Posts Tagged ‘golden eagle


Poisoned sea eagle: Chris Packham’s letter to Scottish Ministers

Public anger over the news that yet another bird of prey has been found illegally killed on a Scottish grouse moor – this time a white-tailed eagle found poisoned in the Cairngorms National Park – is showing no sign of subsiding (see here and click on the links to read some of the letters that have been sent to Scottish Ministers urging immediate action).

Chris Packham has now added his voice and has written to the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, as follows:

It’s not the first time Chris has spoken with Ministers about the ongoing persecution of eagles and other birds of prey on Scottish grouse moors.

In 2018 he had a long conversation with Roseanna Cunningham following the suspicious disappearance of one of our satellite-tagged golden eagles, ‘Fred’, who vanished just seven miles from the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh. You can watch the extended version of that conversation here:

Here we are, two years later, and what’s changed?

Absolutely nothing.

Except public anger has surged.

Thank you to everyone who has written to the First Minister and Environment Cabinet Secretary expressing your disgust and urging immediate action following this latest poisoning incident. The public’s reaction has been phenomenal.

Here are their email addresses for those who would still like to comment:

To email Nicola Sturgeon, please use this address:

To email Roseanna Cunningham, please use this address:

Thank you.


New paper documents history of eagles in Wales

An important new scientific paper has just emerged documenting the history of golden and white-tailed eagles in Wales.

Published in the journal Conservation Science & Practice, this new paper builds on the earlier, painstaking work of the much missed Richard Evans who, along with colleagues (see here), mapped the historical distribution of eagles across Britain and Ireland.

This latest paper, authored by Cardiff University PhD student Sophie-lee Williams et al, thoroughly evaluates the evidence for both species in Wales and maps their likely core distributions. The authors conclude there is strong evidence that both species were widespread across Wales but fell victim to persecution and haven’t bred there for over 150 years.

This paper is open access which means it is freely available to everyone.

Download it here: Williams et al 2020_Past distribution eagles Wales

The significance of this paper relates to a proposed reintroduction of golden and/or white-tailed eagles to Wales. Many blog readers will recall that this prospect has been on the table for a while and whilst there is still a lot more work to complete before licence applications are submitted, understanding the species’ past historical ranges is important.

Some blog readers may recognise some of the names involved in this latest research. They are part of the Eagle Reintroduction Wales Project (ERWP) (website here) who we blogged about last year when news emerged that a different team was also contemplating an eagle reintroduction in Wales, but apparently without the careful research assessment being undertaken by the Cardiff University team (see here). Fortunately, so far, that alternative approach hasn’t advanced very far (see here and here).

Hopefully it won’t be too long before we see more research results from the ERWP that’ll take us another step closer to restoring these eagles back to Wales.


Concern for safety of birds of prey on grouse moors during lockdown

Conservationists are deeply concerned about the safety of birds of prey, particularly on grouse moors, during the Coronavirus lockdown as many nest sites will be unmonitored for the first time in almost two decades.

In an article on The Ferret website yesterday Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) communications secretary Logan Steele is quoted:

SRSG is very concerned about the probable increase in incidents of raptor persecution during the lockdown. In particular on driven grouse moors, gamekeepers will be under less scrutiny from raptor workers and recreational visitors and so will effectively have a free hand.

The two species most at risk are hen harriers and golden eagles which are perceived to pose the greatest risk to grouse stocks and are routinely shot, trapped or poisoned“.

[Two golden eagle chicks at a Scottish nest site. Photo by Dan Kitwood]

The RSPB is also concerned. Head of Species and Land, Duncan Orr-Ewing said:

Raptor persecution has continued unabated with numerous well-publicised cases of shootings, illegal trap use and other crimes both north and south of the border despite the driven grouse shooting industry being under intense scrutiny – particularly in Scotland where the government has just published the findings of a three year review of grouse moor management.

We don’t believe that under the current circumstances of significantly reduced public access to our uplands, anyone is naive enough to think that wildlife criminals won’t be making the most of this opportunity to kill any species they perceive to be a threat, with a minimal chance of their crimes being witnessed or detected“.

The full article can be read here: 


‘Key moment’ as Scottish Government considers grouse moor licensing

It’s been three months since the Government-commissioned Werritty Review on grouse moor management was published (see here) and we’ve been waiting for the Scottish Government’s official response, which is due this spring.

