Posts Tagged ‘golden eagle

08
Jan
21

Proposal to reintroduce golden eagles to Wales: information finally released

Regular blog readers will be aware that there are currently two separate groups with a stated interest in reintroducing golden eagles to Wales, although both have very different, conflicting approaches.

Previous key blogs on this topic can be read here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

[Photo of a young golden eagle by Getty]

I’ve been particularly interested in the approach of one of these groups, Wilder Britain, which is headed up by Dr Paul O’Donoghue who is known for, amongst other things, his failed application (under the name of Lynx UK Trust) for a trial release of Lynx at Kielder Forest (here) and his failed attempt (under the name of Wildcat Haven Enterprises CIC) to sue Andy Wightman MSP for alleged defamation (here).

Since February 2019, O’Donoghue has made a lot of noise in the media about his ‘plan’ to reintroduce golden eagles to Wales and he’s been fundraising to support this ‘plan’ but so far, in complete contrast to the Eagle Reintroduction Wales Project, very little detail of his background research or his ‘plan’ has emerged.

As a result, in August last year I submitted a Freedom of Information request to Natural Resources Wales (NRW, the Welsh Government’s statutory conservation agency) for information about any correspondence it’d had with O’Donoghue about reintroducing golden eagles.

It took NRW three months to respond (instead of the statutory 20 working days) and when it finally did respond, it refused to divulge any information because it claimed the requested information was exempt (see here).

I didn’t agree that the requested information was exempt so I challenged NRW to review the decision. It did review it and, two months later, I received the following response yesterday:

The accompanying information that NRW released is posted below. It’s not especially interesting; there’s what looks to be a great deal of posturing and bluster, but essentially NRW has not yet received a licence application from Wilder Britain in relation to the reintroduction of golden eagles to Wales.

Here are the released documents:

Of much more interest was the second part of the letter from NRW to me, where it sets out its position on reintroductions in general and then specifically on proposed golden eagle reintroductions. This information is useful as it clarifies several issues, including what licences would be required for a reintroduction and the option for NRW to conduct its own public consultation prior to a decision being made. This should be reassuring for many.

It’s also useful to see NRW’s commitment to meeting IUCN standards, and that includes addressing the persecution issue and whether it’s still a risk to golden eagles. Recent revelations exposed on this blog indicate that it is indeed still a significant risk (see here).

In amongst the released documents from NRW is correspondence from Wilder Britain last summer about an intention to submit licence applications to NRW by Xmas 2020 with a view to releasing eagles in summer 2021. This seems ambitious, even without the new Covid lockdown, especially when some key eagle experts in Norway (from where O’Donoghue has claimed to be sourcing donor birds) have apparently said they haven’t agreed to any such project.

Let’s see what happens this year.

06
Jan
21

8-year old schoolchildren congratulate Scottish Government on decision to licence grouse shooting

Some of you will no doubt remember / be aware of Sunnyside Primary School in Glasgow and its pupils’ involvement in conservation activities (e.g. see here for a previous blog on their response to the suspicious disappearance of golden eagle Fred in 2018).

These school kids are only too well aware of what happens to raptors on some driven grouse moors, as they had named and were following an RSPB satellite-tagged hen harrier (‘Thistle’) in 2019 that later disappeared in suspicious circumstances on a grouse moor in Sutherland (see here).

Well here they are again, just before Xmas, responding to the Scottish Government’s commitment to establishing a licensing scheme for grouse shooting after many, many years of procrastination.

Here are few of those drawings and letters:

If you want to find out more about Sunnyside Primary School and its brilliant kids, have a watch of this video that they made for Hen Harrier Day 2020:

18
Dec
20

Andy Wightman MSP resigns from Scottish Greens

Andy Wightman MSP has resigned from the Scottish Greens as of today.

His letter of resignation, including his reasons for leaving, can be read here.

[Andy with golden eagle ‘Adam’, who later disappeared in suspicious circumstances on a grouse moor in Strathbraan (here). Photo by Ruth Tingay]

It’s reported in a number of papers (e.g. here) that he hasn’t ruled out standing as an independent, standing for another party, or indeed re-joining the Scottish Greens.

Andy has been a massive supporter of this blog right from the very early years and has been involved in addressing the issues highlighted on here in both a personal and professional capacity. I’m privileged to have worked with him on a number of platforms and look forward to finding new opportunities to continue.

