Posts Tagged ‘golden eagle

20
Feb
17

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

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

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

Green = favourable conservation status

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

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

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

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

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

24
Jan
17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alternative Fact #1

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

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

Alternative Fact #2

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

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

Alternative Fact #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12
Dec
16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

05
Dec
16

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

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

RSPB SCOTLAND RESPONDS TO GIFT OF GROUSE PRESS RELEASE

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

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

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

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

ENCOURAGING NUMBERS OF BIRDS OF PREY SIGHTED ON SCOTTISH MOORLANDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10
Nov
16

National survey reveals golden eagles still ‘missing’ from Eastern Highland grouse moors

The results of a national survey of golden eagle territories have revealed mixed fortunes for this iconic species.

The survey, undertaken in 2015 by licensed experts from the Scottish Raptor Study Group and the RSPB, was a follow up to the previous national survey, undertaken in 2003.

The recent survey shows an overall 15% increase in the golden eagle population, rising from 442 pairs to 508 pairs. This is very welcome news, especially as the golden eagle can now be considered to be in ‘favourable conservation status’ nationally (to reach this status at least 500 golden eagle territories should be occupied by pairs).

However, don’t be fooled. Whilst a favourable national conservation status sounds like everything’s going just fine for the golden eagle, it masks a more sinister picture of what’s taking place regionally.

As in 2003, golden eagles are still doing very well in western Scotland, and there have been recent improvements in parts of central Scotland (although the loss of eight young eagles in five years is a huge concern), but the population is still being suppressed in parts of eastern Scotland, just as it was in 2003.

In the 2015 survey, less than one third of the traditional ‘home ranges’ in this area were occupied by a pair of eagles and no eagles were recorded at all in over 30% of them, despite the fact that these should be very productive landscapes for these birds. Many of the vacant territories in this area are on ground managed intensively for driven grouse shooting and in recent years, four eagles fitted with satellite tags have been found illegally killed in the central and eastern Highlands (see here, here, here and here).

Let’s also not forget that the national golden eagle population should be over 700 breeding pairs. In that context, a 2015 national population of 508 pairs means that around 200 pairs are still ‘missing’.

We’ll look forward to reading the peer-reviewed paper about these survey results in due course because that should provide a far greater level of detail than the overview provided in today’s press release. For instance, we’ll particularly be looking at the age structure of the 2015 breeding population (assuming it’s been recorded). It’s well known that in recent years, in some areas, golden eagle breeding pairs have comprised adults and juveniles/sub-adults. That isn’t ‘normal’ for a healthy population and is actually indicative of a serious underlying problem. Breeding pairs should comprise two adults. Alarm bells should be ringing when you see a juvenile/sub-adult as part of a breeding pair because this suggests there are insufficient adults available to breed.

[Map shows the regional conservation status of the golden eagle (following the 2003 national survey): green = favourable; amber = unfavourable (marginal); red = unfavourable (definitive). Source: Golden Eagle Conservation Framework]

27
Sep
16

Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘disappears’ in Cairngorms National Park

Another of this year’s hen harrier chicks has ‘disappeared’ just a few weeks after fledging, this time in the Cairngorms National Park.

This one was called Brian, after raptor worker Brian Etheridge, and he had hatched in a nest in Perthshire, within the National Park. After fledging, he stayed within the Park boundary until his signal, ‘suddenly and without warning‘, stopped abruptly on 22 August 2016 a few miles from Kingussie. Searches for his body and tag proved fruitless. The details of Brian’s short life can be read here on the RSPB Skydancer blog.

kingussie

brian-july16_jennyweston

This is a photo of Brian taken at the nest in July with his newly-fitted satellite tag (photo by Jenny Weston).

Brian is the second of this year’s cohort to suddenly ‘disappear’ – in early August, hen harrier Elwood also vanished, in the grouse moor ridden Monadhliath mountains just to the NW of the Park (see here).

The area around Kingussie is also ridden with driven grouse moors. In fact, it wasn’t far from here where hen harrier Lad’s corpse was found in September 2015, suspected shot (see here).

So what now? A few weeks ago, following the ‘disappearance’ of eight satellite-tagged golden eagles, as well as hen harrier Elwood, in the Monadhliaths, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced a review of the sat tag data of three raptor species – golden eagle, hen harrier, red kite – to ‘look for patterns of suspicious activity‘ (see here). That review is very welcome but the team working on the analysis is not expected to report until March 2017 at the earliest. That’s six months away. And then there’ll be further delays as the Government digests the review’s findings and thinks about how to respond, or not.

