Posts Tagged ‘golden eagle

07
Sep
21

Scotland’s Programme for Government announced: grouse moor licensing, SSPCA powers & General Licence review

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has today revealed the 2021 to 2022 Programme for Government, outlining the policies and actions that are expected to take place over the coming year as well as the expected legislative programme for the forthcoming parliamentary year.

This programme for Government is the first one since the historic power-sharing agreement between the SNP and the Scottish Greens and it’s apparent that there has been some influence from the Greens’ policy machine.

The 2021 to 2022 Programme for Government can be downloaded here:

Of obvious interest to this blog is when the Scottish Government is finally going to pull its finger out and deliver the grouse shooting licence it promised in response to the Werritty Review, back in November 2020. We’re fast approaching a year since that commitment was made, which came a full year after the Werritty Review’s recommendations were presented to the Government (Nov 2019), which came more than two years after the Werritty Review was commissioned (May 2017) on the back of a devastating report that showed the extent of ongoing golden eagle persecution and its link to the driven grouse shooting industry. That report had been commissioned by the Government in August 2016 on the back of an RSPB press release about eight young satellite-tagged golden eagles disappearing in highly suspicious circumstances on grouse moors in the Monadhliaths over a period of five years.

As you can see, and as many of you already know, the Government has been promising action on this for a very long time and now having committed to taking that action, it needs to bloody well get on with it.

Since the Government’s announcement in Nov 2020 that it would, finally, introduce a grouse-shooting licence without delay, more birds of prey have turned up illegally killed, including this young golden eagle, found ‘deliberately poisoned’ (according to Police Scotland) on an Invercauld estate grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park, in the heart of Royal Deeside.

We cannot afford to have any further procrastination, navel-gazing or can-kicking.

Here’s what the Programme for Government (p90) says about delivering the Werritty Review recommendations:

As the 2021 grouse-shooting season is already underway, I would want to see progress on this policy before the start of the 2022 season, in August next year. That means Scot Gov needs to get on with its stakeholder and public consultations as soon as possible.

Also featuring in the Programme for Government is a review of the use of General Licences, which are used to permit the widespread killing of millions of birds each year (typically various crow species, and others) without any real oversight or monitoring, ostensibly for quite sensible reasons such as the protection of crops, to protect public safety and to conserve some bird species. Campaign group Wild Justice has been busy challenging the lawfulness of these licences in England, Wales (and currently Northern Ireland), arguing that the current licences are not fit for purpose and that they allow too much ‘casual killing’. The group’s efforts have forced significant review and change by the statutory authorities. It is believed that this proposed review of the General Licence system in Scotland is designed to head off any potential legal challenge that Wild Justice may be considering. That’s smart.

Here’s what the Programme for Government (p90) says about its General Licence review:

Animal welfare issues feature quite strongly in the Programme for Government and many of my colleagues in other organisations will no doubt be pleased that these issues feature, but will probably be less pleased about the ongoing delay beyond this parliamentary year for tackling some of them.

Here’s what the Programme for Government (p89) says about animal welfare issues:

The issue of increased powers for the Scottish SPCA is of significant interest, not just for the benefit it’ll bring to animal welfare but specifically, for the boost these additional powers will provide to wildlife crime investigations in Scotland.

However, this is a subject that the Scottish Government has been procrastinating on for over ten years. Personally, I don’t believe that the new ‘independent taskforce’ (still to be appointed) will ‘report before the end of 2022’. Why don’t I believe it? Because the Scottish Government has failed, repeatedly, to stick to its promises on this subject:

For new blog readers, here’s the timeline of embarrassment:

February 2011: Increased powers for the SSPCA was first suggested by former MSP Peter Peacock as an amendment during the Wildlife & Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill debates. The then Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham rejected it as an amendment but suggested a public consultation was in order.

September 2011: Seven months later Elaine Murray MSP (Scottish Labour) lodged a parliamentary motion that further powers for the SSPCA should be considered.

November 2011: Elaine Murray MSP (Scottish Labour) formalised the question in a P&Q session and the next Environment Minister, Stewart Stevenson MSP, then promised that the consultation would happen ‘in the first half of 2012’.

September 2012: Nine months later and nothing had happened so I asked Paul Wheelhouse MSP, as the new Environment Minister, when the consultation would take place. The response, in October 2012, was:

The consultation has been delayed by resource pressures but will be brought forward in the near future”.

July 2013: Ten months later and still no sign so I asked the Environment Minister (still Paul Wheelhouse) again. In August 2013, this was the response:

We regret that resource pressures did further delay the public consultation on the extension of SSPCA powers. However, I can confirm that the consultation document will be published later this year”.

September 2013: At a meeting of the PAW Executive Group, Minister Wheelhouse said this:

The consultation on new powers for the SSPCA will be published in October 2013“.

January 2014: In response to one of this blog’s readers who wrote to the Minister (still Paul Wheelhouse) to ask why the consultation had not yet been published:

We very much regret that resource pressures have caused further delays to the consultation to gain views on the extension of SSPCA powers. It will be published in the near future“.

