Posts Tagged ‘golden eagle


Werritty Review submitted to Scottish Government?

Rumour has it, Professor Alan Werritty has submitted his long-awaited review on grouse moor management to the Scottish Government, two and a half years after it was first announced by Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham following the devastating findings of the golden eagle satellite tag review, which showed the extent and scale of ongoing golden eagle persecution on some driven grouse moors.

To be fair, Professor Werritty wasn’t actually commissioned until two years ago in November 2017. Nevertheless, the report is still six months overdue, partly due to ill-health (fair enough) but partly due to….well, we don’t know.

There hasn’t been any official announcement about the submission of Professor Werritty’s Review, and thus no indication of when the Scottish Government might publish it, nor when it might respond to the report’s recommendations.


Still waiting for Werritty

Autumn is here; Werritty’s report is not.

For new readers, the long anticipated and long overdue Werritty Review is a Government-commissioned report on grouse moor management in Scotland. Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham commissioned it following the publication of the authoritative, ‘exemplary and thorough‘ Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review in May 2017, which revealed the magnitude of ongoing raptor persecution on some Scottish grouse moors (read that report here).

The Werritty Review Group was announced in November 2017 and we were told to expect the report by spring 2019.

Spring 2019 came and went, the report didn’t appear, but we were told that Professor Werritty was ill and the report would be delayed by two months (new expected date: June 2019). Fair enough.

June 2019 came and went, the report didn’t appear.

Then we heard it would arrive in July 2019.

July 2019 came and went, the report didn’t appear then we heard from Professor Werritty himself that it’d be submitted ‘during the summer‘.

At the end of July, in response to public fury about on-going illegal raptor persecution on Scottish grouse moors, a Government spokesperson told us the report ‘was due in the next few weeks’ (see here).

It’s now mid-October and the report still hasn’t appeared. According to Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, writing to an MSP in response to a query about the publication date by a constituent (and blog reader!), the report is “expected within the next couple of weeks“!!

To be perfectly frank, events this year have overtaken whatever recommendations Professor Werritty might suggest – the discovery of this spring-trapped hen harrier on a grouse moor in Perthshire, this spring-trapped hen harrier caught next to his nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire, this spring-trapped golden eagle photographed flying above a grouse moor in Royal Deeside, and the suspicious disappearance of two more satellite-tagged golden eagles from a grouse moor in Perthshire have demonstrated that we now need a radical approach to bring this to an end.

Nevertheless, we’re still keen to see the Werritty report appear because until it does, the Scottish Government has the perfect excuse, that it has used repeatedly since May 2017 when the review was first commissioned, to do absolutely naff all to tackle these ongoing serious organised crimes.

It is right and sensible that Scottish Government should wait for that report“, says Roseanna Cunningham. How can it possibly be “right” or “sensible” that the Government should continue to sit on its hands and watch these atrocities taking place, suggesting it’s powerless to act?



RSPB challenges misinformation about satellite tags

This is an excellent blog written by Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland, countering the misinformation (that’s being kind) about satellite tags that is being touted by some in the game shooting industry.

We’ll be writing more on this shortly.

We’ve reproduced Ian’s blog here:

Challenging misinformation about satellite tags

RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations Ian Thomson outlines our thoughts on claims made accompanying the launch of a petition regarding satellite tags fitted to raptor species.

One of the greatest conservation tools to emerge in recent years has been satellite-tagging technology. Whether following the journeys of migrating cuckoos or shedding light on the dangers facing UK birds of prey, these tiny pieces of technology are becoming increasingly valuable in the conservationist’s mission to save nature.

As you read this, satellite tags are helping scientists monitor a handful of recently released captive-reared white-rumped vultures in Nepal after the species almost went extinct. It allowed the finding of a turtle dove nest in Suffolk this August, crucial for a species which has declined in the UK by 97% since 1970. Another tag’s data led us to the body of a hen harrier, Rannoch, lying in the heather, her leg caught in an illegal spring trap on a Perthshire grouse moor.

