Posts Tagged ‘golden eagle

12
Dec
17

South Scotland golden eagle project gets final go-ahead

The South Scotland Golden Eagle Project, which proposes to translocate eaglets from the Highlands to southern Scotland in an effort to boost the tiny remnant population in the Borders & Dumfries & Galloway, has finally been given the funds and licence to begin.

Earlier this year the project was awarded £1.3 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (see here) and has now received match funding of £158,024 from local LEADER programmes. SNH has also now granted the licence required to move the eagles, fit them with satellite tags and release them in the Moffat Hills.

[Photo of a young satellite-tagged golden eagle, by Ruth Tingay]

This additional funding has triggered the recruitment of four new project staff – an eagle officer, two community engagement officers, and one stakeholder engagement officer. Details of these positions and how to apply can be found on the Project website here (scroll to the bottom of the homepage). Closing date is 12 January 2018.

As an aside, can we just congratulate the Project team on their website – full of information & official reports, keeping the public informed about the proposed Project. Take note, Natural England!

A press release (unfortunately with far too many naff metaphors) from the Project has been picked up by various media outlets (e.g. BBC News here, Scotsman here) although the Guardian has taken a different angle and focuses on the threat these birds might face if they fly south of the border in to northern England (here).

We’ve blogged about this Project before (see here, here) and have mixed feelings. Unsurprisingly our biggest concern is the on-going threat of illegal persecution, both north and south of the border. To date, nobody has EVER been successfully prosecuted for the illegal killing of golden eagles, despite plenty of opportunities (e.g. see here and here).

Dr Cat Barlow, the South Scotland Golden Eagle Project Manager, has been questioned about the threat of illegal persecution at several conferences where she has delivered an otherwise strong presentation about the Project. On each occasion she has acknowledged the threat and has recognised that not all estates in southern Scotland are supportive of this translocation. She recently told a conference in Edinburgh that she “will be talking to the estates not yet on board“.

It’s going to take more than a chat to stop these deranged raptor killers in their tracks.

[Photo of an adult golden eagle found shot & critically injured on a grouse moor in south Scotland in 2012. He didn’t make it]

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05
Dec
17

Update on our shedload of satellite-tagged golden eagles

Earlier this year we satellite-tagged a shedload of golden eagles in Scotland as part of a joint initiative with Chris Packham, funded by two very generous philanthropists (see here for project background).

Our eagles are doing well, all of them still hanging out in their natal territories although a few have started to make some short exploratory excursions beyond these local areas. For obvious reasons, we will not be providing location information until the young birds have dispersed far from their parents’ territories.

We’re getting fantastic data from the tags. These are different tags to those used to track hen harriers so there’s none of this, say, ‘on for a few hours/off for 48 hours’ cycle – our tags are providing positional data around the clock, sometimes at just a few minutes’ interval, so we know EXACTLY where our eagles are at all hours of the day, and night.

Here’s one of our eagles (#929) caught on camera a few weeks ago coming in to feed on a carcass, along with her Mum! (Our field team tell us 929’s Dad has also visited this carcass but is not photographed here).

More updates in due course.

24
Nov
17

Scottish Government announces Grouse moor management review group

Back in May 2017, Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced an intention to set up an independently-led group to review grouse moor management practices, and to advise on the introduction of an estate shoot licensing scheme. This was mainly in response to the publication of the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review, which found that almost one third of sat-tagged golden eagles had disappeared in highly suspicious circsumstances on intensively managed driven-grouse moors. But make no mistake, this was also in response to increased public pressure from the SRSG’s petition calling for game shoot licensing and also in response to increasing public anger about the continuing illegal persecution of birds of prey on driven grouse moors.

[Photo: Conservationist Roy Dennis with dead golden eagle ‘Alma’ – one of Roy’s first satellite-tagged eagles that was found illegally poisoned on an Angus Glens grouse moor]

Finally, almost six months after that first announcement, the Scottish Government has just released the news about who will serve on this review group.

Here’s the Scottish Government press statement:

New group to focus on sustainability of driven-grouse moors.

Membership of an independent group to ensure grouse moor management practices are sustainable and legally compliant has been confirmed.

The new group will be led by Professor Alan Werrity, who previously chaired a Scottish Natural Heritage review into sustainable moorland management. It includes scientists, moorland managers, regulatory experts and advisers from SNH, Scottish Wildlife Trust, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.