31 March 2014: Public consultation launched.

1 September 2014: Consultation closed.

26 October 2014: I published my analysis of the consultation responses here.

22 January 2015: Analysis of consultation responses published by Scottish Government. 233 responses (although 7,256 responses if online petition included – see here).

I was told a decision would come from the new Environment Minister, Dr Aileen McLeod MSP, “in due course”.

1 September 2015: One year after the consultation closed and still nothing.

25 February 2016: In response to a question posed by the Rural Affairs, Climate Change & Environment Committee, Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod said: “I have some further matters to clarify with the SSPCA, however I do hope to be able to report on the Scottish Government’s position on this issue shortly“.

May 2016: Dr Aileen McLeod fails to get re-elected and loses her position as Environment Minister. Roseanna Cunningham is promoted to a newly-created position of Cabinet Secretary for the Environment.

12 May 2016: Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens) submits the following Parliamentary question:

Question S5W-00030 – To ask the Scottish Government when it will announce its decision regarding extending the powers of the Scottish SPCA to tackle wildlife crime.

26 May 2016: Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham responds with this:

A decision on whether to extend the investigatory powers of the Scottish SPCA will be announced in due course.

1 September 2016: Two years after the consultation closed and still nothing.

9 January 2017: Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens) submits the following Parliamentary question:

Question S5W-05982 – To ask the Scottish Government by what date it will publish its response to the consultation on the extension of wildlife crime investigative powers for inspectors in the Scottish SPCA.

17 January 2017: Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham responds:

A decision on whether to extend the investigatory powers of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will be announced in the first half of 2017.

31 May 2017: Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham rejects an extension of powers for the SSPCA ‘based on legal advice’ and instead announces, as an alternative, a pilot scheme of Special Constables for the Cairngorms National Park (here). It later emerged in 2018 that this pilot scheme was also an alternative to the Government’s 2016 manifesto pledge to establish a Wildlife Crime Investigation Unit as part of Police Scotland – a pledge on which it had now reneged (see here).

November 2019: The pilot scheme of Special Constables in the Cairngorms National Park was an absolute failure as a grand total of zero wildlife crimes were recorded by the Special Constables but plenty were reported by others (see here).

June 2020: Mark Ruskell (Scottish Greens) proposed further powers for the SSPCA at Stage 2 of the Animals and Wildlife Bill. The latest Environment Minister, Mairi Gougeon persuaded him to withdraw the proposed amendment on the basis that she’d consider establishing a taskforce to convene ‘this summer’ to consider increased powers (see here).

December 2020: Mark Ruskell (Scottish Greens) submits two Parliamentary questions asking about the status of the taskforce and who is serving on it (see here).

January 2021: New Environment Minister Ben Macpherson says the taskforce has not yet been appointed but that it is “expected to be established later this year“ (see here).

September 2021: In the 2021 to 2022 Programme for Government it was announced that the ‘independent taskforce [Ed: still to be appointed] will report before the end of 2022’ (see today’s blog, above).

Given the Government’s embarrassing track record on kicking this issue in to the long grass, I fully expect to be writing a blog in a year’s time about how zero progress has been made. I hope I’m proved wrong.

07
Sep
21

Reports of wildlife crime doubled during lockdown, says Police Scotland Chief

Press release from Police Scotland:

Operation Wingspan, a year-long campaign to tackle wildlife crime, working with partners, including the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland, has seen considerable success and is now entering its final phase.

This involves officers working on the persecution of fresh water pearl mussels and tackling all aspects of poaching, including hare coursing. As with previous phases, it will involve a combination of enforcement action and education.

Overall, the campaign has involved officers engaging with a number of organisations, including the agricultural community, ranger services, land managers and game keepers with the aim of educating the wider public and encouraging them to report wildlife crime to the police.

Detective Sergeant Billy Telford, Police Scotland’s Wildlife Crime Co-ordinator, said: “We have many internationally renowned species that attract thousands of nature lovers and tourists every year to Scotland, but many crimes against wildlife are cruel and barbaric, often involving a painful death.

From hunting deer, hares or badgers with dogs, to using poisons or snares on protected birds, and protecting one of our lesser known species, the critically endangers freshwater pearl mussel, Operation Wingspan is raising awareness and hopefully encouraging people to come forward and report this kind of crime.”

[This young golden eagle was found ‘deliberately poisoned‘ with a banned toxin on an Invercauld Estate grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in March this year. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

Operation Wingspan began in October 2020 and Phase One saw officers tackling the trade in endangered species and included visits to over 300 business premises, such as antique dealers, retro shops and pet shops across Scotland to advise owners and provide information about potential contraventions under The Control of Trade in Endangered Species (COTES) 2018 regulations. It resulted in the seizure and recovery of alligator heads from across the country.

Phase Two tackled badger persecution, working with the charity Scottish Badgers, to highlight that badgers and their setts are protected, that it is an offence to harm or interfere with them and that badger baiting is illegal. Where ongoing risks were identified, action was taken to protect the sett and the badgers.

Phase Three saw officers taking part in a construction conference to outline the responsibilities of developers, highlighting that it is an offence to destroy or damage roosts, as well as engaging with bat groups and visiting vulnerable roosts, ultimately leading to people being charged for undertaking development that threatened the welfare of bats.