And to be frank, we don’t need to wait for the review to detect ‘patterns of suspicious activity’ – the pattern of illegal persecution has been known for years. The cause of these raptor disappearances is not unreliable sat tags (94% reliability in a recent study of Montagu’s harriers – see here), nor is it non-existent wind farms (see here), nor is it ‘bird activists’ killing the birds to smear the grouse shooting industry (see here).

We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again. Endless peer-reviewed scientific papers and government reports on golden eagles, hen harriers, red kites and peregrines have unequivocally linked the illegal killing of these raptors with intensively-managed driven grouse moors. Why pretend nobody knows what’s going on?

The ‘disappearance’ of Brian is bad enough, but for this ‘disappearance’ to take place in the Cairngorms National Park just adds to the ever-increasing catalogue of shame that the Park Authority needs to address. Cue expressions of ‘disappointment’ and more stalling tactics (futile partnership-working and discussions) from the CNPA.

Here’s that catalogue of shame, in full:

2003

Apr: 3 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + 2 grey partridge baits. Kingussie, CNP

Jun: Attempted shooting of a hen harrier. Crannoch, CNP

2004

May: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cuaich, CNP

Nov: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Cromdale, CNP

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale, CNP

2005

Feb: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale, CNP

Feb: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale, CNP

Mar: 3 x poisoned buzzards, 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Crathie, CNP

2006

Jan: 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Dulnain Bridge, CNP

May: 1 x poisoned raven (Mevinphos). Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

May: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Morven [corbett], CNP

May: 1 x poisoned raven + 1 x poisoned common gull (Aldicarb) + egg bait. Glenbuchat, CNP

May: egg bait (Aldicarb). Glenbuchat, CNP

Jun: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Glenfeshie, CNP

2007

Jan: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Glenshee, CNP

Apr: Illegally set spring trap. Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

May: Pole trap. Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

May: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Tomintoul, CNP

May: Illegally set spring trap. Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Jun: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit & hare baits. Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Jun: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Jul: 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Ballater, CNP

Sep: 1 x shot buzzard. Newtonmore, CNP

Sep: 1 x shot buzzard. Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

2008

Jan: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Nr Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Mar: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Nr Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Nr Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

2009

May: 2 x poisoned ravens (Mevinphos). Delnabo, CNP

Jun: rabbit bait (Mevinphos). nr Tomintoul, CNP

Jun: 1 x shot buzzard. Nr Strathdon, CNP

Jun: 1 x illegal crow trap. Nr Tomintoul, CNP

2010

Apr: Pole trap. Nr Dalwhinnie, CNP

Jun: 1 x pole-trapped goshawk. Nr Dalwhinnie, CNP

Jun: Illegally set spring trap on tree stump. Nr Dalwhinnie, CNP

Sep: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Glenlochy, CNP

Oct: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Nr Boat of Garten, CNP

2011

Jan: 1 x shot buzzard. Nr Bridge of Brown, CNP

Mar: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Glenbuchat, CNP

Apr: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran & Aldicarb). Nr Bridge of Brown, CNP

May:  1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Glenbuchat, CNP

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

Jun: 1 x shot peregrine. Pass of Ballater, CNP

Aug: grouse bait (Aldicarb). Glenlochy, CNP

Sep: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon, CNP

Nov: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon, CNP

2012

Apr: 1 x shot short-eared owl. Nr Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Apr: Peregrine nest site burnt out. Glenshee, CNP

May: Buzzard nest shot out. Nr Ballater, CNP

2013

Jan: White-tailed eagle nest tree felled. Invermark, CNP

May: 1 x shot hen harrier. Glen Gairn, CNP

May: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat, CNP

2014

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

May: Armed masked men shoot out a goshawk nest. Glen Nochty, CNP

2015

Sep: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Lad’ found dead, suspected shot. Newtonmore, CNP.

2016

May: 1 x shot goshawk. Strathdon, CNP

Jun: Illegally set spring traps. Invercauld, CNP

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Brian’ ‘disappears’, near Kingussie, CNP

In addition to the above list, two recent scientific publications have documented the long-term decline of breeding peregrines on grouse moors in the eastern side of the National Park (see here) and the catastrophic decline of breeding hen harriers, also on grouse moors in the eastern side of the Park (see here).

And let’s not forget the on-going massacre of mountain hares, taking place annually within the boundary of the National Park (e.g. see here, here).

Let’s see how the Environment Secretary and the Cairngorms National Park Authority respond this time. We’ll add links to any statements if/when they appear throughout the day.

UPDATE 18.40 hrs: Too embarrassing for words (here)

UPDATE 29 September 2016: Official responses from Environment Secretary and Cairngorms National Park Authority (here)




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