We did hear from Nicola Sturgeon at First Ministers Questions in December that shortening the timescale for which grouse moor licensing may be introduced was ‘a serious consideration’ (here) which was very welcome news, although not to all.  Grouse moor trustee Magnus Linklater argued in a Times opinion piece that licensing threatened gamekeepers jobs (here), although he didn’t manage to explain how being law-abiding and not killing protected birds of prey would cost a gamekeeper his employment.

[An illegally-poisoned golden eagle in the Cairngorms National Park. Photo by Dave Dick]

As a follow up to the First Minister’s comments in December, Andy Wightman MSP (Scottish Greens) recently lodged this Parliamentary question:

S5W-27631: To ask the Scottish Government, further to the comments by the First Minister on 19 December 2019 (Official Report, c. 21), what its timescale is for reconsideration of the introduction of a licensing scheme for grouse shooting.

Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon has now responded:

We are giving very careful consideration to the recommendations in the report by the Grouse Moor Management Group (the ‘Werritty Review’).

We will set out our response to the report in due course, which will cover the recommendation on introducing licensing of grouse moor businesses.

Earlier this week Duncan Orr Ewing, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Species and Land Management wrote a very good blog (here) discussing the Werritty Review’s primary recommendation that grouse moor licensing be introduced but that the review had suggested a five-year delay. He goes on to explain what options are available to the Scottish Government as they consider the Werritty Review recommendations. Well worth a read.

Duncan describes this as a ‘key moment which could help safeguard some of Scotland’s most spectacular wildlife’ if the Scottish Government chooses to finally do what it’s been threatening for years and years and introduce a grouse moor licensing scheme.

He urges members of the public to contact their MSPs and ask them to encourage the Scottish Government to make grouse shooting both legal and more sustainable through a licencing system for grouse moors.

You can find contact details for your MSPs by entering your postcode on the “Find Your MSP” tool on the Scottish Parliament website here.

For those who don’t live in Scotland please contact Scottish Ministers at


Top ten most read RPUK blogs in 2019

Thanks for all your continued interest and support in 2019….it’s been another very busy year.

Here are the top ten most read RPUK blogs over the last 12 months:

  1. Young golden eagle flying around Cairngorms National Park with an illegal trap clamped to its leg (here)
  2. Two more golden eagles go ‘missing’, on the same morning, on the same Scottish grouse moor (here)
  3. Chris Packham targeted (here)
  4. Hen harrier suffers savage brutality of an illegally-set trap on a Scottish grouse moor (here)
  5. Convicted Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson and his litany of wildlife crimes (here)
  6. More detail emerges about SSPCA/Police Scotland raid at Millden Estate (here)
  7. Disgusting display of savagery on Yorkshire grouse moor (here)
  8. Monumentally inadequate sentence for convicted Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson (here)
  9. Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Natural England suggests persecution not an issue (here)
  10. At least 72% satellite tagged hen harriers presumed illegally killed on grouse moors (here)

The blog will reach its ten year milestone in March 2020.

Happy New Year!


Werritty Review: encouraging response from Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham

Further to the publication of the Werritty Review on grouse moor management this morning (here), Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has made an encouraging statement in a Scot Gov press release, as follows:


A review into grouse moor management has recommended the introduction of a shooting licensing scheme if breeding populations of raptors show no marked improvement.

The review, which was chaired by Professor Alan Werritty, Professor Emeritus of Physical Geography at University of Dundee, was asked to examine how we can ensure that grouse moor management continues to contribute to the rural economy while being environmentally sustainable.

As well as the recommendation that a licensing scheme is introduced for the shooting of grouse if there is no marked improvement in the ecological sustainability of grouse moor management, the report also makes a number of other recommendations relating to common grouse moor practices, such as the use of medicated grit and muirburn.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said:

I would like to thank Professor Werritty and the other members of the Grouse Moor Management Group for undertaking this important review and for their extensive work over the last two years.

As well as the issue of raptor persecution, the review was asked to look at grouse moor management practices including muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls and also to examine regulatory options including possible licensing of grouse shooting businesses.

