Posts Tagged ‘white-tailed eagle


Conflicting approaches to reintroducing golden eagles to Wales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Screengrab from Countryfile Winter Diaries]

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

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

This looks set to become messy.

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


Private Eye, sea eagles, hill farmers & grouse moor burning

White-tailed eagles are never far from the news and even feature in the latest edition of Private Eye:

The Committee on Climate Change reports referred to in the article can be found here.

They’re really worth a read. The following text in the report ‘Land use: reducing emissions and preparing for climate change‘ will be of particular interest to those of us concerned about grouse moor management:

4.2. Identifying and removing barriers to transformational land use

Changes on this scale will require a coordinated, national approach. There are several key barriers that will prevent the scale of action that is required to meet long-term climate change mitigation and adaptation goals:

Missing and incomplete markets for public goods.

At present, the private social costs and benefits related to land use can differ widely, leading to sub-optimal land management strategies from a social perspective. For example, there has been a large-scale effort through government programmes to increase the value land owners place on preserving the carbon locked up in peat soils, in order to incentivise peatland restoration over and above activities such as maintaining heather cover and burning to support grouse shooting.

Between 2007 and 2013, £27 million was paid out to land owners who had taken up moorland restoration under the Higher Level Stewardship scheme. Water companies invested £45 million between 2005 and 2015 in programmes to work with landowners to improve peatland condition as a way of improving water quality.

However, so far these restoration efforts remain insufficient to incentivise the degree of restoration that is needed in the face of climate change. The condition of upland peat SSSIs in England is continuing to decline, from 19% in favourable condition in 2003 to 10% in 2016.


Some interesting stats in that last sentence, and worth bearing in mind the next time the grouse shooting industry’s spin doctors try to infer that grouse moor SSSIs are an indication of ‘environmental quality‘.


Proposed reintroduction of white-tailed eagles to Isle of Wight: have your say

Earlier this month the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and the Forestry Commission announced a proposal to reintroduce white-tailed eagles to the Isle of Wight (see here).

[Photo by Marcin Nawrocki]

The National Farmers Union has been having its say about the proposal (see here).

Now’s your chance to have your say.

A very short online questionnaire is open for your comments (but note it will close tonight, presumably at midnight). The questionnaire results, along with a scientific and conservation rationale, will form part of a feasibility report to Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage as part of the licensing application.

Take part in the questionnaire HERE

Frequently asked questions about the proposal can be read here


Two of the four missing satellite-tagged hen harriers ‘disappeared’ on grouse moors in Cairngorms National Park

Earlier this month RSPB Scotland announced that four of this year’s satellite-tagged hen harriers had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on Scottish grouse moors (see here).

[RPUK map showing approximate last known locations of four satellite-tagged hen harriers]

We said at the time that we’d be coming back to this subject as we were interested in the locations from where the birds had vanished.

Two of those hen harriers (Margot and Stelmaria) both hatched on the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate in the Cairngorms National Park earlier this summer, and both of them subsequently vanished, also inside the Cairngorms National Park.

[RPUK map showing approximate last known locations of hen harriers Margot & Stelmaria]

We’ll be coming back to have a closer look at these locations tomorrow.

It should be shocking that two hen harriers, a high priority red-listed species, have vanished in suspicious circumstances inside the world-renowned Cairngorms National Park (CNP). But it isn’t. Because this isn’t the first time.

In August 2016 satellite-tagged hen harrier Brian ‘disappeared’ inside the CNP (see here).

In August 2017 satellite-tagged hen harrier Calluna ‘disappeared’ inside the CNP (see here).

In August 2015 satellite-tagged hen harrier Lad didn’t ‘disappear’ but he was found dead, suspected shot, inside the CNP (see here).

But it’s not just satellite-tagged hen harriers. At least 15 satellite-tagged golden eagles have also ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in recent years inside the CNP (see here). In 2014 the first white-tailed eagle chick to fledge in East Scotland in approx 200 years also ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances inside the CNP (see here) and earlier this year another white-tailed eagle also ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances inside the CNP (see here).

We’ve searched the Cairngorms National Park Authority’s website for a comment/statement about the latest two hen harrier disappearances but we didn’t find anything.

We’ve also searched the Scottish Government’s website for a comment/statement about the latest two hen harrier disappearances inside the CNP but we didn’t find anything there either.

Probably because it’s all a bit embarrassing.

In 2017, following the damning findings of the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review, the Scottish Government announced it was to establish a 12-month pilot scheme, funding five police special constables to work in the CNP to focus on deterring and detecting wildlife crime. This scheme was launched in March this year (see here).

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 earlier this year that this pilot scheme was also 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 is that the police special constable scheme could be rolled out across Scotland “if judged to be successful” in the CNP.

We’re not sure what the criteria will be for judging ‘success’ but we can be quite sure that the continued suspicious ‘disappearance’ of satellite-tagged raptors within the CNP cannot possibly be indicative of success.

UPDATE 22 Nov 2018: Did hen harrier Margot ‘disappear’ on a Royal grouse moor? (Here)

UPDATE 23 Nov 2018: From which grouse shooting estate did hen harrier Stelmaria ‘disappear’? (here)


Proposal to reintroduce white-tailed eagles to Isle of Wight

From the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation:

White-tailed Eagles were once widespread along the whole of the South Coast of England, from Cornwall to Kent, before being driven to extinction by relentless persecution that began in the Middle Ages. The last pair bred on Culver Cliff on the Isle of Wight in 1780. Many parts of southern England remain highly suitable for the species, and following the reintroduction of White-tailed Eagles to Scotland – where there are now over 130 breeding pairs – we believe that an English reintroduction would be equally successful and the best way to re-establish these magnificent birds in their former haunts. Restoring a population of White-Eagles on the South Coast would help to link populations in Scotland and Ireland with those in the Netherlands and France.