[Hen harrier Rannoch was fitted with a satellite tag at a nest in Perthshire in summer 2017]

A couple of weeks ago the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), lodged a petition “calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to introduce independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to raptor species, to assist the police and courts in potential wildlife crime cases and to provide data transparency.”

The Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) briefing about the petition gives a rounded picture of the context.

However, the supporting information provided by the SGA to support their petition contains misleading information which appears to be part of an ongoing and concerted attempt to undermine the credibility of these scientifically-approved tags and the integrity of those monitoring them.

In recent years, various statements the SGA have made in the media (eg. as discussed here) are symptomatic of an organisation in complete denial about the extent of raptor persecution and it’s association with grouse moor management. Indeed, every story about a dead or disappeared satellite-tagged bird of prey on a grouse moor is met with denials, obfuscation or conspiracy theories.

[Rannoch was killed by an illegal trap on a grouse moor in November 2018. Had she not been tagged, this crime would have remained undiscovered]

The RSPB has been involved in the fitting of satellite transmitters, using experienced, trained and licenced taggers, to a wide variety of birds of prey and other species, both in the UK and abroad, for the last 15 years. As a key adviser and contributor to a number of high-profile conservation research projects involving the tagging of bird species across the world, we thought it important to share our experience to put the SGA’s claims into context.

In the UK, all tagging projects require approval from the independent British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)’s Special Methods Panel, who rigorously scrutinise all such proposals on behalf of the UK statutory conservation agencies, including SNH in Scotland, to check their scientific validity and that the welfare of the birds tagged is ensured. The BTO’s process also ensures all projects meet Home Office requirements.

All practitioners must demonstrate experience and capability to undertake this work and this is heavily scrutinised by the Special Methods Panel. Most of those involved with this technique are experienced bird ringers and handlers. An annual licence return is supplied to the BTO by all satellite practitioners for their records, and this is a condition of receiving further licences in the future.

The RSPB also has considerable experience in monitoring the data coming from our own transmitters and in working closely with other individuals and organisations involved in similar projects, notably with regard to development of tag technology, sharing good practice and the analysis of satellite tag data.

We lead on police training on the interpretation of tag data, recently attending key events in Perthshire and Yorkshire in 2019 to ensure that the police and officers from the National Wildlife Crime Unit are equipped to carry out independent scrutiny of tag data. We have also helped ensure that, where satellite-tagged birds of prey are suspected of being illegally killed, relevant tag data is provided to investigating officers as required.

We have assisted the police in numerous follow-up investigations where tagged birds have been illegally killed or have been suspected to have been victims of criminality – as with Rannoch, mentioned above.

In 2017, the government-commissioned review of the fates of satellite-tagged golden eagles concluded that almost a third of young tagged eagles “disappeared (presumably died) under suspicious circumstances” and that “areas managed as grouse moors were strongly associated with the disappearance of many of the tagged eagles”. This independently peer-reviewed study was underpinned by data from tags that researchers from RSPB and several other organisations and agencies had fitted to Scottish golden eagles, and is key evidence that scientifically highlights the ongoing problem of raptor persecution on Scotland’s grouse moors.

Satellite transmitters, all fitted as part of projects licensed by the BTO, have revolutionised the study of bird ecology. They have proved invaluable research tools in understanding the movements of birds, from Asian vultures to English turtle doves, Welsh hen harriers and Scottish golden eagles. They have allowed us to identify important migration staging areas, key nest and roost site locations, allowing us to further protect these birds. They have also allowed recovery of dead birds, enabling post-mortem examinations to take place and identify causes of death which would otherwise remain a mystery. Indeed, they are shining a very bright light on those areas of upland Scotland where raptor persecution continues unabated.

It is unfortunate that the SGA, which has consistently attempted to undermine the veracity of tag data, has also refused to take part in meetings of the partnership for action against wildlife crime (PAW Scotland) since the government’s satellite-tag review was published. Had it done so, perhaps many of the inaccurate statements contained in the briefing document, or in their recent members’ magazine, prepared to accompany the petition would not have appeared.  One can only question their motives.