The group has been set up in response to SNH research that found almost a third of golden eagles being tracked by satellite died in suspicious circumstances and that the majority of cases were where land is intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.

The group will look at the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices such as muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls and advise on the option of licensing grouse shooting businesses.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said:

We have been clear that the continued killing of protected species of birds of prey damages the reputation of law-abiding gamekeepers, landowners and the country as a whole.

This new group will look at what we can do to balance our commitment to tackling wildlife crime with grouse moor management practices, so it continues to contribute to our rural economy, while being sustainable and compliant with the law.

The group membership reflects the complex nature and wide range of issues that need to be considered and I look forward to hearing their advice in due course.”

Professor Werrity said:

This is truly challenging work given the traditions underlying moorland management and the concerns coming to light over some mal-practices.

My earlier work chairing the SNH Moorland review also sought to reconcile nature conservation interests with promoting the rural economy. I will be taking an evidence-based approach, and for this we have the right mixture of experience, expertise and knowledge on the group to get to grips with the subject. I look forward to getting started on this review. ”

Background

Read the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review

The confirmed membership of the group includes Professor Alan Werrity FRSE, Professor Ian Newton OBE, FRS, FRSE, Professor Alison Hester FSB, (Professor Colin Reid FRSA – see update below) and moorland managers Alexander Jameson BLE MRICS FAAV and Mark Oddy MRICS CEnV MIAagrM.

[Update 28 Nov 2017: Law professor joins grouse moor management review group, here ]

Dr Calum Macdonald (SEPA), Professor Des Thompson (SNH), Dr Adam Smith (GWCT Scotland) and Susan Davies (SWT) will be specialist advisers to the group.

ENDS

Here is the response from RSPB Scotland to today’s announcement:

RSPB Scotland welcomes announcement of grouse moor enquiry

RSPB Scotland has welcomed today’s announcement by the Scottish Government on the grouse moor enquiry panel. Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management for RSPB Scotland said: “We very much welcome the announcement of this enquiry and of the independent panel. We look forward to giving evidence to the panel in due course.

The remit of the panel includes consideration as to how grouse moors can be managed sustainably and within the law. There are significant public concerns about how grouse moors are currently being managed in Scotland, including clear evidence gathered over decades of the illegal killing of birds of prey.

In recent years these concerns have broadened to encompass wider grouse moor management practices, as commercialisation has taken place, with an emphasis on producing very large and unsustainable grouse numbers for sport shooting. These practices include muirburn on peatland habitats which are important as carbon stores for combating climate change, the culling of mountain hares and the medication of ‘wild’ red grouse, both designed to prevent grouse diseases and artificially boost grouse bags.

We support the introduction of an effective licensing system for driven grouse shooting, with sanctions including the removal of such licences where illegal practices are confirmed. A licensing system could be supported by a statutory Code of Practice setting out clear management standards to protect public interests and prevent bad management practices. These kind of licensing systems are common place in other European countries and equally support legitimate and well run shooting enterprises.”

ENDS

[Photo: the typical landscape of an intensively-managed driven grouse moor in Scotland. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Here is the response from the Scottish Raptor Study Group to today’s announcement:

Scottish Raptor Study Group warmly welcomes today’s announcement by the Scottish Government on the grouse moor enquiry panel.

Patrick Stirling Aird, Secretary of the Scottish Raptor Study Group said, “We are delighted that the membership of the panel has been announced and look forward to providing evidence when called upon to do so“.

The public have increasing concerns around the way in which grouse moors are being operated with a substantial body of science proving beyond all doubt the widespread and illegal persecution of birds of prey on many such moors.

We support the introduction of licensing for driven grouse shooting with enforceable sanctions where illegal practices are confirmed. Such a licensing scheme could incorporate a statutory code of practice which helps to protect the public interest and to prevent bad management practices. This concept is widespread in Europe and elsewhere and works well with legitimate shooting interests.

ENDS

Here are our first thoughts.

Hallelujah! The panel has finally been announced and presumably its work will now get underway, although notice there is no mention of timescales in the Scottish Government’s statement. That’s not too much of a concern right now – as Roseanna mentions, this work will be complex and it’s in everyone’s interests that it is done thoroughly, so we probably shouldn’t expect any output until at least 2019.

This panel has some serious intellectual heavy weights (Chair, Professor Werrity, and panel members Professors Newton and Hester). All three are at the top of their respective fields and have been for years; their academic achievements and scientific authority are undisputed. We are delighted to see these three involved, especially given Professor Werrity’s intention for having an “evidence-based approach” to the review. Excellent.

