s from the excellent Golden Eagle Conservation Framework report (2008) and shows a summary of the golden eagle’s conservation status in Scotland.

Conservation status was assessed by looking at the data from three national golden eagle surveys (1982, 1992, 2003) and applying a series of regional-based tests such as occupancy, adult survival, sub-adult survival, reproductive output and predicted population projections.

Green = favourable conservation status

Amber = unfavourable conservation status (marginal, with failure in only one test)

Red = unfavourable conservation status (with failure in more than one test)

The results were pretty unambiguous (unless you suffer from willful blindness). In fact, the results were stark. Only three of 16 regions, where golden eagles have occupied territories since 1982, were considered to be in favourable conservation status (the green bits). The most serious failures to meet favourable conservation status tests were in areas largely dominated by grouse moor management (the red bits).

Now, since the Golden Eagle Framework was published there has been another national golden eagle survey (2015) and although the results have yet to be formally published, we do know that there has been an improvement in some areas and perhaps some of the map previously shaded in amber can now be turned to green. However, we also know that the 2015 survey results showed that golden eagles in the eastern highlands and southern uplands are still in serious trouble.

Now have a look at this map. We thought it’d be interesting to take the golden eagle conservation status map and overlay ten years worth of raptor persecution data, gleaned from the various ‘official’ persecution maps (such as those from PAW Scotland). It’s been done at a crude scale, because that’s how the official raptor persecution data have been presented over the years, but nevertheless it’s really quite interesting. Can anyone see a pattern?!

24
Jan
17

ECCLR session 2: the SGA and their ‘alternative facts’

Two weeks ago the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee held an evidence session to scrutinise the Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report.

The evidence session was divided in to two parts – we’ve blogged about session 1 [evidence from Police Scotland and the Crown Office] here.

This blog is about session 2, where witnesses from RSPB Scotland, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (SGA), Scottish Badgers and the Bat Conservation Trust were invited to speak.

The video of the session can be watched here and the full transcript can be read here.

This session was fascinating and we’d really encourage you to read the transcript – and even better, watch the video. There’s too much to blog about here so we’ll just focus on the SGA’s ‘evidence’, which turned out to be a series of ‘alternative facts’, which perhaps isn’t all that surprising although it is of concern when you realise Andy Smith, the SGA rep, was a former police officer for 30 years and so he should be well versed in dealing with actual facts, not made-up ones.

Here are some of the SGA’s alternative facts. This is not an exhaustive list, just the ones that amused us the most:

Alternative Fact #1

According to Andy Smith, the SGA doesn’t support the proposal that the SSPCA should be given increased powers to help investigate wildlife crime because he was told that the SSPCA’s Chief Superintendent traveled to London to listen to the Westminster debate on driven grouse shooting, which, according to Andy Smith, means the SSPCA has an anti-shooting agenda.

The logic Andy Smith used to reach this conclusion is, well, illogical, because plenty of people attended the Westminster debate, including GWCT staff members, who most definitely are not anti-shooting. Anyway, as it turns out, the SSPCA’s Chief Superintendent did NOT travel to London to attend the debate, as he clearly explains in a recent letter to the ECCLR Committee that has been published on the Scottish Parliament’s website:  20170111_mike_flynn_to_convener_regarding_ecclr_meeting_10_january_2017

Alternative Fact #2

According to Andy Smith, “There are places in this country that should have birds of prey – raptors – but do not have them. That includes some RSPB reserves that have the perfect conditions. For example, I do not think that there are very many in Abernethy“.

Oops. There are at least eight species of breeding raptors at the RSPB’s Abernethy Reserve (perhaps more, we haven’t checked), including, er, the world famous ospreys at Loch Garten.

Alternative Fact #3

According to Andy Smith, “We should remember that the Cairngorms National Park has the highest density of eagles in the world“. [Interruption]. “Am I not right in thinking that?“.

Ian Thomson (RSPB Scotland): “No, you are not“.