14
Dec
20

Post mortem reveals Welsh golden eagle had suffered gunshot injury

In August 2020 a walker found an adult golden eagle dead in a river in Powys, Wales.

The discovery prompted a great deal of media interest (e.g. here) as this eagle was believed to be the lone bird that had survived for approx 12 years in the wild in Wales, having escaped from captivity when she was three months old.

Just a few days before her corpse was found she’d featured in a BBC documentary presented by Iolo Williams, The Last Wilderness of Wales (available here on BBC iPlayer and well worth a watch for footage of this eagle doing her thing).

At the time of the news reports the cause of death was still to be established.

The Welsh Government organised for a post mortem where it was determined she’d died of systemic Aspergillosis. The PM report included the following description:

Asperillosis is the most comon fungal mycosis in birds. Aspergillus fumigatus is a ubiquitous opportunistic organism and factors impairing the birds’ immunity can predispose to disease. No underlying immunocompromising factors were detected on testing. There were extensive, chronic lesions throughout the carcase likely resulting in reduced feed intake, ill-thrift and dehydration and ultimately death‘.

That all looked straight forward and no cause for concern. However, an x-ray of the corpse had also revealed something much more sinister, as documented in the PM report as follows:

So, this golden eagle had been shot previously, although it’s not clear when and the pathologist thought this was unlikely to have contributed to the bird’s death.

Interestingly, the Welsh Government chose to suppress this information. Here is some internal correspondence, released under FoI, where the suppression is detailed:

In later correspondence also released under FoI, Welsh Government officials said this wasn’t deliberate suppression but just standard procedure when informing the original reporter of the incident about the cause of death, excluding any additional information that the PM may have uncovered. Government officials also stated that the Environment Minister had been informed about the gunshot injury.*

That seems reasonable behaviour under normal circumstances. However, finding the only golden eagle in Wales dead in a river couldn’t be described as ‘normal’ under any circumstances. And discovering that the eagle had been shot would also be of significant public interest, not least when there’s currently an active debate about the proposed reintroduction of golden eagles to Wales which could happen as early as next year (see here).

I’d say that public understanding of illegal persecution, including the targeting of a golden eagle, was actually fundamental to the debate.

Although according to an FoI response from the Welsh Government’s statutory conservation agency Natural Resources Wales (NRW) last month, officials there claimed to have received no correspondence about the shooting of this golden eagle either. That seems a bit odd, doesn’t it? Surely officials in the environmental section of the Welsh Government talk to officials in NRW, especially on a subject as significant as the shooting of a golden eagle?

It’s not the first time information about golden eagles in Wales has been suppressed. Last month NRW withheld correspondence it had had with Wilder Britain, one of two competing organisations involved with the proposed reintroduction of golden eagles to Wales (see here).

In an FoI refusal letter, NRW argued that Wilder Britain had refused permission to release its correspondence with NRW. I’ve lodged a review of that decision because I don’t believe it should apply to correspondence written by NRW to Wilder Britain in relation to a proposed reintroduction project. I believe the public have a right to know what advice NRW has been giving to someone proposing to reintroduce golden eagles to Wales and especially now that it’s been confirmed that Wales’s only wild-living golden eagle had at some stage been illegally shot.

*Update 12.24hrs: The person who took the dead eagle from the walker and delivered it for post mortem has been in touch to say the Welsh Government did provide details of the pellet and did not try to dissuade her from sharing that information with the media. This information is supported by some of the FoI material I’ve received, which shows that the Welsh Government informed her about the pellet sometime after they’d first mentioned to her that Aspergillosis was the cause of death, and seemingly only after being prompted by an outside agency to do so.

There is further correspondence, released under FoI which hasn’t been published here, in which the Welsh Government explicitly states, ‘We aren’t planning any proactive comms‘ [about the eagle being shot].

UPDATE 17.00HRS: This blog post has been picked up by Wales Online (here)

UPDATE: This blog post has been picked up by the Mail Online, who couldn’t report it accurately (claiming the eagle was shot twice) nor manage to acknowledge the source of their story).

18
Nov
20

Werritty review – one year on & still waiting for Scottish Government response

Today marks one year since the Werritty Review on grouse moor management was submitted to the Scottish Government. And still no formal response.

