Posts Tagged ‘golden eagle

18
Apr
19

BASC’s mask slips again as Director dismisses sat tag evidence as “hysterics”

Have a look at this tweet from Duncan Thomas, a regional director of the British Association for Shooting & Conservation (BASC):

Dear oh dear. And BASC had been trying soooooo hard to convince everyone it accepted the findings of the recently published hen harrier satellite tag paper that showed at least 72% of sat tagged hen harriers were presumed illegally killed on grouse moors.

In response to that scientific peer-reviewed paper BASC’s Executive Director of Conservation had even stated:

We are grateful that this research has been carried out. Satellite tags are a tool in the fight against persecution. We have to make sure there is no place left for criminals to hide“.

This is the second time in recent weeks that Duncan Thomas has caused what should be considerable embarrassment to those at BASC’s head office – last time was when he went on the telly to claim that “there’s a tiny amount of persecution occurring” [in the Peak District National Park] despite overwhelming evidence that’s stacked up over the last two decades that shows otherwise –  see here.

Does this look like an organisation committed to tackling the illegal killing of birds of prey?

Why is BASC still a member of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG)? It boycotted the last RPPDG meeting and then shortly afterwards claimed it was still “committed to constructive dialogue“.

Does referring to the scientific findings of the hen harrier and golden eagle sat tag papers as “#raptorhysterics” look like constructive dialogue to you?

How will this appalling attitude help progress the work of the RPPDG?

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23
Mar
19

New satellite tag to detect illegal killing of golden eagles in Cairngorms National Park, eagle-killing hotspot

Press release from Cairngorms National Park Authority (23 March 2019)

Cutting edge technology to provide new insight into lives of Scotland’s golden eagles

An innovative new type of satellite tag has been designed to provide a boost to understanding raptor movements and behaviour, as well as help understand the fate of birds which die in the Cairngorms National Park and more widely across Scotland.

Over the next 18 months some young Golden Eagles in and around the Cairngorms National Park will be fitted with a novel ‘Raptor Tracker’ tag, as part of a trial which will provide key information on movements and behaviour, such as whether a bird is feeding or resting. Most importantly, it will provide an instant fix on any birds which die.

Tags in current use are limited in what information they can provide on the exact location of any bird which dies.  This new tag uses the ‘geostationary Iridium’ satellite network and ensures that signal information is always available. Crucially, it has been developed with multiple sensors; these immediately send a ‘distress’ signal, with an exact location, back to base if unusual behaviour is detected. This early warning system has the added benefit of helping to rapidly identify and recover birds which have died.

[An illegally killed satellite-tagged golden eagle, believed to have been trapped on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens resulting in its legs almost being severed, and then dumped in a layby several km away, inside the Cairngorms National Park, where it was left to die an horrific death. Photo by RSPB]

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: This is great news for improving our understanding of eagle behaviours, and in the fight against wildlife crime. The tags should make a real difference in deterring would-be criminals, as well as playing a key role in establishing exactly what happened, should any of these magnificent birds of prey disappear or die in unusual circumstances.”

Grant Moir, CEO of the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) said: “Raptor conservation and tackling wildlife crime is one of the aims of the recently launched Cairngorms Nature Action Plan 2019-2023. This is an exciting breakthrough in the technology around raptor conservation, understanding the birds and combatting wildlife crime.”

Robbie Kernahan, Head of Wildlife Management, of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) added: “This exciting new technology will give us new information on the movements of these iconic birds. This should also be a significant deterrent to anyone thinking of persecuting raptors, as we will have detailed information on birds’ movements in the minutes leading up to their death.”

Charlie Everitt, UK National Wildlife Crime Unit commented: “This new tag is a significant step forward in using technology to research further the intriguing ranging behaviour of Golden eagles. However, the implications for preventing wildlife crime and as an aid to enforcement are also very apparent. I look forward to the trial and working closely with colleagues in CNPA and SNH.“

Phil Atkinson, Head of International Research, BTO said: “BTO has been developing new tagging technologies for several years, working to increase the quality and type of information collected. These new ‘Raptor Tracker’ tags have the potential to reveal new aspects of Golden Eagle behaviour, providing fascinating insights into their lives. We are looking forward to the trial and what it reveals.”