In Phase Four concentrated on raptor persecution. Officers have carried out a number of activities, including patrols of vulnerable nesting sites, warrants executed in relation to wildlife crime and a social media campaign with an educational video that was produced in collaboration with the RSPB.

Detective Chief Superintendent Laura McLuckie said: “Reports of wildlife crime doubled during lockdown and Police Scotland is dedicated to working closely with a wide range of partner organisations to reduce the harm to species targeted by criminals and the communities who rely on them for employment and tourism across Scotland.

Tackling wildlife crime is not just about enforcement, it is also about working with partners and raising public awareness to prevent it happening. Indeed, the public has an important role in helping up to investigate reports of wildlife crime and I would urge anyone with concerns or who suspect a wildlife crime has been committed to contact us on 101, and if it is an emergency to call 999.”

More information can be found on our website: https://www.scotland.police.uk/wildlifecrime

ENDS

26
Aug
21

Eight more young golden eagles released in southern Scotland

Eight more young golden eagles have been released in southern Scotland as part of the project to bolster the tiny remnant breeding population there, which has been suppressed for decades, largely due to illegal persecution (e.g. see here for a recent example).

The eight eagles were collected as chicks from nests further north with expertise and assistance provided by members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group. The eaglets were cared for in aviaries at a secret location near Moffat until they were fully developed, and were then fitted with satellite tags and given a final health check before being released in to the wild.

This brings the total number of golden eagles successfully released in southern Scotland to twelve, where they’ve joined a small number of other young golden eagles that have hatched in the wild there in the last few years and who remain in the area, all of them also being satellite-tracked to monitor their survival.

The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project is coordinating these releases and this lottery-funded project still has a number of years to run and more eagles are expected to be released in the future.

Up until now, the released birds and the wild birds have been observed interacting well (e.g. see here) and now the numbers are slowly increasing it’ll be interesting to see whether there are more flights over the border into northern England.

Two videos have been produced to illustrate the process of the eagle releases this year – the first video is about how the young eaglets are collected from their nests, and the second video explains what happens while the birds are being held in the aviaries up until the point of release. If you can ignore the tedious background muzac the content is very good:

21
Aug
21

Golden eagles have been illegally killed on Scottish grouse moors for 40+ years but apparently we shouldn’t talk about it

In response to the news that Police Scotland are investigating the circumstances of five eagles found dead in the Western Isles earlier this month (see here), Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), the grouse moor owners’ lobby group has issued what I’d call a staggeringly disingenuous statement, where the blame for ongoing raptor persecution appears to be being projected on to those of us who dare to call out the shooting industry for its ongoing war against birds of prey.

Here’s SLE’s statement in full, dated 20 August 2021:

Response to raptor fatalities should not depend on location or landuse

Reports of five eagles being found dead on the Western Isles are very serious. 

Police Scotland has said that officers are investigating and it is to be hoped that the facts of these potentially shocking incidents are established as quickly as possible.

The birds – four golden eagles and a white-tailed sea eagle – were found at separate locations on Lewis and Harris and it is said that, at this stage, they are not linked.

No grouse shooting takes place on the Western Isles and we wholeheartedly support the police’s appeal for information and anyone who can help should call Police Scotland on 101, or make a call anonymously to the charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

It has been suggested that intraguild predation – where one species predates on another – may be one possible explanation in these cases but equally we accept there is the prospect that a terrible wildlife crime has been committed to protect livestock.

If that is the case, outright condemnation is the only rightful response.

That applies wherever raptor persecution takes place.

The response from some quarters thus far to the incidents on the Western Isles is in sharp contrast to what happens over alleged incidents that occur in areas where land is managed for grouse shooting. In these cases organisations and campaign groups are very quick off the mark to point fingers. If a wildlife crime takes place on land managed for shooting, livestock farming or any other land use (and such incidents are thankfully rare, becoming more so all the time) then it must be investigated and the culprits should face the full force of the law. It can be difficult to prosecute but Scotland now benefits from some of the most stringent laws against raptor persecution in Europe. A lot more could be achieved with less finger pointing and more constructive collaboration on the ground. Scotland is fortunate to have historically high numbers of golden eagles and we want to see even more of them.

ENDS

So SLE is unhappy that campaigners keep ‘pointing fingers’ at the grouse-shooting industry whenever an illegally shot / poisoned / trapped bird of prey is discovered dead or critically injured on, er, a driven grouse moor?!!!!!!!!!

Or when satellite-tagged hen harriers and golden eagles keep ‘disappearing’ in suspicious circumstances, on or close to driven grouse moors.

If these crimes were just a one-off, once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence then yes, perhaps SLE would have a point. However, the connection between the driven grouse shooting industry and the illegal persecution of birds of prey has been clear for decades, and backed up with endless scientific papers and Government-commissioned reviews (here are the latest for golden eagle and for hen harrier).

Here’s an example of how long this has been going on – a scientific paper published in 2002, using data from 1981-2000 – demonstrating an indisputable link between grouse moors and illegal poisoning:

1981 – that was 40 years ago!!