Andy Smith: “It is certainly where the highest density of eagles is in the UK“.

Ian Thomson: “Harris has the highest density of golden eagles“.

Another commonly repeated myth from Andy Smith. It’s nothing new (e.g. see here, and it was also repeated in the SGA’s most recent edition of its in-house rag Scottish Gamekeeper), but it doesn’t matter how many times it’s repeated, it doesn’t make it factual. The Cairngorms National Park does NOT have the highest density of eagles in the world, nor in the UK. As Ian Thomson correctly pointed out, golden eagle density in the Western Isles (i.e. nowhere near a driven grouse moor) is among the highest recorded, although a few populations in North America have an equally high density.

The truth is that golden eagles in the Cairngorms National Park have one of the lowest rates of site occupancy in the whole of Scotland. Sure, there are breeding golden eagles in the CNP, but as was described in the authoritative Golden Eagle Conservation Framework, the vast majority of those sites are associated with open woodland (i.e. deer forest) where they are generally left alone; they are, with a handful of exceptions, absent from the extensive areas of open moorland managed for driven grouse shooting.

ge-vacant-territories-2003The data in the above table were derived from the 2003 national golden eagle survey. Since then, a 2015 national survey has been undertaken and we await publication of the detailed results, although the preliminary findings have shown that there have been improvements in occupancy in some regions, but not, unfortunately, in the Eastern Highlands, which includes large parts of the Cairngorms National Park and North East Glens, where intensively managed moorland for driven grouse shooting remains the dominant land practice and where illegal persecution continues to constrain the golden eagle population, as well as a number of other raptor populations including peregrine and hen harrier.

The SGA should watch out. With a performance like Andy Smith’s, the Trump administration may well try to headhunt him to join The White House press team.

12
Dec
16

Minutes of meeting between Cairngorms National Park Authority & Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association

ALMDLast month we blogged about a comment that had been made during an official meeting between the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) and the SGA. The comment came from a CNPA Board member (Eleanor Mackintosh) who was advising the gamekeepers to ‘cover up’ dead mountain hares so that photographs of the corpses couldn’t be published on social media (see here).

That meeting between the CNPA and the SGA was triggered by the SGA’s anger over a blog that had been written by Will Boyd Wallis (CNPA’s Head of Land Management & Conservation) in August, where Mr Boyd Wallis had raised legitimate concerns about some aspects of intensive grouse moor management (see here).

The SGA was furious about that CNPA blog, for a number of reasons (see below). The SGA asked for a meeting with the CNPA to discuss these concerns and the meeting was arranged, apparently after the ‘intervention‘ of Fergus Ewing MSP, who is Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy & Connectivity, but whose remit does not cover the National Parks (Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has responsibility for the National Parks).

Chairman of the SGA, Alex Hogg, wrote to the CNPA requesting a meeting. We got a copy of his letter via an FoI request and here it is: sga-letter-requesting-mtg-with-cnpa-sept-2016

It’s an entertaining read. In it, Alex claims there’s no need for concern about the potential environmental harm of dumping tonnes of medicated grit on to the grouse moors because there’s no scientific evidence to show any damage. He also suggests that if the CNPA was concerned about potential environmental damage then the CNPA would be looking at the issue of dogs and livestock (which have also been wormed) defecating all over the Park. Hmm. If dogs and livestock had been wormed every day with a drug that was 10-20 x the strength permitted for use in the UK, and those piles of faeces were placed at every 100 metres across the grouse moor, for up to eight months of the year, as are piles of medicated grit put out for red grouse, then he might have had a valid point. Unfortunately for Alex, there is growing scientific evidence that the drug used in medicated grit (Flubendazole) is actually highly toxic to some aquatic organisms (e.g. see here) and, given the extent of its use on intensively managed grouse moors, this is exactly why Leeds University is offering a PhD scholarship to examine this issue in more detail (see here).