The CNPA and SNH have been working on this for over two years, and for the last six months the British Trust for Ornithology has been involved in developing the new tag. The tags will be placed on birds over the next 18 months to trial them. Changes can be made to the tags remotely to ensure that they are working optimally.

If the trial proves successful, the organisations will look at putting these on more Golden Eagles and also the potential miniaturisation of the technology to allow similar tagging of Hen Harriers and other species.

END

Some of what has been written in this press release is absolute nonsense, in terms of the limitations of some of the highly sophisticated satellite tags currently deployed on golden eagles. However, to focus on that would detract from the bigger picture of what is being proposed, and that’s far more important to discuss.

The development of a tag that can potentially send what amounts to a distress signal from the exact location and at the exact time the tagged eagle is being illegally killed is to be warmly welcomed. If this tag works as the manufacturers claim it will, it will provide wildlife crime investigators with high quality evidence of the precise location of the crime, which currently can only be inferred from tag data depending on the tag’s ‘duty cycle’, which determines when it’s programmed to transmit data to the tag operator (this can vary between a matter of hours and a number of days, depending on tag type). That would be a seriously good development.

What it wouldn’t do is to identify the individual criminal, especially if the crime took place on a large grouse moor estate where multiple gamekeepers are employed (which is where most of the golden eagle killing in Scotland has taken place). In those situations, the wildlife crime investigation wouldn’t get any further than the current situation we see playing out so often today –  that is, the body and the tag removed from the scene and destroyed, “no comment” interviews from all suspects and no way for the police to identify the actual individual responsible. Without that identification, a prosecution cannot proceed.

That’s not to say that the estate would get off scot free though, as they currently do. Conservationists have been arguing that the pattern of evidence from the current raptor satellite tags that suddenly and inexplicably ‘disappear’ should be sufficient evidence for SNH to impose General Licence restrictions on the offending estates. For some reason (unexplained, as far as we can tell), this has not been happening, even though the Environment Cabinet Secretary acknowledges the significance of the data pattern (see her editorial in the Government’s annual wildlife crime report). However, if this new tag can do what is claimed it can do, there’s no question that that information should be accepted by SNH and sanctions should be applied to the estate involved.

It’s great that this tag will be trialled in and around the Cairngorms National Park, given that some of the more intensively-managed grouse moors in and at the edge of the Park are well-known golden eagle-killing hotspots, as shown in this map derived from data provided in the golden eagle satellite tag review in 2017. It’s interesting that none of the people quoted in the press release mentioned this fact!

It is though, very pleasing indeed to see such senior figureheads recognise that the deployment of satellite tags on threatened raptor species is an acceptable and important conservation tool and a helpful investigative tool for detecting wildlife crime. It seems the concerted campaign by several meat heads in the gamekeeping world, which has included disgraceful personal attacks and smears on the integrity of those who fit satellite tags, has fallen on deaf ears.

We look forward to hearing about the field trials on this new tag in due course. Well done to all involved.

19
Mar
19

‘Effective regulation required for excesses of driven grouse shooting in Scotland’

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland, has written a blog discussing the state of raptor conservation in Scotland, how certain species are still suffering due to the ongoing illegal killing associated with land managed for driven grouse shooting, and how the Scottish Government needs to bring about significant change.

Duncan’s blog is reproduced here:

EFFECTIVE REGULATION MUST BE PUT IN PLACE IN SCOTLAND TO TACKLE THE EXCESSES OF “DRIVEN” GROUSE SHOOTING

Most people accept that the conservation prospects for many raptor species in Scotland have improved in recent decades, and since full protection of these birds in the UK from the 1950s. This is most apparent in the rise in the common buzzard population. This bird of prey species has made a welcome return and can now be seen in almost all of the countryside of lowland Scotland, and even in some of our main towns and cities. Like the common buzzard, various other raptor species have re-established their populations naturally,  particularly when the main constraint of human persecution has ceased or been significantly reduced. Red kite and white-tailed eagle have been given a helping hand by conservationists, working with landowners, through well planned reintroduction programmes, and are also on the way back.