Moorland Association’s brood meddling press release amounts to abuse of process

Whichever way you look at it, the Moorland Association’s press release on hen harrier brood meddling amounts to an abuse of process.

First of all there’s the abuse of process in terms of the internal governance of the brood meddling project. We know, from the formal brood meddling project plan, that there’s a Project Board whose responsibilities include:

(a) ensuring that reporting from the project team is timely and acted upon;

(b) to oversee project external communications

We now know that the Moorland Association released its press release on Sunday without the knowledge and consent of project partner Natural England. How do we know this? Because Tony Juniper stated as much in a tweet yesterday:

Not only that, but we’ve also been informed via another source that the satellite tag data released by the Moorland Association was incorrect – apparently one of those harriers had not travelled to southern Ireland at all, but the Moorland Association had simply misunderstood / misinterpreted the data!

Now, the issue of whether the Moorland Association, or anyone else connected to an industry that’s been identified as being responsible for the mass illegal killing of hen harriers, should have access to hen harrier satellite tag data is a topic for another time (for the record – no, of course they bloody shouldn’t for what should be plainly obvious reasons) but the abuse of process from an internal (Project Board) perspective is quite clear. At least one of the Project Board team (Natural England) was excluded from the decision to publish, let alone what to publish.

Will the Moorland Association suffer any consequences/sanctions for this abuse of process, let alone leaving the Project Board’s credibility and integrity in pieces? Probably not.

A far more serious apparent abuse of process is the external one. That is, the suspicious disappearances of two satellite-tagged hen harriers are currently the subject of live police investigations and yet the Moorland Association chose to publish the information WITHOUT THE PRIOR KNOWLEDGE OR CONSENT OF THE POLICE. It was also published before the police had conducted any land searches at the locations of the tags’ last known fixes as part of the investigation. We know this from a conversation we had yesterday with Police Supt Nick Lyall.

That is absolutely outrageous and wholly unacceptable. It could also potentially be a criminal offence and have jeopardised the police investigation by alerting any suspect and providing them with an opportunity to remove evidence and clean up their tracks before the police arrive.

Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association, can’t claim ignorance on this issue. As a long-term member of the RPPDG, and a frequent critic of the RSPB’s role in police investigations, the Moorland Association knows the police-led investigative process very well.

For those who don’t know the process, here’s what happens when we suspect something has happened to one of our satellite-tagged golden eagles:

  1. First of all there’s a detailed discussion and analysis of the eagle’s recent movements and satellite tag data undertaken by a group of researchers who are recognised international experts in this field and have extensive experience of golden eagle ecology and satellite tag functioning.
  2. Immediate contact is made with the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) to provide them with an early warning heads up. Tag data are shared with the NWCU, in confidence, and the NWCU is fully appraised of the analysis to date.
  3. The NWCU carries out its own analysis of the tag data and puts together its own confidential intelligence package about the tag’s last known location.
  4. The NWCU and the tag owner decide an appropriate course of action, e.g. no action required because the circumstances aren’t suspicious; or wait for a bit longer (depending on the tag type and the data duty cycle etc) before deciding a further course of action; or agree that the researchers can go and retrieve the corpse and submit for a post mortem if the circumstances don’t indicate anything suspicious; or agree that the police will either go and retrieve the corpse (assuming there is one and the circumstances look suspicious) or agree the police will go and conduct a detailed search of the tag’s last known location if the circumstances suggest any hint of suspicious activity.
  5. Any subsequent media statements are made only after discussion and agreement between the police and the tag operator.

This is the protocol we follow for our satellite-tagged golden eagles and we’re also aware it’s the same protocol the RSPB follows for their satellite-tagged hen harriers. Contrary to the myths, lies and slurs constantly churned out by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and Scottish Land and Estates et al, we have worked hard to build up a mutually trusting working relationship with the NWCU (helped enormously, it has to be said, by the new head of unit, Chief Inspector Lou Hubble) and this protocol is working exceptionally well. Indeed, we’ve been using it this very week.