Anyway, on to the actual meeting itself. This took place on 29 September 2016 at Glenlochy in the National Park (an interesting choice of venue given the raptor persecution crimes that have been recorded in the area). In attendance were several representatives of the CNPA, several from the SGA, including Bert Burnett, some gamekeepers, and local SNP councillor Geva Blackett, who used to work as the SGA’s Parliamentary Officer many moons ago and who is married to Simon Blackett, the (now retired) Estate Factor at Invercauld Estate.

The minutes can be downloaded here: minutes-cnpa-sga-mtg-29-sept-2016

These minutes are well worth a read, not just because they expose the buffoonery of the SGA, but also because they provide an insight to the astonishing display of deference from the CNPA officials towards the SGA.

The meeting covered many topics and we won’t go in to all of them here because you can read them for yourselves and have a good giggle (whatever you do, don’t diss red grouse by calling them willow grouse!). The main thing we want to focus on is the discussion about gamekeepers getting licences to monitor and ring raptors and waders within the National Park.

Geva Blackett is pushing the CNPA to support this idea, and according to Bert Burnett, “no training is needed”. He really doesn’t have a clue, does he?!  The CNPA seems equally as ignorant, claiming that they’d like to support this initiative because they’d like to know about raptor numbers within the Park. Er, have they not heard of the award-winning Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme? A multi-partner scheme that holds all the raptor monitoring data collected across Scotland? Apparently not.

What’s even funnier about the SGA’s demands to get licences is that just this week, Bert Burnett and a couple of his cronies (including a convicted falcon thief) have launched a social media campaign designed to portray raptor fieldworkers in a negative light. They’ve trawled the internet and come up with some old photographs of raptor tagging activities (one photo is at least 13 years old!) and have made wholly unsubstantiated allegations about the behaviour of those featured in the photographs (unbeknownst to Bert, one of the photographs is actually from a project in North America, not from Scotland!). Apparently, these nest visits cause birds to desert. Hmm. And the evidence for that is where, exactly?

Bert has also claimed that raptor monitoring, ringing and tagging is “completely unregulated and those doing it are totally non accountable for their actions”. This exposes Bert’s lack of knowledge about the training and qualifications needed for this work, and also his ignorance about the high level of reporting required by the licensing authorities.

Strange, isn’t it, that if Bert thinks all this monitoring and ringing is ‘bad’, that at this meeting with the CNPA he is pushing for gamekeepers to be issued with licences to do the same work!

And if Bert/the SGA and co are so upset about satellite-tagging, why are they not kicking off about the GWCT’s woodcock satellite-tagging project?

And if Bert/the SGA and co are so upset about the ‘welfare’ of satellite-tagged golden eagles, why do we never see them kicking off about eagles that have been found poisoned, shot or trapped on driven grouse moors?

What is obviously going on here is a desperate little smear campaign designed to coincide with the forthcoming review of raptor satellite tag data, as requested by Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham (see here). This review, due out in the spring, is expected to be damning. We already know that many satellite-tagged raptors ‘disappear’ on grouse moors, and we also know that many satellite-tagged raptors have turned up either poisoned, shot or trapped on grouse moors. This review will pull all of those data together and it is predicted to be a shocking read.

The SGA knows this, hence these latest tactics to try and discredit the raptor workers.

Now, what was it that Tim (Kim) Baynes of the Scottish Moorland Group told that parliamentary committee last week? Ah yes, it was this:

We would very much like to see greater cooperation between ourselves, the Raptor Study Groups and the RSPB“.

It’s pretty clear the SGA has not received this message, or if it has, it’s chosen to ignore it.

But you carry on, Bert, because what you’re doing is political suicide. By asking your cronies to send (no doubt illiterate, baseless rants) to Roseanna Cunningham, complaining about Scottish Raptor Study Group members, she will see that the SGA is trying to undermine her review of the satellite tag data, and she’ll also recognise that the SGA’s claims of ‘partnership working’ with other members of the PAW Raptor Group are nothing more than lip service. PAW partners? Piss-poor partners, more like.