Raptor species are now amongst the most studied birds in Scotland, much of this work prompted by the effects of organochlorine pesticides on their populations from the 1960s. We have good information on the population distribution of most raptor species, as well as a clear scientific understanding of the main threats to their conservation status. There are a number of native raptor species whose populations have not recovered, and these include the hen harrier. National surveys of this species have shown that the population of hen harriers in Scotland has declined between 2004 and 2016 from 633 to 460 breeding pairs, or by 27%. When you scrutinise the data more carefully there are significant geographical differences; the breeding hen harrier population is doing relatively well on Orkney and the Western Isles but is struggling in the eastern and central Highlands and southern uplands. The authoritative Conservation Framework for Hen Harriers in the UK (Fielding et al. 2011. JNCC) estimated that the Scottish breeding population of this species should be between 1467 and 1790 breeding pairs based on the availability of suitable nesting habitat. So what is happening?

[Hen harrier, photographer unknown, via Alamy]

What is now becoming clearer is that many raptor populations in Scotland are held below their potential population levels and range because of continuing illegal human persecution on land managed for “driven” grouse shooting. For the raptor species that have got commoner, it is clear to those who monitor them that even these species are largely absent from “driven” grouse moor areas as breeding birds. Equally, the raptor populations that hang on in these areas do not behave as you would expect – traditional nesting sites become occupied periodically, and then breeding birds disappear or nesting attempts routinely fail in mysterious circumstances. Young birds attempt to breed that would normally be excluded from good sites by adult birds. For those species, like the hen harrier, where grouse moors are their most suitable breeding habitat, and where populations remain heavily persecuted , it is held that their populations simply cannot increase without changes in land management culture and behaviours. Population “sinks” occur where the best habitats are repeatedly attracting nesting birds and these birds are repeatedly killed illegally. Most recently, new technological advances in the study of the survival and dispersal of birds, in the form of GPS satellite tagging, have reinforced the point that many of these marked raptors simply vanish without trace in grouse moor areas. The report “Analyses of the fate of satellite tagged golden eagles in Scotland” (Whitfield et al. 2017. SNH) highlighted that a third of a large sample of marked golden eagles disappeared in precisely this way.

[RPUK map, derived from data in the golden eagle sat tag review, showing the last known location of satellite-tagged golden eagles that had disappeared in suspicious circumstances on or close to driven grouse moors]

Sadly, it is now clear to many people involved with raptor conservation efforts that progress has stalled. Until now, the Scottish Government has made important, but piecemeal changes, to raptor protection laws. These measures have had the desired impact in large parts of Scotland. However, on land managed for “driven” grouse shooting, it is equally evident that raptor persecution is such an entrenched part of their business model, that tougher measures are now urgently required. Our RSPB Investigations team report that ever more extreme measures are being deployed by grouse moor gamekeepers to kill birds of prey and avoid detection, including the use of thermal imaging gear and night vision equipment to kill raptors at night. Many in the grouse moor community will tell you quite openly that they do not believe that they can manage their estates to deliver high grouse bags for sporting clients without breaking wildlife protection laws. This appalling situation has been further compounded in recent decades by the arrival on the scene of a new breed of sporting manager, and the proliferation of more intensive grouse moor management methods, involving ever increasing grouse bags for clients to shoot. This type of operator has commercialised grouse shooting. They have the resources to disregard public opinion; they have little concern for Scotland’s international reputation; and feel safe in the knowledge that it is very hard for the public authorities to bring the perpetrators of these wildlife crimes to justice.

From a RSPB Scotland perspective, we have put significant investment over many years into working with responsible landowners. We recognise that many landowners understand the harm that is being done to their sector by the more extreme grouse moor interests, but are apparently powerless to stop this momentum. We have engaged with conflict resolution processes, including the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project, designed to investigate ways that grouse moors can be managed both legally and sustainably. However, we have reluctantly concluded that amongst the “driven” grouse moor sector at least, there is little appetite to adapt businesses in line with modern day expectations. We simply do not think that further piecemeal changes to wildlife protection laws will be adequate.

The current independent Grouse Moor Management Review Group, commissioned by Scottish Government, is due to report in May 2019. This could be an important milestone if we are prepared to accept that a significant change must occur if we are to tackle the deeply embedded cultural issues concerning the current model of “driven” grouse moor management. This is also why the RSPB supports the licensing of “driven” grouse moors, including proportionate sanctions to remove such licences to operate, where the public authorities have good evidence of illegal activities taking place.