[Chief Inspector Lou Hubble, head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) at a satellite tag workshop in North Yorkshire earlier this year. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

We’ll be commenting at length, in the near future, about the SGA’s recent petition to the Scottish Parliament calling for the police to be ‘allowed access’ to sat tag data – those morons at the SGA are obviously oblivious to the fact the police already have access and not only do they have access, several of them are now trained to comprehend and interpret the complex array of engineering and locational data of different tag types.

So, in light of this protocol that we all have to adhere to (and when I say ‘have to adhere to’ we do so voluntarily and willingly because it’s working well and why wouldn’t we want to help the police to investigate crimes against our raptors?!), we fully expect other satellite-tagging projects to also have to adhere.

Does it look like the Moorland Association has adhered?

No, it doesn’t because clearly they haven’t.

The question now is, what sanction, if any, will the Moorland Association face for such blatant abuse of process?


Pre-Werritty propaganda from grouse shooting industry

As we all continue to wait for the publication of Professor Werritty’s report on driven grouse shooting, the usual suspects have been busy putting together a damage limitation programme to save their sorry necks.

An ‘informal alliance’ has been created under the banner of RELM (Rural Environment Land Management) ‘to help co-ordinate and streamline responses and communications ahead of the publication of the final report‘ and its first offering is this briefing document for MSPs which was distributed by Scottish Land & Estates a couple of weeks ago:

Here’s the intro blurb:

Grouse moor management has been the subject of much attention during the summer period across a range of issues such as the environment and species conservation, satellite tagging and wildlife crime, mountain hares and the start of the season on August 12.

With the Scottish Government’s review into grouse moor management due to be published shortly, rural organisations wished to provide the following update to parliamentarians. We would be pleased to provide additional detail where required.

Ah, how thoughtful. Amusingly, several MSPs have sent us a copy of this briefing document with comments along the lines of ‘You might want to say a few things about this’.

We’re grateful to those MSPs because yes, we do want to say a few things about the document’s contents and we wouldn’t otherwise have had an opportunity had they not shared the briefing with us.

We’re not posting the full briefing document here, yet. Instead we intend to blog about different aspects of it in turn.

Today we’re looking at the page entitled ‘Wildlife Crime’ and its five paragraphs of propaganda:

Propaganda paragraph 1:

Yes, significant media attention does remain focused on wildlife crime, and particularly illegal raptor persecution because everyone else finds it abhorrent and can’t understand why it still goes on and why the grouse shooting industry continues to shield the criminals involved. It’d be interesting to know what, exactly, these five organisations have done to crack down on raptor persecution as part of their claimed ‘full commitment to improving prevention, detection and prosecution’.

Propaganda paragraph 2:

No surprises here. This is a blatant attempt, yet again, to discredit the RSPB’s annual Birdcrime Report which was published a couple of weeks ago and showed that confirmed raptor persecution crimes in Scotland in 2018 had doubled from those recorded in 2017. These cases included a peregrine poisoned in the Pentland Hills, near Edinburgh; a buzzard found to have been shot twice, in South Lanarkshire; a buzzard caught in an illegal trap, in Inverness-shire; and a hen harrier caught in a spring trap in Perthshire. All of these incidents occurred on, or close to, land being managed intensively for driven grouse shooting.

With this level of relentless criminality, it’s no wonder the grouse shooting industry apologists want to infer that the RSPB’s data are ‘unofficial’. Fine. We’ll come back to this later this autumn when the Government publishes its annual wildlife crime report, which we know will include all of the confirmed incidents already reported by the RSPB.

Propaganda paragraph 3:

This is perhaps the most cynical of attempts to downplay the disgusting reality of the criminality still being committed on some driven grouse moors. And the first sentence of paragraph 3 is actually a lie. Not being pursued by Police Scotland? Er, ALL the cases of alleged raptor persecution that have been reported from grouse moors over the last few months are still considered to be live criminal investigations by the Police, according to the investigations officer we spoke to yesterday.

So, the satellite-tagged hen harrier that was found dead on a grouse moor in Strathbraan with an illegal spring trap clamped to its leg – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

The two satellite-tagged golden eagles (Adam and Charlie) that ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on another grouse moor in Strathbraan, on the same morning as each other – they’re still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police (as are several other alleged offences uncovered during the police search).