Photograph: dead golden eagle ‘Alma’, found poisoned on a grouse moor on Millden Estate in the Angus Glens. Her corpse was only found because she was wearing a satellite tag, fitted by Scottish Raptor Study Group member and internationally-recognised expert Roy Dennis. It’s no surprise then, that the SGA wants to put a stop to satellite-tagging.

05
Dec
16

“Risible, make-believe tosh”: RSPB responds to Gift of Grouse propaganda

RSPB Scotland has responded to the ridiculous claim (see here) made by the Gift of Grouse that raptors are ‘thriving’ on Scottish grouse moors. Here is the RSPB’s press release (reproduced below):

RSPB SCOTLAND RESPONDS TO GIFT OF GROUSE PRESS RELEASE

RSPB Scotland has dismissed a press release issued today by the “Gift of Grouse” campaign that attempts to draw a veil over the continued persecution of birds of prey on areas of land managed intensively for driven grouse shooting. The reports on which these assertions are based are not in the public domain, and therefore have not been subject to the usual levels of public scrutiny.
However, recent peer-reviewed scientific reports published in the last 12 months link sharp declines in nesting peregrines and hen harriers in NE Scotland to illegal killing; a recently-published SNH report shows that there has been no decline in the levels of persecution of red kites in north Scotland over 25 years; and, results of the 2015 golden eagle survey show that levels of home range occupancy by golden eagles is significantly below the national average in the eastern highlands, where grouse moor management is a dominant land use. In this part of eastern Scotland, prey availability is high, and golden eagles should be more numerous and more productive than almost anywhere else in the country.
There are also ongoing concerns about the regular “disappearance” of satellite-tagged birds of prey in grouse moor areas, to the extent that a review of these incidents has been commissioned by the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham MSP.
Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said: “The content of today’s statement from the Gift of Grouse campaign is pure, unadulterated propaganda from an industry that, quite rightly, is under increasing public scrutiny by the Scottish Parliament. Their claims have no supporting evidence, their methodology is not explained, and to suggest that incidental observations of raptors which may merely have been flying over an estate indicate a population that is “thriving” is clearly ludicrous.
It is astonishing that the Angus Glens area is being held up as an example of good practice, given the long absence of successfully-breeding raptors over much of this region, as well as its appalling recent history of illegal killing of protected species. Walkers in the area this spring were greeted by a plethora of gas guns, inflatable decoys and strings of fireworks scattered across the hills, all designed to scare off, rather than welcome, birds of prey!
ENDS
Good, strong stuff from RSPB Scotland.
Earlier today The Times ran a story based on the Gift of Grouse propaganda entitled ‘Our conservation skills help raptors to thrive, say gamekeepers’. It includes an amusing quote from RSPB Scotland spokesman James Reynolds, who dismissed the report as “a pile of risible, make-believe tosh“. He added:
These claims by the grouse industry simply serve to show the pathological state of denial in which they are gripped. That they are prepared to pedal such nonsense, flying in the face of repeatedly proven facts and official surveys, shows the degree of desperation that they are prepared to go to in order to try and make this damaging industry respectable. Thankfully, the Scottish people aren’t so easily fooled by such contemptuous rubbish“.
04
Dec
16

Scottish landowners pretend that raptors are ‘thriving’ on driven grouse moors

Gift of GrouseWe’ve come to expect outlandish propaganda from the Gift of Grouse campaign group, designed to portray driven grouse moors as models of excellence for raptor conservation. But this time they’ve exceeded all expectation. Forget their usual unsubstantiated post-truth drivel, wholly disconnected to reality, because that’s got nothing on their latest effort, which takes the stretching of credibility to new depths.

The following press release from the Gift of Grouse is set to hit the headlines tomorrow:

ENCOURAGING NUMBERS OF BIRDS OF PREY SIGHTED ON SCOTTISH MOORLANDS

An increasing number of birds of prey are thriving on Scottish grouse moors due to gamekeepers’ conservation efforts.