It is important that we give careful consideration to the recommendations, alongside other evidence, before issuing a response. An important part of this will involve meeting key stakeholders to discuss the findings of the review, and we will publish a full response to the report in due course. At this early stage, however. I believe the option of a licensing scheme will need to be considered and – if required – implemented earlier than the five-year timeframe suggested by the review group.”

[Photo insert by RPUK – in 2018 after the suspicious disappearance of golden eagle Fred in the Pentland Hills Roseanna Cunningham told Chris Packham in an interview that grouse shoot licensing had been talked about by the Scottish Government since 2009. It’s ten years on – time for action now, not in another five years. Photo by Ruth Peacey].

Professor Werritty said:

When I accepted the invitation from the Scottish Government to lead an expert review on grouse shooting, I had not fully appreciated the complexity of the issues involved, the passion with which contrasting views were held, or the length of time the review would require.

Our remit invited us to make recommendations to reduce the illegal killing of raptors but at the same time to give due regard to the socio-economic contribution that grouse shooting makes to Scotland’s rural economy. Both topics have proved complex and problematic.

In order to have a unanimous recommendation on this key issue with the authority that implies, the Group proposes a five year probationary period for specified raptors on or near grouse shooting estates to recover to a favourable conservation status. Should this target fail to be achieved, licensing should be introduced immediately. We all agree that it is the only way forward in that situation“.


The Grouse Moor Management Group was established in November 2017. It was commissioned by the Scottish Government in response to a report from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) which showed that around one third of tagged golden eagles had disappeared on or around driven grouse moors.

The group’s report can be found on the Scottish Government website.




Special Constables pilot scheme in Cairngorms National Park a waste of time & money

Two and a half years ago, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced a pilot scheme whereby Police Special Constables would be deployed in the Cairngorms National Park to tackle wildlife crime.

This initiative was one of a number of measures announced in May 2017 in response to the findings of the golden eagle satellite tag review which showed clear evidence of deliberate and sustained illegal raptor persecution, particularly on some driven grouse moors in and around the Cairngorms National Park (CNP).

This RPUK map shows the last known location of satellite-tagged golden eagles that were either found illegally killed or had disappeared in suspicious circumstances in and around the CNP (data from the golden eagle satellite tag review):

Golden eagles are not the only victims of wildlife crime in and around the CNP. This RPUK map below, based mostly on RSPB data, shows raptor persecution incidents between 2005-2016. Only one of these (just outside the CNP boundary on Kildrummy Estate) has resulted in a successful prosecution. With such clear evidence of wildlife crime it’s easy to see why the CNP was chosen as the first location for this pilot scheme.

This pilot scheme was the Government’s alternative to extending the powers of the SSPCA to allow it to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crime (including raptor persecution) – a decision made after six years of Governmental deliberation under five different Environment Ministers.

It also emerged in 2018 that this pilot scheme was 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 has now reneged (see here).

The idea was that the police special constable scheme could be rolled out across Scotland “if judged to be successful” in the CNP, but we weren’t told the criteria that would be used to judge this ‘success’.

The scheme was formally launched in March 2018 (see here) and nothing more was heard of it.

Just over a year later in April 2019 we asked the Cairngorms National Park Authority the following questions about the scheme:

Here’s the response:

So basically after a year of operation, one of the main project partners couldn’t tell us anything about the scheme.

Fast forward six months to November 2019 and Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell thought it was time more questions were asked. Here are his two Parliamentary questions and Roseanna Cunningham’s answers:

S5W-26349 Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Scottish Green Party): To ask the Scottish Government how much funding (a) it and (b) the Cairngorms National Park Authority allocated each year to the Wildlife Special Constables pilot project.

Roseanna Cunningham: The Scottish Government agreed to contribute £18,000 and the Cairngorms National Park Authority agreed to provide £10,000 for the Wildlife Special Constables pilot project.

S5W-26346 Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Scottish Green Party): To ask the Scottish Government what the outcome was of the Wildlife Special Constables pilot project; how many constables participated each month in this, and how many suspected crimes they reported, also broken down by how many led to subsequent (a) arrests, (b) charges, (c) prosecutions and (d) convictions.