ENDS

14
Mar
19

More on proposed reintroduction of golden eagles to Wales

Last month we blogged about conflicting approaches to the proposed reintroduction of golden eagles to Wales (see here).

One group (Eagle Reintroduction Wales Project, ERW) being led by researchers at Cardiff University is part-way through conducting a careful scoping exercise to properly consider all the factors that need to be addressed before permission for a reintroduction would be granted, e.g. biological and environmental considerations, social and political considerations, and comprehensive risk assessments and an exit strategy.

The other group (Wilder Britain) is a newly registered Community Interest Company being led by Dr Paul O’Donoghue of Wildcat Haven and Lynx Trust UK ‘fame’. A press release from Wilder Britain stated that an application to release golden eagles would be submitted this summer, which appears to us to be premature.

Private Eye picked up on this news and have published a piece in their latest edition:

Meanwhile, Dr O’Donoghue wrote to RPUK to complain about last month’s blog. Unfortunately Dr O’Donoghue’s email went straight to the spam folder so it’s only just been discovered but in the interests of transparency it’s published here so that everyone has the opportunity to view his extensive ornithological expertise:

Just a couple of points from us.

When we wrote, “We’re not aware of Dr O’Donoghue’s experience or expertise in ornithology or in the field of raptor research and conservation” in our earlier blog, we did not ‘seek to lead the reader to believe that I [Paul O’Donoghue] have no relevant ornithological experience‘. If that’s what we had wanted to say, that is what we would have said! We said we were not aware of Dr O’Donoghue’s experience or expertise in ornithology or in the field of raptor research and conservation, simply because we weren’t aware of it. His name is not a familiar one in the scientific journals we read.

Having now become aware of Dr O’Donoghue’s ornithological experience and expertise, based on the information he provided, we maintain our support for the Cardiff University ERW Project’s robust approach to assessing the feasibility of a reintroduction of golden eagles to Wales.

Meanwhile, Dr O’Donoghue has been the subject of more media attention, this time at a public meeting to discuss his proposal to reintroduce the Lynx to various sites in Scotland. It didn’t end well, according to the Scottish Farmer (see here).

09
Mar
19

‘Eagles are being slaughtered as part of serious organised crime’

Revive, the coalition for grouse moor reform held its first ever fringe event at a party political conference yesterday, at the Scottish Labour conference in Dundee.

The event was chaired by Claudia Beamish MSP and three speakers from Revive joined the panel (Dr Ruth Tingay of RPUK, Max Wiszniewski, Revive Campaign Manager, and Dr Craig Dalzell, Head of Policy & Research at Common Weal) with another coalition member (Dr Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland) in the audience.

[Photo by Louise Robertson]

Each speaker gave a ten minute presentation followed by approx 20 minutes of questions from the floor.

It was brilliant to see a number of journalists in the audience, resulting in some good coverage in the papers today.

The Herald focused on the illegal persecution of golden eagles and hen harriers on or close to driven grouse moors and journalist Alistair Grant got the message loud and clear that, in our opinion, the extent of this persecution on many driven grouse moors is such that it amounts to serious organised crime. [Definition by the National Crime Agency: ‘Serious crime planned, coordinated and conducted by people working together on a contuining basis. Their motivation is often, but not always, financial gain‘]

Here’s the text from The Herald article:

GOLDEN eagles and other protected birds of prey are being illegally slaughtered in what amounts to “serious organised crime”, a leading expert has said.

Dr Ruth Tingay of Raptor Persecution UK said birds are being killed on or near grouse moors across Scotland before the evidence is then removed to avoid prosecution.

She spoke out during a fringe meeting at the Scottish Labour conference in Dundee.

Claudia Beamish MSP, the party’s environment spokeswoman, said it backed strict new rules for estate owners – including a total ban on the use of lead shot and the large-scale cull of mountain hares.

She said: “In order for grouse moors to continue, if indeed they do, there needs to be very robust licensing.”

Labour delegates heard grouse moors cover almost a fifth of Scotland, with estates handed more than £300,000 a year in public subsidies.

Revive, a coalition of organisations calling for change, insisted estates should be stripped of this cash as part of a crackdown aimed at encouraging radical land reform.

It said the intensive land management associated with driven grouse shooting causes environmental damage.

Meanwhile, there is evidence scores of birds have been illegally killed on or near estates, it said.