The review itself took two and a half years to complete after Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced its commission in 2017, on the back of the publication of another Government-commissioned review which showed clear evidence of deliberate and sustained illegal raptor persecution on many driven grouse moors. We’ve since seen more evidence pointing towards the inevitable fate of those birds.

And that 2017 review had been commissioned on the back of an RSPB report in 2016 that over a period of five years since 2011, eight satellite-tagged golden eagles had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on grouse moors in the Monadhliaths in Highland Scotland.

The longer the Scottish Government delays taking evidence-based action against those criminals in the grouse shooting industry, the more eagles (and other raptors) are going to be illegally killed. There is absolutely no question that these crimes are continuing, despite enormous scrutiny and public condemnation, as demonstrated during lockdown when the poisoned corpse of a white-tailed sea eagle was found, face down, on a grouse moor in the middle of the Cairngorms National Park. Nobody has been charged for this horrendous crime. In fact there has never been a successful prosecution for killing an eagle in Scotland.

[A police officer examines the corpse of the poisoned white-tailed eagle, found dead on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park]

For years the Scottish Government has promised further action if current measures proved to be ineffective. Time and time again, after each crime has been publicised, a succession of Environment Ministers has proclaimed, ‘We will not tolerate illegal raptor persecution’ and ‘We will not hesitate to act‘ (see here for a long list of examples).

And guess what? They’re still tolerating it and they’re still hesitating to act. Why is that?

08
Nov
20

Proposal to reintroduce golden eagles to Wales: information withheld

Way back in February 2019, in a publicity fanfare, a claim was made that a licence application to reintroduce golden eagles to Snowdonia would be submitted to Natural Resources Wales (NRW) ‘by summer’ by an organisation called Wilder Britain (see here and here).

In November 2019 an FoI request to NRW revealed that no such application had been received (see here).

[A young golden eagle, photo Getty Images]

Dr Paul O’Donoghue of Wilder Britain was back in the press again in August this year, fundraising for his proposed reintroduction project, which raised questions about whether there was genuine intent to try and reintroduce golden eagles or whether it was just an ongoing publicity/fundraising stunt from the previous year (see here).

O’Donoghue hosted several poorly-attended public meetings this summer, some of them announced at very short notice, and these elicited some interesting commentary from those who managed to attend and also from members of the Welsh Parliament (see here and here).

In August a Freedom of Information request was submitted to NRW to find out more details about O’Donoghue’s proposals. NRW has finally responded and has refused to release any information because it needed O’Donoghue’s consent and he has refused permission:

Interesting. An appeal has been lodged with NRW because I believe it’s in the public interest to see what advice NRW has been giving to O’Donoghue about a proposed reintroduction scheme.

Meanwhile, a more open and transparent organisation interested in a Welsh reintroduction of both golden and white-tailed eagles, under the project Eagle Reintroduction Wales, is continuing its involvement in online interviews and question & answer sessions which allow any interested member of the public an opportunity to find out more details, ask questions and listen to the responses.

The next one is this evening at 17.30hrs with ERW project manager Dr Sophie-lee Williams and can be watched here.

07
Nov
20

Eagle Reintroduction Wales Project – 2 x live interviews coming up

As regular blog readers will know, there are currently proposals to reintroduce eagles to Wales by two organisations with very different approaches: Wilder Britain and the Eagle Reintroduction Wales Project.

[Young golden eagle. Photo by Steve Liptrot]

The Eagle Reintroduction Wales Project, led by Dr Sophie-lee Williams, is currently assessing the feasibility of reintroducing golden and white-tailed eagles across Wales and has conducted extensive research to inform its proposals. Some of this research has already been published in peer-reviewed journals (e.g. here) and more output is expected shortly. The ERW Project is working with Cardiff University (where Sophie-Lee has just completed her PhD on this topic) and is liaising closely with a network of national and international eagle experts.

There are two forthcoming opportunities to ask Sophie-lee about any aspect of the project:

Facebook live interview/Q&A session on Sunday 8th November at 17.30hrs. Interview hosted by Mike Raine here

Facebook live interview/Q&A session on Tuesday 10th November at 19.00hrs. Interview hosted by Bywyd Gwyllt Glaslyn Wildlife here

Hopefully these live interviews will be recorded so if you can’t make the live session you can catch up with the videos later.