More than 10 different raptor species including golden eagles, red kites and hen harriers have been identified on prominent grouse moors this year. They are among the 86 bird species that have been recorded on estates in the Angus Glens.

A snap shot from a range of estates across the Angus Glens Moorland Group highlighted encouraging evidence with gamekeepers on Invermark Estate in particular sighting nine raptor species including buzzards and golden eagles. Some of these are nesting and successfully breeding on the estate.

A number of other estates also reported healthy numbers with Ballogie Estate, Royal Deeside, revealing a total of 15 buzzards regularly hunting on the moor. Figures from the Speyside Moorland Group were equally as strong with 12 species of birds of prey recorded on Strathspey Estate alone. Atholl Estate in Perthshire are also monitoring 12 different raptor species.

Garry MacLennan, head gamekeeper on Invermark Estate, said: “Scottish grouse moors are far from being raptor deserts, as some opponents of shooting claim. We have monitored a growing number of buzzards, kestrels, golden eagles and white-tailed eagles. Keepers and estate managers do recognise there are some areas of the country where there are fewer raptor species but there is plenty of hard evidence to show that raptors are successfully nesting on grouse moors.”

The findings from Invermark are part of annual surveys undertaken using SNH guidelines.  These surveys were conducted by Taylor Wildlife, an ecological consultancy specialising in upland environments.

Richard Cooke, manager of Invermark Estate, said: “The survey is an extremely helpful way for us to monitor the biodiversity of the estate and which species are benefitting the most from our habitat management practices. Throughout the year we carry out rotational muirburn and control predation under the general licence, including foxes, stoats and other mustelids in particular.  This is to the benefit of many ground nesting birds and is reflected in the rich birdlife recorded by the annual audit.

The Tayside Moorland Group has also carried out species monitoring at a number of estates throughout the region with Glenturret Estate in Perthshire recording no less than 12 different raptor species hunting and nesting on the moorland this year. The estate tally included several breeding pairs of hen harriers, a nesting pair of peregrine fledging four chicks, short eared owls and numerous red kites.

Conservation training, conscientious moorland management and favourable weather conditions can all impact positively upon species numbers found on Scottish moorland.

Figures revealed in Wildlife Estates Scotland’s latest annual report show that 11 accredited estates reported the presence of golden eagles, with seven of these reporting 19 pairs. Eleven estates also recorded sightings of hen harriers with four reporting 18 breeding pairs. Buzzards were also reported on 20 estates, with a total estimated population of over 920 birds.

It was also recently revealed in a national survey that golden eagle numbers have surpassed 500 pairs giving them a ‘favourable conservation status’ in the UK. Eagles have made a home on several moorland estates across Scotland with Millden Estate, a member of the Angus Glens Moorland Group, recording a particularly high number of sightings.

Jason Clamp, head gamekeeper on Millden Estate, commented: “We are fortunate enough at Millden to have regular sightings of golden eagles. Seeing several of these magnificent birds on a daily basis has to be one of the highlights of my job. We are also very careful to leave a sustainable population of mountain hares for birds of prey, such as golden eagles, to hunt.

At Millden our team of gamekeepers has taken a proactive role in ensuring that we have a suitable breeding habitat for various birds of prey such the merlin, of which we currently have four nesting pairs. This has been brought about through controlled heather burning ‘muirburn’, which creates micro habitats suited to ground-nesting birds like the merlin.

We are delighted that the golden eagle, a species of conservation concern, amongst many other species, has found a safe and suitable environment in which to flourish in such impressive numbers, where careful moorland management has been imperative.”

ENDS

Wow! Where to start with this? It’s such ludicrously far-fetched bollocks it could have come straight from the mouths of gamekeepers and grouse moor managers. Oh, hang on…

Perhaps the idiots behind the Gift of Grouse campaign didn’t see the results of the latest national golden eagle survey, published just a few short weeks ago. You know, the survey that showed breeding golden eagles are still largely absent from driven grouse moors in the Eastern Highlands, just as they were in the last national survey conducted in 2003. Only 30% of known territories were occupied in this area – that’s a pathetic 34 out of 91 territories.