And yet here we are in 2021 and still illegally poisoned golden eagles are being found dead on grouse moors and still nobody has ever been successfully prosecuted in Scotland for killing a golden eagle. The most recently confirmed poisoned eagle was this one inside the Cairngorms National Park, right next door to the royal estate of Balmoral. In fact this eagle is believed to have fledged on Balmoral a few months before it flew to neighbouring Invercauld Estate (an SLE member, no less) where it consumed a hare that had been smothered in a banned pesticide and laid out as a poisoned bait. The person(s) responsible for laying this poisoned bait have not been identified.

[Poisoned golden eagle laying next to poisoned mountain hare bait, Invercauld Estate, Cairngorms National Park. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

Such is the extent of illegal persecution on some driven grouse moors, it is having (and continues to have) a population-level effect on some species, including golden eagles, hen harriers, red kites and peregrines.

And such is the extent and quality of this scientific evidence, the Scottish Government has committed to implementing a licensing scheme for grouse shooting in an attempt to try and rein in the criminal activity that underpins this so-called ‘sport’ because Ministers recognise the grouse-shooting industry is incapable of self-regulation.

I don’t know what SLE means when it says it wants ‘more constructive collaboration on the ground‘. Perhaps it means that gamekeepers will step forward and provide more than ‘no comment’ interviews when the police are investigating the latest crime on a grouse-shooting estate, instead of offering the usual wall of silence?

Perhaps it means the estate owners will refuse to employ the sporting agents and head gamekeepers whose methods are well known to include routine raptor persecution? (These individuals are well known – it’s no secret within the industry who they are).

Or perhaps it means that the shooting industry itself, including the game-shooting organisations, the shooting press etc will blacklist those estates known to still be killing birds of prey, instead of accepting funding donations from them and pretending that they don’t know what’s going on there?

That’d be useful, constructive collaboration, wouldn’t it?

Until all of that happens, SLE and the rest of the grouse shooting cabal can expect people like me and my colleagues in the conservation field to continue shining a bloody great big megawatt spotlight on this filthy industry.

20
Aug
21

Five eagles found dead in Western Isles – Police Scotland open investigation

Police Scotland have opened an investigation on the Western Isles after the discovery of five dead eagles within the space of a week.

Two golden eagles and a white-tailed eagle were found dead on the Isle of Harris on 7th August, and another two golden eagles were found dead on the Isle of Lewis on 14th August 2021.

This article about the discoveries appeared yesterday in The Herald:

Police say they are investigating after five eagles were found dead in the Outer Hebrides in a space of a week. 

Two golden eagles had been found dead two miles south of Bragar on the Isle of Lewis on August 14. 

While two golden eagles and white tailed sea eagle were found dead near Bowglass on the Isle of Harris, a week before on August 7. 

The birds found on August 7 were significantly decomposed but forensic work is being undertaken to try to establish how they died.

Although the eagles were found dead in similar circumstances, the incidents are not being treated as linked.

Inspector Jane MacKenzie said: “Around 1.25pm on Saturday 14 August 2021, officers received a report that two golden eagles had been found dead two miles south of Bragar on the Isle of Lewis. Enquiries are ongoing to establish the full circumstances.

Enquiries are also ongoing after two golden eagles and white tailed sea eagle were found dead near Bowglass on the Isle of Harris on Saturday, 7 August, 2021. They were significantly decomposed but forensic work is being undertaken to try to establish how they died.

Eagles are protected birds of prey and Police Scotland will always investigate reports of these birds being found dead. It can be highly complex, requiring detailed scientific work, but we will always strive to bring anyone responsible for this type of wildlife crime to justice.

Anyone with information about these birds, or any wildlife crime, can contact Police Scotland on 101, or make a call anonymously to the charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”

ENDS

That police quote is fairly circumspect, which is perhaps understandable given the investigation is still in the early stages and this isn’t an official police press release. However, local information provided to me suggests the investigation into the first incident is much further ahead than has been indicated here. Based on that information, I’m very surprised to see the journalist claim the incidents are not being treated as linked (presumably that information came from the police?). Hmm, I wonder…..

Although if a crime is confirmed, don’t expect the investigation to result in a prosecution. Despite Inspector MacKenzie’s fine words, which undoubtedly were given with genuine sincerity, I’m not aware of anybody being convicted for killing an eagle in Scotland.

Ever.

If you have information about these five dead eagles, please contact Police Scotland on 101.

04
Aug
21

New golden eagle satellite tags being tested in Cairngorms National Park, an eagle-killing hotspot

Press release from Cairngorms National Park Authority (3rd August 2021). My commentary is below that.

High tech tags to give insight into lives of golden eagles in Cairngorms National Park

Three golden eagle chicks in the Cairngorms National Park have been successfully tagged using the latest innovative technology. Three estates in the Cairngorms National Park – including two in Strathspey – are part of this latest raptor tagging initiative, a partnership project that has been developed and funded by the Cairngorms National Park Authority and NatureScot.

The ‘Celltrack’ tags being used have come from the USA and are among the leading technology in raptor tagging. They will provide a better understanding of the species’ movements, habitat preferences and mortality.