The hen harrier that was found caught by its leg in a spring trap that had been set illegally next to its nest on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

The buzzard that was caught inside a legal cage trap on the same South Lanarkshire grouse moor but was then allegedly beaten to death by someone arriving on a quad bike after dark and using a key to open the padlocked door of the cage – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

The young golden eagle that was photographed flying around in the Cairngorms National Park with an illegal trap clamped to its leg – it’s still the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

And as for the claim that estates have issued ‘unprecedented and emphatic rebuttals’ – er, there’s nothing unprecedented about that! Estates have always denied any involvement in any of the wildlife crimes that have been uncovered on their land – it’s what they do!

Propaganda paragraph 4:

Ah yes, convicted gamekeeper Alan Wilson, dubbed by the press as ‘Scotland’s worst wildlife killer‘. Yet again, the link between Wilson’s filthy criminal activity uncovered at Henlaw Wood and driven grouse shooting is kept well hidden. Yes, the Longformacus Estate was managed for low ground pheasant shooting but it was also managed for driven grouse shooting – a fact that Scottish Land & Estates doesn’t like to mention!

And speaking of Scottish Land & Estates and it’s so-called ‘full commitment’ to tackling wildlife crime, it still hasn’t said whether the Longformacus Estate was a member at the time these crimes were committed and if so, whether that membership has now been terminated? We asked SLE this question on 22 August 2019. Still waiting for an answer….

Propaganda paragraph 5:

Of course they continue to call for tougher penalties – how can they not? But they know as well as we do that the severity of the penalty is utterly irrelevant if the perpetrators of these crimes can’t even be identified, let alone prosecuted.

And as long as evidence continues to be destroyed and employers continue to shield their criminal employees by instructing them to give ‘no comment’ interviews to the police, nothing will change.

Fortunately, there are more and more savvy MSPs in the Scottish Parliament who have seen through the greenwash and know exactly what’s going on. If you think your MSP isn’t one of those, it’d be worth dropping them an email with a link to this blog.


Golden eagle with trap dangling from its leg: statement from Environment Cabinet Secretary

In August Police Scotland published a photograph of a young golden eagle that had been seen flying in the Cairngorms National Park with an illegally-set trap clamped to one of its legs.

This photograph, along with the Police’s appeal for information, went viral and was reported on news channels around the world (e.g. here), highlighting Scotland’s shameful record of illegal raptor persecution.

There’s been no further update on the fate of this eagle. Undoubtedly it’ll be dead and if it had been found by anyone associated with the criminal element of the game-shooting industry the corpse and trap will be long gone….nothing to see, deny, deny, deny, it was all a set up, fake news, it never happened, etc etc.

Meanwhile, those who aren’t fooled by the propaganda and know exactly what goes on on game shooting estates have been asking pertinent questions.

Step up Colin Beattie MSP (SNP: Midlothian North & Musselburgh) who lodged the following written question on 2 September 2019:

Question S5W-25069 – 

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of reports of a golden eagle found with an illegal trap on its legs, what action it is taking to protect wild birds as a matter of urgency ahead of the publication of the findings of the Grouse Moor Management Group (the Werritty report).

A brilliant question. Forget ‘waiting for Werritty‘ which has been the Scottish Government’s default response to every single raptor persecution crime since May 2017, Colin wants to know what action is being taken NOW.

The Government’s response came from Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham on 12 Sept, as follows:

The Scottish Government is strongly committed to safeguarding the welfare of all animals, including wild birds such as raptors.

The illegal persecution of our birds of prey is an extremely serious issue and, as we announced in our Programme for Government for 2019-2020, we will bring forward a Bill increasing the maximum penalties for certain wildlife offences, including those associated with illegal killing or injuring of wild birds. This will deliver a commitment to implement the recommendation to increase wildlife crime penalties in the review undertaken by Professor Poustie.