Roseanna Cunningham: a)The Scottish Government is currently undertaking an evaluation of the Special Constable Pilot Project in conjunction with Police Scotland and the Cairngorms National Park Authority. We will announce a decision on the future direction of the project in due course.

b) There were five special constables in the project, employed on a part-time basis.

c) and d) From the information gathered in the review conducted by Police Scotland, there were no recorded crimes reported by the Special Constables during their patrols in the 12 month trial period. However, Special Constables were involved in meeting stakeholders and partners operating within the Cairngorms National Park to build relationships and understand the needs and demands of National Park users which will aid future intelligence gathering.

Gosh, it’s easy to see why the Scottish Government’s evaluation of the pilot scheme is taking so long, what with having to count ZERO reported wildlife crimes.

Meanwhile satellite tagged raptors continue to disappear in suspicious circumstances in the Cairngorms National Park (white-tailed eagle here; hen harrier here; hen harrier here and hen harrier here); birds are still being illegally poisoned in the Cairngorms National Park (here) and birds of prey are still being caught by illegally-set traps in the Cairngorms National Park (golden eagle here).

But it’s ok, nothing to worry about because £28K has just been spent on ‘building relationships and understanding the needs and demands of National Park users’.



Tabloid hysteria over ‘giant psycho eagle’

We’re often asked by colleagues overseas why attitudes in the UK towards birds of prey are so ignorant and outdated.

Here’s one explanation – sensationalist nonsense being published in the media. We’ve seen this many times before, including here and here when the Scottish Gamekeepers Association were writing to the Scottish Government fearing that white-tailed eagles might eat children.

Here’s another classic example of unfounded hysteria from the last few days. This is an unsubstantiated story about an alleged eagle attack on a dog in Essex and unbelievably it made front page news! (Thanks to the blog reader who sent this photo).

At least three other tabloids also covered it:

Note the telling hallmarks of a tabloid story – the woman was pregnant, the alleged incident happened near a primary school, there was blood, the eagle was ‘giant’, it ‘almost blinded’ the dog and it was a ‘savage attack’.

The fact that there was no photographic evidence nor credible ID of the bird matters not, apparently. Some of the tabloids have illustrated the news article with a stock photo of a white-tailed eagle and others have mentioned golden eagles.

Meanwhile, the Irish Farmers Journal ran with an article recently, claiming that white-tailed eagles had been killing sheep:

In an unusual but welcome u-turn, the paper then ran with this follow-up article a couple of days ago after being contacted by Dr Allan Mee who has led the white-tailed eagle reintroduction project in Ireland since 2007. Well done, journalist Amy Forde and the editor of the Irish Farmers Journal for more measured, responsible reporting.


Satellite tagging golden eagles in Scotland: fact vs fiction

In September 2019 the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) lodged a petition at the Scottish Parliament calling for the ‘independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to raptors’.

You can read the petition here: SGA petition PE01750 Independent monitoring raptor satellite tags

It’s the latest in a long line of efforts to undermine and discredit the use of satellite tags, simply because the unintended consequences of tagging raptors like golden eagles, hen harriers, white-tailed eagles and red kites has exposed the previously hidden extent of illegal raptor persecution on many grouse moors and has led the Scottish Government to scrutinise grouse moor management practices by commissioning a review.

[The satellite tag fitted to this golden eagle led researchers to a grouse moor in the Angus Glens where the bird was found to have been illegally poisoned. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

Raptor persecution crimes attract huge media attention because it’s hard to believe that people are still poisoning golden eagles in Scotland in the 21st century. As a result of this ongoing publicity, the game-shooting industry has spent considerable time and effort trying to undermine the satellite-tagging of raptors, either by launching disgusting personal & abusive attacks targeted against named individuals involved in the projects, or by blaming disappearances on imaginary windfarms, faulty sat tags fitted to turtles in India & ‘bird activists‘ trying to smear gamekeepers, or by claiming that those involved have perverted the course of justice by fabricating evidence, or by claiming 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. There have also been two laughable attempts to discredit the authoritative golden eagle satellite tag review (here and here), thankfully dismissed by the Scottish Government. The industry knows how incriminating these sat tag data are and so is 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, hence this latest petition from the SGA.

[Young satellite-tagged golden eagles on a nest ledge in Scotland. Photo by Dan Kitwood]

The SGA’s petition is badly written, incoherent and completely misinformed. We actually dealt with a lot of the issues it raises in previous blogs (here, here and here) but as the SGA has chosen to ignore the evidence we welcome the opportunity to present the facts to the Scottish Parliament, should they decide to examine the petition further.