The birds’ movements are tracked in real-time by CNPA staff and partners with transmissions coming in daily, providing a multitude of data that can help better understand the life of juvenile golden eagles, with an inbuilt alert system should mortality occur, whether through natural causes, persecution or other anthropogenic influences. The tags have the ability to detect unusual behaviour and send alerts with accurate locations.

‘Celltrack’ tags make use of an innovative dual communication system with data being sent over the mobile phone network as well as through a network of (ARGOS) satellites. By using this hybrid communication system, the large quantity of location fixes acquired each day can be transmitted over the mobile phone network, with the additional security of satellite communications when birds are out of signal.

Dr Ewan Weston, an independent research ecologist, has been in charge of tagging the golden eagle chicks under licence. He commented: “Having been involved in fitting tags to eagles for 14 years, the technological advances in the tags we use now bring data that was previously unimaginable. The data we receive, feeds into wider research on the species and covers aspects of golden eagle biology and environment, providing an insight into aspects of their lives in incredible detail. This work has included aspects of their dispersal behaviour, interaction with the landscape and developments such as wind farms.”

Dr Pete Mayhew, Director of Nature and Climate Change at the CNPA said: “The more we know about golden eagles in the Cairngorms National Park – from fledging through to acquiring their own territories – the better we can conserve and enhance their populations for the future. This is another excellent conservation partnership project involving government bodies and private estates who all wish to see a healthy future for our raptor species.”

The CNPA set out plans for a golden eagle tagging project in 2019, which included the use of British Trust for Ornithology-provided tags; however, delays in production, technical issues and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has seen the project switch to using ‘Celltrack’ tags. However, partners will continue to work closely with BTO over the coming months, including sharing data from the three recently tagged golden eagle chicks.

Seafield & Strathspey Estates are a partner in the project – their Chief Executive Will Anderson said: “We are very proud of our raptor populations here and as a result we are involved in several tagging projects. We are particularly pleased to be partnering with the Park Authority in this initiative as the type and volume of data collected is likely to be incredibly beneficial to be able to plan for the future with the birds needs in mind.”

The RSPB Scotland has also had one of their young golden eagles tagged as part of this project. Fraser Cormack, RSPB Scotland Abernethy Warden said “With raptors still being persecuted in Scotland the data that these tags provide could be crucial in helping to stop such crimes. Also with this potentially being a new territory it will be great to see the chicks movements after fledgling and where it disperses to in the future.”

Andy Turner, NatureScot Wildlife Crime officer, added: “NatureScot are providing strong support to the CNPA on this project. This innovative technological development will strengthen our understanding of golden eagle movements, aiding both research and hopefully acting as a deterrent to illegal persecution. The ability for instant alerts and complex motion data will provide welcome new insights into the movements of these special birds.  If this is successful, I hope we can deploy this technology more widely.”

Licenses to tag Golden Eagles are granted on behalf of NatureScot by the British Trust for Ornithology who look at various criteria, especially animal welfare. Tag data will be managed by a small, dedicated team at the CNPA and Dr Ewan Weston, NatureScot, and Police Scotland’s Wildlife Crime Unit.

ENDS

Hmmm. In principle, I am fully supportive of the continued satellite-tagging of golden eagles in Scotland because of the incredible insight they have provided in to the lives of this often elusive species.

Researchers have been able to provide tag data to influence conservation policy, based on new information about these birds that would previously have been almost impossible to find out (e.g. see here for a fantastic piece of modelling, based on satellite tag data, to predict how young dispersing golden eagles in Scotland will use specific landscape features, and here for the most recent scientific paper, again based on satellite tag data showing how young golden eagles in Scotland are actively avoiding wind turbines).

This sort of research is fundamental to our ability to conserve golden eagles and the quality of the research undertaken in Scotland is held in high regard by fellow scientists in Europe and North America.

I’m also very pleased to see the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) and NatureScot continue to recognise the importance and significance of golden eagle satellite-tagging, and be willing to put their money where their mouths are by funding this tagging sub-project, despite the best attempts of the grouse-shooting industry to derail this type of research. The shooters object because as well as ecological and biological insights, these tags are also providing illuminating information about the locations where golden eagles are still being illegally killed, almost 70 years after they became a protected species.

Significantly, the satellite tag data have allowed researchers to identify several geographical clusters where golden eagle persecution still takes place and more often than not, these are on or very close to moors being managed for driven grouse shooting. Unfortunately for the CNPA, some of those clusters are actually inside the Cairngorms National Park:

[This map shows the last known locations of satellite-tagged golden eagles that have either been found illegally killed or have disappeared in suspicious circumstances between 2004-2016. Data from the SNH report Analyses of the fates of satellite-tracked golden eagles in Scotland (2017) authored by Dr Alan Fielding & Dr Phil Whitfield]

It’s clear then, that the CNPA (and NatureScot) are in an embarrassing position and want/need to be seen to be doing something about the ongoing persecution. And ongoing it is, as we’ve seen with an illegally poisoned white-tailed eagle being found on a grouse moor inside the National Park last year (here) and yet another illegally poisoned golden eagle being discovered on another grouse moor inside the National Park earlier this year (see here). The subsequent bad press from these crimes is difficult for the CNPA to deal with (e.g. here).