For previous blogs about the proposals to reintroduce eagles to Wales please see hereherehereherehereherehereherehere and here for background.

20
Oct
20

Eagle Reintroduction Wales Project: a detailed insight

Regular blog readers will know that there are currently two separate projects, by two very different organisations, considering the reintroduction of eagles in to Wales.

[Golden eagle photo by Steve Liptrot]

One organisation called ‘Wilder Britain‘, headed by Dr Paul O’Donoghue, is apparently seeking to reintroduce a total of ten golden eagles to Snowdonia National Park but he’s what might be described as a ‘controversial’ figure (google Lynx reintroduction and Wildcat Haven for examples or just read the previous blogs, linked below) and the detailed specifics of his eagle reintroduction research and proposed plan have yet to be made public.

The other organisation, called Eagle Reintroduction Wales Project and headed by Sophie-Lee Williams, is currently assessing the feasibility of reintroducing golden and white-tailed eagles across Wales and has conducted extensive research to inform its proposals. Some of this research has already been published in peer-reviewed journals (e.g. here) and more output is expected shortly. The ERW Project is working with Cardiff University (where Sophie-Lee has just completed her PhD on this topic) and is liaising closely with a network of national and international eagle experts.

For previous blogs about these projects please see herehereherehereherehereherehere and here for background.

This year due to the pandemic, the ERW Project is short of the Government funding that is needed to complete the feasibility studies. ERW has set up a crowdfunder (here) to raise £25K to pay for a full-time researcher to continue this work and conduct public consultations. So far almost £6.5K has been raised. The crowdfunder was due to close last week but has just been extended for a further two weeks to try and attract more support.

For those of you interested in the ERW Project, have a look at this video of Sophie-Lee recently discussing her research findings with the Royal Society of Biology. Her talk lasts for approx 50 minutes and then there’s over an hour of questions and answers. It’s well worth your time.

If you’re able to support the ERW crowdfunder with a small donation please click here.

13
Oct
20

Proposed golden eagle reintroduction in Wales – the saga continues

Regular blog readers will be aware of an on-going controversy about plans to reintroduce golden eagles to Wales. There are two separate groups involved, with two very different approaches -see herehereherehereherehere, here and here for previous blogs.

[Young golden eagle, photo by Getty Images]

You may remember in September there was a parliamentary discussion in the Senedd (Welsh Parliament), later reported in the local press, where Siân Gwenllian, the Member of the Senedd for the Arfon constituency and Shadow Minister for Plaid Cymru, had raised concerns about the project with the Environment Minister Lesley Griffiths MS and urged her not to support reintroduction plans (see here).

There’s been an update on that. During a radio discussion broadcast on BBC Radio Cymru on 25th September 2020 between Dewi Llywd (host), Iolo Williams (conservationist & TV presenter), politician Siân Gwenllian and Rhys Owen (Head of Conversation & Agriculture, Snowdonia National Park) there was clarification from Ms Gwenllian that her opposition was aimed specifically at the reintroduction proposal from Paul O’Donoghue of Wilder Britain, and not for the research being undertaken by the opposing group, Eagle Reintroduction Wales Project.

The discussion was in Welsh and a blog reader has provided a transcript but I’m not going to publish it because the programme has since been removed from the BBC website, apparently for ‘technical’ reasons, but I suspect there may be legal issues afoot. Suffice to say, the Wilder Britain proposal wasn’t supported by any of the panel members, mostly because of the perceived lack of transparency, accountability and poor communication.

It’s not clear at what stage the Wilder Britain proposal has reached because statutory agency Natural Resources Wales hasn’t responded properly to a pretty simple Freedom of Information request that was submitted two months ago in mid-August! A formal complaint has been lodged.

Meanwhile, the other research group, Eagle Reintroduction Wales Project, affiliated with Cardiff University, is about to go under. Its funding runs out in November, thanks to Covid-related difficulties, and the group is making a last-ditch attempt to crowdfund support to see it through to April 2021 when Government funding is reopened.

Without funding, the group’s careful three-year project will come to a premature end, just at the time when its research is needed the most. If you can help with a small contribution, please visit the crowdfunder page HERE (it closes at the end of this week).