Dr Tingay, a leading raptor ecologist, said: “My argument is that what we are seeing here – not just with golden eagles but with other birds of prey, particularly hen harriers, which are also persecuted on driven grouse moors – is serious organised crime.

If the Government accepted this, we would see a lot more resources coming in to deal with this issue.”

She said some estimates suggest 50 eagles a year are disappearing.

Revive is made up of Raptor Persecution UK, Friends of the Earth Scotland, animal charity Onekind, the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland and think tank Common Weal.

Craig Dalzell, head of policy and research at Common Weal, said estates should be opened up to other uses.

He said grouse moors in Scotland had an annual economic impact of £32 million and were responsible for around 2,640 jobs.

In comparison, forestry boasts an annual economic impact of £973m and creates 26,000 jobs, he said.

ENDS

The Press & Journal also covered this fringe event and journalist Tom Peterkin headlined with this:

Here’s the text of the P&J article:

Labour has said there should be robust licencing of grouse shooting amid claims that illegal wildlife killing on sporting estates amounted to “serious organised crime”.

The call was made by Shadow Environment Secretary Claudia Beamish at a Labour conference fringe meeting where she cast doubt on the survival of the pastime in the long-term.

The meeting was hosted by Revive, an organisation campaigning for the reform of the country sport and whose agenda includes stripping grouse moor landowners of public subsidies.

Speaking at the meeting, Ms Beamish said it would be “valid” for a licencing system to take into account issues raised by Revive.

Ms Beamish said: “I think that in order for grouse moors to continue – if indeed they do – there needs to be very robust licencing and robust monitoring.”

Ms Beamish made her remarks after campaigners claimed grouse moors only supported 3,000 jobs on an average salary of £11,500 despite accounting for almost one fifth of Scottish land.

Ruth Tiingay of Raptor Persecution UK, drew attention to golden eagles killed on Scottish moors, arguing it was “serious organised crime”.

Max Wiszniewski of Revive said his organisation was “not going for a ban” on grouse shooting “however understandable that would be”.

Rather Revive’s focus was to reform it as much as possible, including an end to government subsidies, heather burning limits, a lead ammunition ban, a ban on snares and more action against wildlife crime.

He said: “The question may come about if the industry can’t survive after the necessary reforms, it possibly has to reflect on itself.”

ENDS

This was a very worthwhile event. Revive signed up more supporters to its pledge for grouse moor reform (you can sign online here if you haven’t already done so), it was an opportunity to interact with a number of politicians who were keen to learn more about the Revive campaign and the media was interested in what we had to say.

Well done to Max (Revive Campaign Manager) for organising this event and many thanks to Claudia Beamish MSP for her interest and support.

Revive will be at other party political conferences later this year.

19
Feb
19

Conflicting approaches to reintroducing golden eagles to Wales

The prospect of potentially reintroducing golden and white-tailed eagles to Wales has been on the cards for many years.

The most serious effort to examine whether this might be feasible and appropriate is being undertaken by a team of researchers at Cardiff University under the auspices of the Eagle Reintroduction Wales (ERW) Project (view their website here).

The ERW team’s approach to considering an eagle reintroduction is exemplary. It has involved several years of carefully conducting a scoping exercise, to properly consider all the factors that need to be addressed before a reintroduction licence would be granted, e.g. biological and environmental considerations, social and political considerations, and comprehensive risk assessments and an exit strategy.

The project lead is a 2nd year PhD student, Sophie-Lee Williams, who spent her first year researching and mapping the core historical ranges of both species in Wales and is currently habitat mapping and assessing prey availability etc. She has a cracking powerpoint presentation available here from a talk she gave last summer at an environmental management conference. Not only has Sophie-Lee been coordinating the research, but she’s also been busily building a genuine partnership approach, working with Wildlife Trust Wales and the highly experienced raptor reintroduction expert, Roy Dennis. This is exactly how proposed reintroductions should be managed, especially when the species is an apex predator that is likely to be both welcomed and despised in equal measure by different members of the local community.

You might have seen news of the ERW’s work in the media yesterday (e.g. BBC news here and Wales Online here). It was all over the place, and we couldn’t understand what the hook was. There was nothing new to report, other than the research project was ongoing but still a long way from drawing any conclusions, so a news release seemed a bit premature.