The other two panel members (Mr Jameson and Mr Oddy) are a bit of a surprise, to be honest. We didn’t expect to see anybody with such obvious vested interests be part of what had been described as an independently-led review group. Nevertheless, there is probably good reason for having them on board, not least to get buy-in to the review from the game-shooting sector. We know very little about Mr Jameson and only a little bit about Mr Oddy – he’s the chap who, when working for Buccleuch Estates on the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project, suggested that lethal control of buzzards should be a considered option…..but his suggestion was based on no scientific evidence whatsoever, in fact it was the exact opposite of what the science was showing. Hmm.

All in all, just like RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Raptor Study Group, we very much welcome today’s announcement. It is the next step on the road to what many see as the inevitable introduction of an estate licensing scheme in Scotland. We look forward to giving evidence, if invited to do so.

UPDATE 28 November 2017: Law professor joins grouse moor management review group (here)

18
Sep
17

National golden eagle survey 2015: low occupancy on Eastern Highland grouse moors remains a concern

Every year a proportion of the Scottsh golden eagle population is surveyed by licensed experts from the Scottish Raptor Study Group. This phenomenal voluntary effort (currently 373 home ranges [approx 53% of known ranges] monitored by 150 eagle experts) provides invaluable data that are submitted to the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme and are used to inform conservation policy at local, regional and national level.

In addition to this annual monitoring, a national survey is periodically undertaken with both paid and voluntary experts in an effort to visit every known home range throughout Scotland.

Photo by Mark Hamblin

The latest national golden eagle survey took place in 2015 and the interim results were announced in November 2016. The main headline was that overall, the national population had increased by 15%, rising from 442 pairs recorded during the last national survey in 2003, to 508 territorial pairs in 2015, and the species was now considered to be in favourable conservation status.

This was excellent and welcome news, but as we pointed out at the time, the headline masked a more sinister situation. Although the national population had surpassed 500 territorial pairs, the magic number needed to upgrade the species’ national conservation status from ‘unfavourable’ to ‘favouable’, it was still well below the estimated capacity of 700 pairs. This meant that approx 200 pairs of golden eagles were still ‘missing’.

Unsurprisingly, the national survey revealed that golden eagle populations in the driven grouse moor areas of eastern and southern Scotland were still being suppressed and had not shown any significant sign of recovery since the previous national survey in 2003. Illegal persecution has been identified time and time again as the main constraint on population growth in these regions.

The formal scientific peer-reviewed results of the 2015 national survey were published last week in the journal Bird Study [Hayhow, D., Benn, S., Stevenson, A., Stirling-Aird, P. and Eaton, M. (2017). Status of golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos in Britain in 2015. Bird Study].

Unfortunately publishing restrictions do not permit us to upload the full paper (you’ll have to subscribe to Bird Study for full access) but here is the abstract:

[UPDATE: This paper is now fully available online, free access, thanks to the BTO. Click here]

In additon to details about the continued low occupancy on grouse moors in the eastern Highlands, the paper also provides information that dispels a couple of myths that are frequently claimed as ‘facts’ by the SGA and co.

You might remember the SGA giving evidence to a parliamentary committee earlier this year where they claimed that “the Cairngorms National Park held the highest density of eagles in the world“. They might want to have a look at this map. This is the distribution of pairs of golden eagles in 2015 and shows the densities of occupied home ranges by 10 x 10 km squares. As you can see, the highest densities of golden eagles were recorded in the Outer Hebrides and on Mull (no grouse moors in these areas):

Another commonly-heard myth, usually trotted out to support calls for the ‘control’ of white-tailed eagles, is that re-introduced white-tailed eagles are displacing golden eagles and taking over their territories/nest sites, even though recent research has demonstrated that these two species partition their habitat and prey preferences in western Scotland. In this latest paper, the authors comment:

Although we have not assessed this in the current study, we report increases in golden eagles numbers in regions such as the Hebridean Islands in which there has been a rapid increase in white-tailed eagles (Holling 2016), which suggests that, at least at current population levels, there has been no major impact“.

The authors do acknowledge that the white-tailed eagle population is predicted to continue its expansion and this may, potentially, create competition between the two species in the future but right now, based on the currently available data, there is no evidence to suggest this is a population-level concern.