30
Sep
20

The eagle’s satellite tag found in the river: poetic injustice

Further to last Friday’s shocking news that a missing golden eagle’s satellite tag had been found in a river in Strathbraan, with aerial and harness cut and the tag wrapped in lead sheeting, presumably in an attempt to block the tag’s signal and conceal any evidence of criminal behaviour (see here), there’s an interesting background story to this particular eagle.

Cast your minds back three and half years to this blog (here) written in March 2017.

Here are the, ahem, ‘highlights’:

This photograph has been repeatedly posted on Facebook and other social media platforms as an example of ‘bad practice’ at a raptor tagging event. It shows a group of people at an eagle nest site in Perthshire in 2014. According to Bert Burnett of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, who has posted this image several times, these people, including Duncan Orr-Ewing of RSPB Scotland, are “having a picnic underneath an eagle nest” for several hours and thus by implication are causing unnecessary disturbance at the site and causing the adult birds to desert.

What’s actually happening here is a group of people, including four licensed experts and their invited guests, have climbed to an eagle nest site and while the climbers have gone to retrieve the eaglet from the nest so its satellite tag can be fitted in safety on the ground, Duncan is eating a sandwich. That’s it. It’s a few sandwiches short of a picnic, or is that just Bert?

Another photograph that Bert has circulated was also taken at this site on the same day. It shows Duncan quite rightly checking the fit of the young eagle’s sat tag harness before the bird is put back in its nest.

This photograph elicited all sorts of comments on social media, with suggestions that sat tagging golden eagles is harmful to the birds, that it’s detrimental to their survival and one person even claiming that “they [the raptor fieldworkers] are a far greater threat to birds than any shooting interests“.

He posted another photograph (which we won’t post here for legal reasons) that shows a woman and her son on the nest ledge after the eagle had been returned to its nest. Bert said this about it: “What happens to birds after tagging is very questionable. Allowing your families and friends to climb up intae the nest just for photo shoots is totally out of order and shows no concern for the birds future welfare“. On a later post he also claimed the woman had been “hoisted in to the nest“. What the photo actually shows is a Schedule 1 licence holder and her son who have just climbed to the nest to return the eagle after tagging. It’s probably hard for Bert to comprehend that a woman might actually be a Schedule 1 licence holder and that she’d be capable of climbing to the nest without being “hoisted in” (surely her breasts would get in the way?) but when your mindset is firmly stuck in the 18th century then it’s probably no surprise at all.

As for Bert’s comment, “What happens to birds after tagging is very questionable“, well, it’s not questionable in this case. This eagle was satellite tagged in Perthshire in 2014. The bird fledged successfully and its movements were tracked until 2016 when its tag signal suddenly stopped transmitting and the eagle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Perthshire. We’d respectfully suggest that this eagle’s disappearance (probable death) was not caused by Duncan eating a sandwich at its natal site two years earlier nor by it being put back in to the nest by a woman, but was more than likely caused by illegal poisoning, illegal trapping or illegal shooting on or near a grouse moor in the Highlands.

ENDS

Little did we or Bert Burnett, then a Director of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, imagine that this eagle would hit the headlines three and a half years later when its tag was found cut and wrapped in lead sheeting having been dumped in the river in one of Scotland’s most notorious raptor-killing hotspots – the grouse moors of Strathbraan, where eight satellite-tagged eagles have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in recent years.

This background information clearly exposes the desperate lies and false accusations used by some in the grouse shooting industry to deflect attention from the bleedin’ obvious and instead used to undermine the integrity and professionalism of those conservationists working hard to protect this species in the face of relentless persecution.

These fabrications were made in the build up to the publication of the Government-commissioned Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review, which was published in May 2017. It’s findings were damning.

Unbelievably, the lies from the grouse shooting industry continue. Over the last few days there have been a number of so-called ‘explanations’ from within the grouse shooting industry for what might have happened to this eagle and how it’s satellite tag ended up in the river wrapped in lead sheeting. They seek to have the public believe that this is ‘a set up’ – that conservationists (and some of them named, libellously, as perverting the course of justice) found the dead eagle several years ago after it died of natural causes and they apparently decided to ‘plant’ the tag in the river to make it look suspicious.

Fortunately, the public, the police and Government Ministers are not fooled.

All eyes on the Scottish Government’s imminent response to the Werritty review on grouse moor licensing.




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