Perhaps the idiots behind the Gift of Grouse campaign didn’t see the results of the recent study on northern red kites, showing that illegal persecution on driven grouse moors in this region is just as bad now as it was in 1989.

Perhaps the idiots behind the Gift of Grouse campaign didn’t read the recent scientific paper showing hen harriers have suffered a ‘catastrophic decline’ on the driven grouse moors of NE Scotland.

Perhaps the idiots behind the Gift of Grouse campaign didn’t read the scientific paper showing peregrines continue to suffer a ‘long-term decline’ on the driven grouse moors of NE Scotland.

It’s all very well saying that raptors have been ‘sighted’ on grouse moors – of course they’ve been seen there – they are drawn to those areas precisely because of the absence of territorial breeding adults (as well as an abundant food supply). Nobody disputes that you can see raptors over these moors – the crucial distinction, which the Gift of Grouse idiots have carefully avoided, is how many raptors are breeding there? Remember, no breeding hen harriers in the Angus Glens for ten years!

It’s interesting that this press release refers to the grouse moors of the Angus Glens – a well known hotbed of illegal raptor persecution for over a decade. Here’s a map to illustrate the point:

Four grouse moor estates are highlighted in red (Invermark, Millden, Hunthill, Glenogil [with thanks to Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website for estate boundaries]). You see those purple dots? They represent confirmed illegal raptor persecution crimes. Are we seriously being asked to believe that raptors are ‘thriving’ in this region?

It’s also interesting to note that the ‘data’ behind the Gift of Grouse propaganda come from an ‘annual audit’ carried out by Taylor Wildlife consultancy. We’ve blogged about this group before – these are the ‘experts’ who claimed to have recorded 81 species of birds ‘feeding or breeding’ on an Angus Glens grouse moor last year. The problem is, their survey methods didn’t adhere to the usual industry standard – rather than conduct their breeding bird survey between March and June, when you’re supposed to do it, they conducted their survey between June and August, which is, er, after the breeding season!

Will we get to see this year’s report to scrutinise the methods and results? Highly unlikely – we’re still waiting to see their 2015 report but apparently it’s a secret and we’re not allowed to read it. Can’t think why.

Also of note in this latest press release is the reference to Glenturret Estate in Perthshire, another well-known driven grouse moor. We’ve blogged about this estate before, when it was claimed that Hen Harrier Day protesters might ‘disturb’ hen harriers – a species that has consistently failed to breed successfully on this moor. This year, they are claiming to have ‘several breeding pairs of hen harriers’ amongst other species. That’s interesting, because according to monitoring data from the Scottish Raptor Study Group, there was only one hen harrier breeding attempt on Glenturret this year, and, as has so often happened here in recent years, the nest failed for ‘unknown reasons’. Unfortunately it’s not possible to work out why hen harriers keep failing here because the estate has apparently refused to allow nest cameras to be installed.

Glenturret used to have lots of successfully breeding raptors, but these days, not so much. They certainly don’t have breeding golden eagles anymore because the eagle’s eyrie was burnt out last year. Here’s a photograph of the cliff face, taken in April 2015 – note the blackened hillside. Spontaneously combusting eagle eyries are a common problem on some Scottish grouse moors. Either that or golden eagles need to learn to discard their fag butts with more care.

We’ll add updates to this blog tomorrow when we see which newspapers have swallowed the Gift of Grouse guff hook, line and sinker. We’ll be particularly interested to see whether SNH issues a statement to rebutt the claims being made – SNH has access to the actual raptor breeding data via the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme – let’s see them put it good use.

UPDATE 5 December 2016: “Risible, make-believe tosh”: RSPB responds to Gift of Grouse propaganda (here).




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