But then late last night we received an embargoed press release, via a colleague, about another, different project that was planning on reintroducing golden eagles to Wales. Suddenly it was clear why the ERW team had wanted to talk publicly about their own research in this area, because here comes a ‘Johnny-come-lately’ whose involvement doesn’t appear to include working in partnership with the ERW team.

The new guy on the block is Dr Paul O’Donoghue, who is apparently working under the name of a newly registered Community Interest Community (CIC), ‘Wilder Britain‘ (and see website here) and whose press release made it to publication this morning (e.g. see here). Of course, Dr O’Donoghue isn’t really a ‘new guy’ at all – he’s been around for several years and many will know of him through his connection with Wildcat Haven and the Lynx UK Trust. We don’t intend to comment further on either of those two projects for reasons that should be obvious if you know some of the history (if you don’t know, google it).

We’re not aware of Dr O’Donoghue’s experience or expertise in ornithology or in the field of raptor research and conservation.

Dr O’Donoghue was featured on BBC Breakfast this morning (see here, at various points through the programme – only available until 09.15hrs Weds morning) and again on the BBC’s Countryfile Winter Diaries this morning (see here, starts at 02.17hrs, available for 29 days).

[Screengrab from Countryfile Winter Diaries]

Dr O’Donoghue talked about the need to consider the concerns of local landowners and farmers and the need to undertake research to inform a decision about the feasibility of a successful reintroduction but it was suggested in the programme (by the presenter) that the hope was to have golden eagles back in the wild in Wales by 2020, and in the Wilder Britain press release it was stated that a licence application to release eagles would be submitted this summer.

That sounds particularly premature, and unless Dr O’Donoghue has already completed a lot of the prior scoping research required for such an application, it may well lead to a resounding refusal on similar grounds to those cited by the UK Government when it recently decided to refuse an application for the reintroduction of Lynx to Kielder Forest (see here).

This looks set to become messy.

For the sake of the eagles and a viable long-term future in Wales, let’s hope the ERW team’s efforts have not been in vain.

28
Jan
19

More on the SGA’s “completely false” claim that hen harrier Saorsa has been re-sighted

Last Friday we blogged about how the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) had published a statement claiming that a satellite-tagged hen harrier (‘Saorsa’) had been “re-sighted in Perthshire” after the RSPB reported it as having disappeared in suspicious circumstances from the Angus Glens last year.

RSPB Scotland issued a statement in response which said the SGA’s claim was “completely false” (here).

Despite being told “there isn’t a shred of evidence to support the claim that it [Saorsa] has reappeared“, the following day the SGA was still promoting its fake news on Twitter:

Other Twitter users offered equally conclusive evidence that Saorsa was alive and well, along with Shergar:

It’s also worth revisiting the SGA’s statement made when Saorsa was first reported missing last year, especially an extraordinary claim made by Bert Burnett of the SGA, who suggested that the RSPB had peverted the course of justice by finding Saorsa’s body and ‘secreting it away because it had died of natural causes’ (here).

On last Friday’s blog we said we’d return to the SGA’s latest press release about Saorsa to discuss some of the other inaccurate claims made about the satellite-tagging process. Many of the myths have been dealt with before, on this blog and elsewhere, and yet still the SGA churns out this guff, either too stupid to grasp the basics or deliberately trying to discredit the technology that’s revealing so much about the widespread extent of illegal raptor persecution.

So, here’s the SGA’s original press release (Friday 25 January 2019) and our commentary in italics:

GAMEKEEPERS SEEK ACCOUNTABILITY OVER SATELLITE TAGGED RAPTORS

Scotland’s gamekeepers are calling for accountability regarding satellite tags fitted to wildlife.

The call comes after The Scottish Gamekeepers Association learned that a tagged Hen Harrier, reported as disappearing ‘suspiciously’ in Angus last May, was re-sighted in Perthshire afterwards, according to investigators.

[RPUK: Nope, she hasn’t been “re-sighted” since she vanished in the notorious Angus Glens in Feb 2018].

Anti-grouse moor campaigners who owned the tag’s data publicly blamed the grouse industry, urging Scottish Government to license the sector.