And that leads me to be cynical about the timing of this latest press release. If you remember, back in 2019 the CNPA issued a similar press release (see here), stating that a new type of tag had been developed and would be fitted to golden eagles in the National Park over the forthcoming 18 months. The CNPA claimed this new tag would ‘provide an instant fix on any birds which die’.

The reality was somewhat different. The ‘new tag’ wasn’t developed to a sufficient standard that it could be trialled and thus was not fitted. That 2019 press release was considerably premature and I’m going to stick my neck out again and say this latest press release is similarly premature. Although this time a ‘new tag’ has actually been fitted and deployed on three young birds, it is far too soon to know whether the tag actually works as is being claimed, not least whether it will provide an ‘instant alert’ when an eagle dies. The ‘new tag’ being deployed this time is collecting the same type of data as the tags we currently deploy on golden eagles, and it has been used to track raptors in North America, but it is not the tag that we were told was being developed, with public funding, to specifically help detect illegal persecution of golden eagles in Scotland.

So why might the CNPA be keen to put out this press release prematurely? Well, if you’re a cynic like me, you might think that the CNPA has recently received a barrage of criticism for its inability to prevent the illegal killing of golden eagles (and other raptors) inside the National Park, sparked by the discovery of the poisoned golden eagle on Invercauld Estate earlier this spring, and so they’re keen to try and turn that around:

[The deliberately poisoned golden eagle, next to a poisoned mountain hare bait. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

The timing of the press release might also have a lot to do with the CNPA’s forthcoming five-year management plan, where it will have to report on its failures to meet the previous plan’s raptor conservation-based objectives. If the CNPA can chuck in a few ‘positives’ in to the new plan, such as the deployment of these new tags, it might act as a sweetener to those who will, quite rightly, be criticising the Park’s lack of progress on this issue.

Having said all that, I wouldn’t be alone in being delighted if this tag does function as is being claimed, and provides an ‘instant alert’ when an eagle dies, whether that be from natural causes or from illegal persecution. Any technological advance that would help the police to identify the criminals would be warmly welcomed by all (except for the criminals, obviously).

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this new tag once the young eagles disperse during the autumn and travel into grouse moor areas where eagles are still not tolerated.

Incidentally, there will be short film about golden eagle persecution in Scotland being shown during this weekend’s live broadcast for Hen Harrier Day (Saturday 7th August 2021). If you want to hear more about this and what else is coming up, please sign up for Wild Justice’s event notification here.

27
Jul
21

Young golden eagles actively avoid wind turbines in Scotland: new scientific research paper

There’s a fascinating new scientific research paper just published in Ibis, the journal of the British Ornithologists’ Union, relating to the flight behaviour of young satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland in and around windfarms.

Authored by a number of experts from Scotland’s Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Group (GESTG), this study demonstrates how young golden eagles actively avoid operational wind turbines.

Here is the abstract:

The notion that young dispersing golden eagles in Scotland appear to avoid wind farms was discussed in the Government-commissioned report published in 2017: Fielding & Whitfield, Analyses of the Fates of Satellite Tracked Golden Eagles in Scotland (see Chapter 8), when the authors were examining whether any of the tagged eagles that had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances were within the vicinity of a wind farm.

The report concluded that no, they weren’t, and it was recommended that further detailed research be undertaken to examine the movements of young satellite-tagged eagles in and around operational vs non-operational windfarms, which is the focus of this latest paper.

Unfortunately this paper is behind a paywall (a particular gripe of mine but that’s for another day) so I can’t post the full paper on here. However, I do have a related graphic that I think helps to illustrate some of the research findings of the paper.

This map shows the flight lines (red) of one of the young satellite-tagged golden eagles that Chris Packham and I are monitoring. It shows, quite clearly, how this young eagle is generally avoiding flying over / through the footprints of three large windfarms (blue) in the Monadhliath Mountains (thanks to Alan Fielding for the data analysis).

Why this avoidance technique seems so prevalent in young Scottish golden eagles, in sharp contrast to findings in some other countries where certain raptor species have been recorded in high incident turbine collisions, is really interesting.

Raptor collision with turbines depends on a wide number of variables including site and habitat-related issues as well as the behaviour and ecology of the particular raptor species. It is a well-studied subject in a number of countries and has demonstrated that just because one raptor species has been killed at one wind farm at one location, it doesn’t automatically mean that every raptor is threatened by every wind farm, everywhere. I’m afraid that’s just simplistic nonsense, trotted out by those who are either (a) anti-wind farm or (b) desperate to deflect attention away from the continued illegal poisoning, shooting and trapping of raptors by gamekeepers in the UK (e.g. see here and here).

In their discussion about why young Scottish golden eagles might be avoiding wind turbines, in addition to the finding that habitat suitability inside and outside of the wind farm is important, the authors in this latest paper refer to a concept known as ‘the ecology of fear’ and discuss the evolutionary history of golden eagle persecution in the UK and how this may be leading to a genetic predisposition to wariness of humans, with wind turbines being used as the ‘cue’ for eagles to express their fear (i.e. by avoidance).

This latest paper from the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Group is yet another significant contribution to our understanding of how golden eagles use the landscape and, along with this earlier paper from the GESTG, will greatly help planners and statutory agencies to make decisions that will have the least impact on this protected species and its preferred habitat.