The main current threat to Scottish golden eagles is the same as it was following the previous national survey, fourteen years ago. And that is illegal persecution on some driven grouse moors in the eastern Highlands and south Scotland. The grouse-shooting representatives can continue to deny it, but this latest paper is yet another nail in the coffin of this filthy industry.

11
Sep
17

Imagine that! Satellite tags continue to function after non-suspicious deaths of two hen harriers

This morning the RSPB announced that two of this year’s satellite-tagged hen harriers, Mannin & Grayse, had died in non-suspicious circumstances.

Both had been tagged at a nest on the Isle of Man in July 2017. Grayse was discovered dead on the island on 9th August. Her brother Mannin left the island on 14th August and made a failed attempt to cross the sea to the Galloway coast in SW Scotland. After ten days at sea, his body was found washed up on the Scottish shoreline on 24th August 2017.

Photo of Mannin & Grayse before they fledged (photo by James Leonard).

The bodies of both birds were submitted for post mortems, neither of which indicated their deaths were suspicious.

Although the deaths of these two harriers is disappointing, natural mortality is, well, natural and not unexpected.

What’s unusual about these two harriers is that their satellite tags continued to transmit data after the birds had died. That shouldn’t be a surprise, because that’s how these tags are designed to work and in most countries, that is how they work. Researchers are routinely able to use the data from the still-transmitting tags to locate the dead body and work out what happened to cause the animal’s death.

It seems it’s only in the UK, and particularly on grouse moors, where satellite tags on dead raptors routinely and abruptly stop transmitting, and vanish off the radar, along with the raptor’s corpse.

Funny, that.

The recent Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review found that this happened much more often in Scotland than in any other countries where the same tags are deployed (England was not included in the analysis because Natural England is still sitting on the tag data – probably because NE knows just how devastatingly embarrassing a data analysis of tagged hen harriers will be).

29
Aug
17

Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing’s constituency a hotspot for ‘disappearing’ sat-tagged raptors

A few weeks ago we created a map for Mairi Gougeon MSP (Angus & Mearns, SNP) to show her the areas of her constituency where satellite-tagged raptors had either been found illegally killed or had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances. Unsurprisingly, the main hotspot area was centred on the grouse moors of the Angus Glens.

Mairi, as the Hen Harrier Species Champion, attended this year’s Hen Harrier Day at Loch Leven where she acknowledged the issues and spoke passionately about the need to address illegal raptor persecution. We welcomed her interest and enthusiasm and look forward to seeing her use her position to good effect.

We’ve now created another map, this time for MSP Fergus Ewing’s constituency of Inverness and Nairn. For new readers, Fergus also holds a senior position in the Scottish Government – he is Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity.

This latest map is based on data from the recent expert review of golden eagle satellite tag data and also from the RSPB’s recent map showing the locations of ‘disappeared’ or illegally killed satellite-tagged hen harriers and red kites. Here it is, showing the locations of 15 satellite-tagged raptors (8 x golden eagles, 6 x red kites, 1 x hen harrier) that were either illegally killed in Fergus’s constituency or ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in his constituency:

And just like the map we created for Mairi, the hotspot areas within Fergus Ewing’s constituency all just happen to be on land managed for driven grouse shooting. Imagine that!

Unlike Mairi Gougeon MSP, as far as we can tell, Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing has never publicly spoken out about the illegal persecution of raptors on grouse moors, either within his own constituency or beyond (if anyone has any evidence to the contrary we’ll be happy to post it here).

He did, sort of, hint at it in a statement he made about grouse shooting in 2015 when he was Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism:

I am very pleased to be able to extend support to all of those who make a success of fields sports in a professional and responsible fashion. Their efforts bring to Scotland a number of visitors who are very welcome and make a significant financial contribution to the sector”

but you’ll note that he very carefully avoided mentioning raptor persecution crimes or any of the other environmentally damaging effects of intensive grouse moor management.

And he can’t claim that he’s unaware of what’s going on – we’ve contacted him on social media many times about this issue, especially when persecution incidents have been detected in his constituency (most recently in July – see here). He has chosen to ignore us at every turn and has given his full public support to grouse moor management in well known raptor persecution hotspots including the Angus Glens and the Monadhliaths.