[RPUK: Nope, the RSPB are not “anti-grouse moor campaigners”, they are simply calling for the regulation of grouse moor management. And nope, when Saorsa disappeared the RSPB did not “publicly blame the grouse industry” – the SGA has fabricated this claim – you can read the RSPB’s press statement about Saorsa’s disappearance in Feb 2018 here and you won’t find a single word of accusation against anyone or any industry].

However, no media statements were issued to correct the accusations, leaving local estate employees living with the burden of criminal suspicion.

[RPUK: No media statements were issued (by the RSPB) because, er, Saorsa is still missing from the Angus Glens. And again, to repeat ourselves, the RSPB did not make a single accusation against any industry, estate or estate employee when reporting Saorsa’s disappearance].

The SGA has also learned of a sea eagle currently flying around Grampian with a tag dangling from its body, potentially endangering its welfare.

[RPUK: Are we seriously expected to believe that the SGA is concerned over a sea eagle’s welfare?!! Isn’t this the group that has repeatedly lobbied for licences to enable the legal killing of this and other raptor species in Scotland? Ah yes, here. And isn’t this the group that’s lobbied the Scottish Government in abject hysteria about sea eagles potentially eating babies? Ah yes, here and here. And hasn’t this species been relentlessly persecuted on Scottish grouse moors, notably the victim of illegal poisoning (e.g. here), as well as having its nest tree illegally felled on an Angus grouse moor? Ah yes, here].

The female sea eagle, pegged with yellow wing markings and the letter ‘E’, has been spotted by concerned land managers.

In recent times, four golden eagles have also been independently photographed in the Angus glens with displaced tags; one clearly hanging from a bird’s neck.

Another eagle was observed in Perthshire last week with the bird’s feathers completely obscuring the tag; something manufacturers acknowledge will distort readings.

[RPUK: If a tag’s solar panel has been covered by a feather the tag won’t charge and the steady decline in battery voltage will be revealed in the tag’s engineering data. This means the tag operator can correctly identify battery drainage as the cause of the loss of data rather than the sudden and unexpected loss of data that is caused when someone kills the eagle and destroys the tag and hides the evidence of the crime].

Gamekeepers believe tags are now being deployed by campaigners as political weapons, aware there is no independent scrutiny.

[RPUK: Gamekeepers believe many things, such as white-tailed eagles being a threat to babies and toddlers, but it doesn’t mean there’s any truth in that belief. The SGA needs to read up on the strict regulations governing the deployment of satellite tags in the UK, which includes researchers quite rightly having to provide a proposal to the licensing authority that includes the detailed scientific justification for fitting a tag. Anybody seeking permission to fit tags as “a political weapon” will be laughed out of the door by the, er, independent scientific committee that scrutinises every single application].

Whilst the SGA is not advocating a ban, they believe Scottish Government must act to make fitting and monitoring of the devices accountable.

[RPUK: See above response]

An FOI to Scottish Natural Heritage by SGA revealed that the heritage body currently holds no information from satellite tags in Scotland, despite hundreds being operational.

Similarly, tag reliability cannot be independently verified as there is no duty for tag owners to disclose information regarding malfunction.

[RPUK: Incorrect. There is actually a duty for tag operators to report on tag status. In addition, concientious researchers are publishing data on tag malfunctions to enable tag manufacturers to constantly update and overcome any technical glitches in tag design. In addition, in the interest of transparency details of golden eagle tag malfunction were made publicly available in the Scottish Government-commissioned review in 2017. The number of tags known to have malfunctioned were insignifcant in relation to the number of tags that suddenly stopped and then vanished in suspicious circumstances, the vast majority of those occurring on driven grouse moors].

“At the moment, satellite tags are like the wild west,” said SGA Chairman Alex Hogg. “Anyone with funding can buy one, have it fitted to a protected bird, and retain its data. They can then release interpretations to the media, if the tag stops. We saw this with the choreographed ‘Fred the Eagle’ case near Edinburgh, which remains unexplained despite a concerted attempt to finger a grouse moor.

[RPUK: Incorrect. See above response on the rigorous licensing regulations for tag deployment in the UK. As for golden eagle Fred, we reported that he disappeared in suspicious circumstances right next to a grouse moor, in an area where other raptor persecution crimes had been discovered, just like all the other sat-tagged golden eagles that have disappeared in almost identical circumstances. We did not, at any time, accuse the grouse moor owner or his employees of any involvement. The SGA didn’t like the reports, which incidentally were all published with police approval, because Chris Packham’s involvement in the reports created a media storm. Too bad, the SGA had better get used to that – watch this space].