It shouldn’t be necessary but apparently it is, to point out that this research is conducted by highly experienced conservationists, under licence, whose sole motivation is the protection of the golden eagle. They sacrifice time with their families and volunteer an enormous amount of personal time, personal funds and technical expertise to undertake this research. In any other country their efforts would be celebrated, applauded and appreciated (as indeed they have been in Spain!). But in Scotland, they are slandered, abused and attacked (e.g. here) by those who are desperate to corrode public and political confidence in raptor satellite-tagging because they know how incriminating these satellite tag data can be, exposing time and again the areas where birds of prey are being illegally killed.

There are a number of other peer-reviewed scientific papers from the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Group, due imminently.

18
Jul
21

Golden eagle festival (Scotland) – programme announced

Earlier this year it was announced that Moffat was to be named an ‘eagle town’ as part of a celebratory golden eagle festival planned to boost eco-tourism in south Scotland (see here).

Moffat had been chosen as it was close to the original release site for the South Scotland Golden Eagle Project, where young golden eagles were being translocated from sites further north and released in to south Scotland to boost the tiny population there that had previously been ravaged by illegal persecution (and there is still evidence that that persecution continues in some areas – e.g. see here).

The golden eagle festival is scheduled to take place between 19th – 26th September 2021, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and the programme for the event has just been announced – you’ll find details on the South Scotland Golden Eagle project website here.

The project partners have issued the following press release:

The full programme for the UK’s first ever Golden Eagle Festival has been revealed by a groundbreaking conservation charity initiative. The programme contains a number of fun and engaging events to help people understand how they can take an active role in increasing numbers of golden eagles in the south of Scotland.

One of these events will look at the development of Selcoth Forest, one of the area’s newest forests that has been designed to play a supportive role for a number of species and raptors including golden eagles. The event will explore how good woodland management can play a vital role in supporting conservation efforts.

The Moffat Eagle Festival, led by The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project and funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, will take place between 19 and 26 of September 2021 to support the charity’s conservation efforts and celebrate the vibrant town of Moffat becoming Scotland’s first Eagle Town.

With a keynote speech by one of the country’s leading wildlife film makers Gordon Buchanan, a family fun day, a Big Tree Climb and live music sessions, the festival will also showcase pioneering ways in which landowners and managers, residents and visitors can help golden eagles to flourish in southern skies once again.

Speaking about the Festival, and the significance of the talk by the team at Selcoth Forest, Colin Edwards, Environment Policy Adviser for Scottish Forestry said: “The Moffat Eagle Festival is a fantastic and important addition to the wildlife calendar. We’re particularly delighted to see that some of the Selcoth Forest team will be speaking at the event. They have been consulting closely with organisations like South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project and Scottish Raptor Study Group so that they can create a landscape in which woodlands  play a positive role to increase golden eagle foraging habitat, helping to establish and sustain a local population. Their work is an excellent example of how sustainable forest management can support conservation efforts, while also delivering social and economic goals for landowners and the wider local community.”

The privately owned Selcoth Burn Woodland Creation is designed to strengthen forest habitat networks, protect local views , improve biodiversity, protect water quality and provide a sustainable timber resource for the owners. Scottish Forestry has approved plans for the woodland creation, which are in line with The UK Forestry Standard and Scotland’s Forestry Strategy, and work is now underway. Consideration has been given to how the woodland can provide the ideal habitat for golden eagles to forage in. The development includes a permanent native birch woodland, alongside productive broadleaves, conifers and large areas of open ground, which will enable the site to have multiple benefits and create a good habitat for golden eagles. It its envisioned that as the scheme develops, prey species will become more abundant for eagles which will help to sustain a growing local population.

Cat Barlow, Project Manager for the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project added: “Last year, a pioneering sustainable forest development led to breeding success for a pair of golden eagles in a Highland estate, so we are absolutely thrilled to be consulting with the team at the Selcoth Forest on this development in the south of Scotland, and we’re excited to see how this can support our charity’s conservation work.

“Support from forestry and land managers, local communities, funders, volunteers, raptor specialists and other participants is absolutely vital in helping us to ensure golden eagles continue to grow in numbers and thrive in the area.

“We’re really looking forward to attending the Moffat Eagle Festival so that we can thank our supporters and help even more people understand how they could support our work.”

Gordon Buchanan will deliver the festival’s first virtual keynote speech about golden eagles and other Scottish wildlife on Friday 24 September. Speaking of his involvement, he said: “I’m delighted to be part of the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project’s first ever Golden Eagle Festival and to support their important conservation work to ensure golden eagles once again flourish in southern skies.

“The thrill of seeing a golden eagle soaring over a Scottish hillside is an unbeatable experience. Each glimpse of this magical bird is special, but they should and could be more common in the south of Scotland.”

The full Moffat Eagle Festival programme includes events and activities delivered by a range of leading wildlife groups including RSPB Scotland, NatureScot, Scottish Forestry, Scottish Land & Estates, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, Wild Eskdale, and the Scottish Raptor Study Group. There will even be a workshop delivered by a leading wildlife photographer.