The petition was heard by the Petitions Committee on 10th October and it was agreed to pass it on to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee for consideration. You can read the transcript of the Petitions Committee’s deliberations here: Petitions_committee_10_Oct_SGA_sat_tags

If the ECCLR Committee does decide to progress the petition, we look forward to providing the evidence that dismantles the SGA’s fictional claims. As a bare minimum, evidence will be provided on the following:

Golden eagles in Scotland have been satellite-tagged as part of a long-term collaborative research effort involving multiple organisations (at least seven) who share data to further conservation aims. Some of this research has already been published, some is currently under-going peer-review and some of it is on-going. We’ve blogged about this research before (see here) and we’ll be blogging further about some of the specific projects in the near future. If you want to get an insight in to the science behind the golden eagle satellite tag review, this slide show by the report’s authors is well worth a look.

The scientists have created a formal research group (Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Group, GESTG) as a forum for data exchange, tagging coordination and general cooperation. The GESTG has agreed a central nexus on tag data coordination (there are now, literally, millions of tag records and it’s important they are held centrally to facilitate their use in future analyses).

Members of the GESTG have developed strong, positive relationships with many landowners who are working cooperatively on the ground to facilitate tagging efforts and protection of golden eagles.

Members of the GESTG have participated in the training of police officers across the UK to help them understand and interpret satellite tag data (e.g. this workshop organised by SNH and the National Wildlife Crime Unit was particularly beneficial to both the researchers and the police. A similar workshop was also run in England and again included input from the GESTG).

Members of the GESTG have developed an excellent relationship with the police National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) leading to the routine sharing of satellite tag data and regular detailed discussions on interpretation. This has led to a much-improved understanding for both parties and has helped build trust and confidence in what we consider to be a genuine partnership. In addition, NWCU staff have been provided with daily access to the data from several tagged golden eagles to help them learn about golden eagle ecology and behaviour, both of which are important facets of interpreting eagle tag data.

Oh, and as for those claims that satellite tag data have been withheld from the police (why would anyone want to do that?!), here’s a clear statement in response from Police Supt Nick Lyall (Head of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group):

We’re not the only ones to consider the SGA’s petition wholly inaccurate and misinformed. Last month Ian Thomson (Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland) wrote a damning blog to challenge some of the SGA’s myths (see here).

The bottom line is, contrary to the SGA’s lies, there is already plenty of cooperative partnership working between eagle satellite taggers and landowners and the police. We collaborate and share our data in order to improve conservation benefits for this iconic species across Scotland. What we don’t do is share data with those who would use the information to disturb and/or kill eagles.

We expect to be blogging further on this subject as the petition reaches the ECCLR Committee.


No application lodged to reintroduce golden eagles to Wales

In February this year, amidst a blaze of publicity and fanfare, it was claimed that plans to reintroduce golden eagles to Wales were well underway and that a licence application to Natural Resources Wales (NRW) would be lodged by July.

The claim was made by Dr Paul O’Donoghue of ‘Wilder Britain‘, also the individual behind last year’s failed application to reintroduce Lynx to Kielder (Lynx UK Trust) and the individual involved with recent legal action against Andy Wightman MSP for alleged defamation (Wildcat Haven Enterprises CIC).

[Dr Paul O’Donoghue, photographed by Paul Paterson @tighnabruaich1 at a fractious community meeting earlier this year]

We blogged about O’Donoghue’s golden eagle plans in February and how they contrasted with the legitimate reintroduction plans of a different group, Eagle Reintroduction Wales (see here) and this story was later picked up by Private Eye (see here).

Nine months on and we were curious to read Dr O’Donoghue’s licence application to reintroduce golden eagles to Wales and even more curious to see how NRW had responded, so we submitted a Freedom of Information request for the details.

NRW has responded with this:

How interesting.

Meanwhile, Dr Rob Thomas (@RobThomas14) from the alternative Eagle Reintroduction Wales Project told us, “We are increasingly well supported by the Wildlife Trusts of South and West Wales but we feel we are several years away from any possible licence application, with the biological phases nearing completion but much still to do next in terms of engagement with farmers, shooters, tourism interests and other stakeholders“.

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