“Although tag fitters are approved, we have seen basic ‘granny knots’ used to fit tags and we have just heard of two tagged Harriers in Perthshire being killed by foxes within three days, with only one tag and body recovered. A tagged adult Harrier lost on National Trust ground this year was never found, neither was its tag, and a predated youngster was only discovered by chance. These are stories the public never hear and it is a shame they have to come out behind a veil of secrecy.

[RPUK: Could Alex Hogg explain how the SGA has been close enough to a sat-tagged raptor to identify a supposed ‘granny knot’? (The skilled fieldworkers who fit sat tags have had a long laugh about the depth of ignorance revealed by that claim, by the way). And as for Hogg’s claim that the public ‘never hear’ of tagged raptors dying from natural causes (it’s hardly news, Alex), perhaps he should pay more attention to RSPB blogs – here’s one from just a few weeks ago which, again in the interest of transparency, details, er, the natural deaths of several tagged hen harriers, but again these natural losses are heavily outnumbered by those that have vanished in suspicious circumstances on driven grouse moors].

“Despite claims these devices are almost infallible, failure rates and unexplained loss are high and there have been numerous examples of lost birds turning up alive or birds re-appearing miles or days from last tag signals.

[RPUK: These tags have a high rate of proven reliability but of course there will be a few exceptions to the rule  – nobody has ever denied that. The point is, these ARE exceptions to the rule and no matter how hard the SGA tries to deny it, the suspicious clustering of ‘missing’ tagged raptors, as repeatedly shown in the 2017 golden eagle sat tag review, is overwhelming evidence of continued widespread illegal persecution. We expect a similar pattern when the English hen harrier satellite tag data analysis is finally published (any time now?) and when the Scottish hen harrier satellite tag data analysis is finally published (hopefully soon). It’s strange that the SGA isn’t clamouring for these studies to be published].

“If this information was held independently, all this could be scrutinised transparently by experts and the relevant authorities could act accordingly.”

[RPUK: Er, the golden eagle sat tag data WERE scrutinised transparently by independent experts, and the relevant authority (Scot Gov) DID act accordingly by instigating a comprehensive review of grouse moor management and asking for recommended options for regulation, including estate licensing! Has Alex been smoking something?]

Late last year the SGA commissioned a legal opinion of SNH’s report into the fates of satellite tagged golden eagles, a paper which sparked the present review of grouse shooting.

[RPUK: Ah yes, the legal opinion that everybody dismissed, including the Scottish Government, not least because it was written by a lawyer with no scientific expertise].

The opinion, authored by QC Ronald Clancy, made a strong case for independent scrutiny of tags as the report relied entirely on manufacturer data for its conclusions.

“The present tagging system gives rise to accusation but no prosecutions.

“If tags are to be used to identify crime then the information must be held independently so it may lead to court action.

“If independent data monitoring makes things more difficult for people committing wildlife crime, that surely is in everyone’s interest,” added SGA Chairman Alex Hogg.

ENDS

It’s quite clear that the game-shooting industry, and especially the SGA, has spent considerable time and effort in recent years trying to undermine the satellite-tagging of raptors, either by launching disgusting personal & abusive attacks against those involved in the projects, or by arguing that raptor satellite-tagging should be banned because it’s ‘cruel’ and the tag data serve no purpose other than to try and entrap gamekeepers, or by claiming the raptors have been killed by imaginary windfarms, or by claiming conservationists have killed the raptors to set up gamekeepers, or by misapplying scientific results from failed saltwater turtle tags in the Indian Ocean to golden eagles in Scotland in the hope that nobody would notice! The industry knows how incriminating these raptor sat tag data are and so is desperately trying to do everything in its power to corrode public and political confidence in (a) the tag data and (b) the justification for fitting sat tags to raptors.

Fortunately, Scottish Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham is no fool and neither is the public. Every time another satellite-tagged raptor disappears in suspicious circumstances, another nail gets hammered in to the coffin.

“They can hide the tags. They can hide the bodies. But they can’t hide the pattern“ (Dr Hugh Webster).

UPDATE 30 January 2019: A sketch from Mr Carbo




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