If you live in Fergus Ewing’s constituency of Inverness and Nairn, you might want to contact him to ask him what he’s doing about the illegal killing of raptors on grouse moors in this area. He has a responsibility to respond to the concerns of his constituents. Email: Fergus.ewing.msp@parliament.scot

If you don’t live in Inverness and Nairn but wish to raise concerns about the level of illegal raptor persecution on the grouse moors of this Cabinet Secretary’s constituency, please use this email address: Scottish.Ministers@gov.scot [and mark it for the attention of Fergus Ewing].

For far too long we’ve allowed certain politicians to get away with wilful blindness about this ongoing criminality. It’s up to all of us to hold these elected representatives to account.

24
Aug
17

A shedload of golden eagles satellite tagged in new RPUK/Chris Packham project

At last weekend’s British Birdfair at Rutland Water we joined with Chris Packham to launch a new joint project.

Privately funded by a pair of extraordinarily generous and supportive philanthropists, this project has been in development since the New Year. We are grateful not only to our funders, but also to a number of people without whose help the project would have been a non-starter.

This year our project has focused on fitting satellite tags to young golden eagles across Scotland. At this stage we’re not announcing how many eagles have been tagged, or where, exactly, they’ve been tagged (the location of nest sites must remain confidential for obvious reasons), but let’s just say we’ve tagged a shedload. Here’s a small subset:

The tags were fitted in June and July by highly experienced & appropriately licensed fieldworkers, with the support of several landowners, some of whom came along on tagging days. All the tagged eagles have fledged successfully and they are all hanging out in their natal territories, as expected.

Researchers have been satellite-tagging golden eagles in Scotland since 2004. This new technology has revolutionised our ability to better understand golden eagle ecology, and particularly the birds’ early years of life when they leave their parents’ territory and wander around the country before they attempt to settle in a territory of their own and join the breeding population at between 3 to 5 years of age. For an excellent first-hand and simple explanation of how the technology works in practice, have a read of this blog written last week by Stuey Benn of the RSPB.

Understanding golden eagle juvenile dispersal behaviour has important conservation implications because at present, Special Protection Areas designated specifically for golden eagles are based on the number of breeding pairs present in a particular area, and not on the number of juvenile eagles present. Research on 36 satellite-tagged golden eagles, undertaken by Ewan Weston for his PhD (published in 2014), identified nine distinct areas, known as Temporary Settlement Areas (TSAs) where these young birds tended to spend a lot of time during certain months of the year. Here’s a map we’ve created, based on data published in Ewan’s PhD, of these nine TSAs.

The identification of these areas would have been virtually impossible without the use of satellite tags. The data collected from our tagged eagles will contribute to this ongoing scientific research to help determine the importance of these, and perhaps other yet-to-be-discovered TSAs, which may lead in future to some areas being newly designated / protected for golden eagle conservation purposes.

Of course, along with the invaluable scientific data generated by these satellite tags, showing us how golden eagles utilise different landscapes, we are also learning a lot about how one type of land-use, intensively managed driven grouse moors, is impacting negatively on the golden eagle population. This has been known for some time, but the recently published Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review clarified in which particular grouse moor areas satellite-tagged eagles are being illegally killed or are ‘disappearing’ in suspicious circumstances.

When the Review was published in May this year, we created this map to show the significant clustering of satellite-tagged eagles that had either been confirmed as illegally killed or the tags had suddenly stopped working in suspicious circumstances and the tags and eagles had ‘disappeared’ off the face of the earth:

The clusters around the Cairngorms National Park, including the Monadhliaths to the NW and the Angus Glens to the SE, are all areas where the land is intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.

Interestingly, when you overlay these data of killed or ‘missing’ satellite tagged eagles on to the map showing the Temporary Settlement Areas utilised by juvenile golden eagles, this is what you get:

[Yellow stars = satellite-tagged eagles confirmed as illegally killed; red stars = satellite tags that suddenly stopped functioning in suspicious circumstances and the tag & eagle nowhere to be found].

It’s quite clear then, that in some driven grouse moor areas, particularly in the Angus Glens, the Monadhliaths, and the NE and SW areas of the Cairngorms National Park where young golden eagles are spending a lot of time, illegal persecution is an ongoing threat.

Obviously we don’t yet know where our tagged eagles will disperse to, and whether they might head for some of these dangerous TSAs, but we’re about to find out.

We’ll be providing updates on our eagles’ movements over the coming months and if the tag data indicate that any of our birds have come to any harm, we’ll first be reporting it through the proper channels to the Police and then we’ll be publishing appropriate details on this blog.

Stay tuned!




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