Caroline Clark, Director Scotland of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “The Golden Eagle Festival is yet another innovative way in which The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project is helping communities learn about this awe-inspiring bird of prey and the role it plays in Scotland’s biodiversity. Thanks to funding from players of the National Lottery, not only will the Festival bring new visitors to discover this beautiful part of Scotland, but it will help safeguard the golden eagle’s existence for future generations.”

Welcoming their town’s role in supporting the project and hosting the festival, Leys Geddes chair of Visit Moffat said: “Less than a mile from the motorway, we are ideally situated to become Scotland’s First Eagle Town, to host the first Eagle Festival, and to celebrate the golden eagle – one of Scotland’s most iconic species.

“The Moffat Hills are often described as mini-highlands, owing to our 300 square kilometres of hills, outstanding scenery and rich wildlife, so the perfect area for golden eagles to thrive. It would be wonderful to ensure they become a regular sighting for visitors to the area.”

South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project partners include NatureScot, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Land & Estates, Scottish Forestry, and the Southern Uplands Partnership.  The project has been funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, project partners, Scottish Power Renewables, the Scottish Government and local LEADER Programmes. The initiative is a key project under the Scottish Government’s 2020 Challenge for Scottish Biodiversity (which has a route map to protect and restore Scotland’s biodiversity).

ENDS

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.

01
Jul
21

Poisoned golden eagle: Cairngorms National Park Authority refuses to publish correspondence with Invercauld Estate

In March this year, a golden eagle was found dead, next to a poisoned hare bait, on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park.

Toxicology results showed the eagle had been illegally poisoned with a banned pesticide. Police Scotland conducted a multi-agency search, under warrant, of various properties on Invercauld Estate in May 2021 (here) and issued an appeal for information on what they described as a ‘deliberate’ poisoning (here).

The Cairngorms National Park Authority issued a statement condemning the deliberate poisoning (here).

Invercauld Estate also issued a statement, supporting the police investigation and denying that the deliberately poisoned eagle was found on land managed for grouse shooting – even though, er, it seems that it was (see here and here).

[The deliberately poisoned golden eagle, next to the poisoned hare bait, on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate, March 2021. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

The following week, the Cairngorms National Park Authority published a further statement, this time on behalf of the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership (ECMP), a consortium of six estates, including Invercauld, supposedly working in partnership with the Park Authority since 2015 to deliver ‘coordinated and sustainable moorland management’.

The statement from ECMP (read in full here) confirmed that Invercauld Estate ‘had left the group‘. There was no indication whether Invercauld had been expelled or had resigned of its own accord or what process, if any, had been undertaken to reach a decision.

So I submitted an FoI to the Cairngorms National Park Authority to try and find out.

Here’s part of the response I received:

This response came as no surprise to me because the Cairngorms National Park Authority has form for covering up the consequences of alleged criminal behaviour on Invercauld Estate – e.g. see here, here and here. The Park’s Board also has a number of members with a clear association with Invercauld Estate – whether this had any bearing on the Park’s decision about what to release and what not to release can only be open to speculation, obviously, because the information is being withheld. Again.

Still, as long it’s being withheld to allow Police Scotland to ‘complete their investigation’, which of course the CNPA will know (or at least can predict) to be going absolutely nowhere, just like the other ~80+ raptor persecution crimes uncovered in the Cairngorms National Park since 2003 that, with a single exception, haven’t resulted in a prosecution.

Part of the material that the CNPA did release suggests that Invercauld Estate resigned and wasn’t pushed (see below) although without seeing the full correspondence between the estate and the CNPA I’d be wary of drawing any conclusion because it just doesn’t add up, given Invercauld’s protestations when the news first broke that this eagle had been found poisoned on that estate.

This is a copy of an email sent from the CNPA’s Chief Executive, Grant Moir, to the Board. It’s a bit difficult to read with such a tiny font so it’s transcribed below:

Dear Board Member

The East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership will shortly be putting out the attached statement following a meeting of the partnership yesterday. At the meeting the partnership heard from Invercauld estate and Invercauld estate tendered their resignation from the partnership. After a good discussion the partners agreed to the resignation and have all agreed to the wording of the attached statement. It was also clear from the meeting that the remaining members are determined to make the partnership work.

NatureScot have also released a statement today which indicates they are looking at general licence restrictions for Invercauld Estate.

Throughout I have been keeping the Convenor of the Board up to speed on the issues and I will update the board further on Friday if there is any further information.

All the best

Grant

Grant Moir, Chief Executive, Cairngorms National Park Authority

So what of the Police’s ongoing investigation in to this deliberately poisoned golden eagle? No further news (but I trust they’ll be asking the CNPA for copies of the unpublished correspondence between Invercauld and the Park Authority because apparently it’s relevant to the police investigation).

Will NatureScot decide to impose a General Licence restriction on Invercauld Estate? No news.

What of the future of the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership? A recent blog addressing this very issue from Nick Kempe writing for ParkswatchScotland is well worth a read (here).

And what of the Scottish Government’s promise to get to work on drafting the terms and conditions of a grouse shooting licensing scheme, whereby estates can lose their licence if raptor persecution crimes continue? No further news.




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