We also committed in the Programme for Government that we will respond to the independent review on grouse moor management. The review is examining how we can ensure that grouse moor management is sustainable and complies with the law and it would not be appropriate to make decisions in advance of its report. We will carefully consider the recommendations in the report and other relevant evidence when deciding our response.

The measures on wildlife crime penalties build upon a range of other work we have undertaken to tackle this issue, including: supporting the use of satellite tags to monitor birds of prey; introducing new offences for harassing birds of prey or damaging their nesting places; setting up a poisons disposal scheme to remove poisons used to kill wild birds; strengthening Police Scotland wildlife crime resources, including in the Cairngorms; and introducing vicarious liability so that landowners can be held responsible for crimes against wild birds committed by their employees.

Roseanna’s response carefully avoids answering Colin’s question directly. Colin asked what Scot Gov was doing ‘as a matter of urgency ahead of the publication of the Werritty report’. Roseanna’s response confirms, in effect, that Scot Gov is doing absolutely nothing at all in advance of the Werritty report.


And guess what? We’re still waiting for Werritty, despite being told by Scot Gov at the end of July that the report was due ‘in the next few weeks’. What an embarrassing fiasco it has become.

Whoever wrote Roseanna’s response was surely having a laugh, judging by the last paragraph. Yes, Scot Gov has introduced new offences for harassing birds of prey or damaging their nesting places but as far as we’re aware, there have been no prosecutions for these offences even though there have been a number of reports of raptor nests being deliberately burned out on grouse moors.

And yes, Scot Gov set up a poisons disposal scheme (two, in fact) to remove poisons used to kill wild birds and yet still we’re seeing raptors being illegally poisoned and still gamekeepers are being found guilty of possessing these illegal poisons.

And yes, Scot Gov did support a pilot scheme for a number of police special constables (essentially volunteers working in their own time) in the Cairngorms National Park but there has been no (public) assessment of the scheme’s impact and raptor persecution crimes were still reported in the National Park during the scheme’s duration.

And yes, Scot Gov did introduce vicarious liability so that landowners could be held responsible for crimes against wild birds committed by their employees but so far this has only resulted in two successful convictions in 7.5 years and only last month yet another landowner avoided any charges of alleged vicarious liability and the Crown Office chose not to explain this decision to the public.



Raising awareness of eagle persecution at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

Many thanks to multi-award-winning author Gill Lewis for inviting us to share the stage with her at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival to raise awareness about eagle persecution on Scottish grouse moors.

Gill was there to present on a couple of her new books, including Eagle Warrior, which was inspired by the suspicious disappearance of golden eagle Fred in the Pentland Hills in 2018. She generously shared an hour-long slot so the audience could hear not just just about her book but also about the long-term killing of golden eagles on driven grouse moors and the Scottish Government’s apparent reluctance to do anything much about it.

[Photo by Olivia Robertson]

[Photo by Olivia Robertson]

Thanks also to Kirsten Lamb of publishers Barrington Stoke who turned up to the event with a big pile of postcards, pre-addressed to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, allowing audience participants to draw pictures of eagles and write a personal message to Ms Sturgeon urging her to take action.

We ended up with 42 postcards, some created by children as young as five years old and others created by a Professor and Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh! It was brilliant to meet nine-year-old Freddie (now ten!) who’d previously drawn a postcard and had managed to get a response out of Ms Sturgeon, which is more than the rest of us had managed. Here are some of the cards drawn at the Festival:

At the end of the session a few of us decided to walk across the road to Bute House to hand deliver the cards but we were told at the door that we’d need to post them. The cards are all now individually stamped so hopefully someone in the First Minister’s office will make sure they land on the right desk. Perhaps Golden Eagle Species Champion Andy Wightman MSP should call in to her office and ask to see the cards and could put them on display somewhere at Holyrood, along with all the other cards that have been sent in in recent months.

Thanks again to Gill, Jane Sandell (Chair), Kirsten Lamb and everyone at the Book Festival who made us so welcome. Thanks also to the fantastically engaged audience who responded with such energy and purpose. We’re aware that some audience members were intent on taking cards back to their schools to encourage further participation.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Blog Stats

  • 5,546,480 hits


Our recent blog visitors