[White-tailed eagle by Ronnie Gilbert]

Together with the Forestry Commission we have identified the Isle of Wight as a potential location for a reintroduction, and are currently working on a feasibility report. It is the last known breeding site of the species in southern England, the Solent and surrounding estuaries will provide a rich food supply, there are numerous potential nesting sites in woods and cliffs, and also good loafing areas for young birds. It is also a highly strategic location that would enable the birds to spread east and west along the South Coast.

Evidence from the Netherlands, where there is a small but growing population of White-tailed Eagles, shows that the species will readily nest in densely populated areas, close to people. The species has a broad diet and tends to favour the most seasonally abundant prey: waterbirds are important, including in summer the young of Greylag and other geese as well as Coot; fish are taken when available as well as carrion such as dead and dying birds and fish. Dutch researchers studying White-tailed Eagles have found that any disturbance to wading birds by the eagles is similar to that of Peregrine, and species get used to their presence; while breeding colonies of gulls and terns are effective at mobbing and driving off the eagles.

In addition to the conservation benefits, we believe that the project would give a significant boost to the Isle of Wight economy, including in winter. In Scotland eagle tourism is extremely popular and recent reports have shown White-tailed Eagles generate up to £5 million to the economy of the Isle of Mull each year, and £2.4 million to the Isle of Skye.

The proposed project is a partnership between the Forestry Commission and Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, with potential for other local partners to join.

If the project was to go ahead juvenile White-tailed Eagles would be collected from nests in Scotland and translocated to the Isle of Wight in late June. They would be held in special cages in a quiet location for approximately three-four weeks before being released. Food would be provided close to the release site during the autumn and winter before the young eagles become independent. Up to 60 birds would be translocated in this way over a five year period. The project requires a special licence from Scottish Natural Heritage to collect eagle chicks from Scottish nests, and permission from Natural England to release them on the Isle of Wight.

Young White-tailed Eagles do not breed until they are four or five years of age. It is hoped that a small population would become established on the Isle of Wight, with birds spreading east and west along the South Coast thereafter.

We are keen to consult with the local community, landowners and other stakeholders to encourage support and involvement with the project, and to identify and resolve any concerns.

Three drop-in sessions will be held at three locations across the Isle of Wight to enable members of the public to learn more about the proposed project. These will be held as follows:

  • Monday 12th November: 6-8pm, YMCA Winchester House, Shanklin
  • Tuesday 13th November: 11am – 1pm, 5th Ryde Scout Group Hall, Ryde
  • Tuesday 13th November: 6-8pm, Cowes Yacht Haven, Cowes

You can arrive at any time during the drop-in sessions, and the project team will be present to answer questions and to discuss the proposals. You can also provide feedback on the proposals via our online questionnaire.

For further information about the proposals check out our Frequently Asked Questions page.



New podcast: the illegal persecution of satellite-tagged eagles in Scotland

An excellent new podcast is now available on the illegal persecution of satellite-tagged eagles in Scotland.

Charlie Moores (a producer at LUSH) interviews Ian Thomson (RSPB Scotland Head of Investigations) about the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged golden eagles and white-tailed eagles in areas intensively managed for driven grouse shooting, and how the raptor killers’ tactics have changed since satellite tags became more commonly used.

Well worth 25 minutes of your time.

Listen to the podcast on the LUSH player HERE

[Ian with Chris Packham holding a picture of satellite-tagged golden eagle Fred who ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances earlier this year, photo by Ruth Tingay]


Missing sea eagle Blue T: statement from Cairngorms National Park Authority

Following last week’s news that a young satellite-tagged sea eagle (Blue T) had ‘disappeared’ on Invercauld Estate, the Cairngorms National Park Authority’s CEO, Grant Moir, has published a statement:

The frustration is evident and it’s clear that a great deal of thought has gone in to this statement, which is a huge improvement on previous CNPA statements about ‘disappearing’ satellite-tagged raptors in the National Park (e.g. see here), but we wanted to pick up on a few things.

The news that SNH will shortly be launching the next phase of its raptor tracker project is great – any technological developments that might provide more detail about the fate of ‘missing’ satellite-tagged raptors will be warmly welcomed by most (but probably not by the criminals within the grouse-shooting industry).

However, Grant seems to think that knowing exactly where and when a tagged bird was killed will “take the ambiguity away from the situation“. It won’t.

As we’ve blogged before, if the tag/raptor is destroyed on an estate that employs multiple gamekeepers, the issue of identifying the individual culprit(s) will remain, especially if all the staff give the standard ‘no comment’ police interview. There will also be the sometimes plausible argument that the raptor had been shot/poisoned on a neighbouring estate and died just over the boundary of the estate under scrutiny. And as we’ve seen in recent years, even with clear video evidence of an individually identifiable gamekeeper killing a raptor, a successful prosecution is highly unlikely because the Crown Office will declare the evidence inadmissible or will claim it’s not in the public interest to proceed.

Sorry, Grant, but the so-called ‘ambiguity’ will remain – although there’s nothing ambiguous about the robust & statistically significant findings of the golden eagle satellite tag review, which demonstrated a clear relationship between suspicious raptor disappearances and land managed for intensive driven grouse shooting in and around the Cairngorms National Park:

One other thing in Grant’s statement that we wanted to pick up on –

Invercauld Estate is part of the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership and I genuinely do believe that progress has started to be made across a wide range of subjects with the Estates involved……”

Really? What progress is that, then? Any progress on stopping the illegal persecution of raptors?

The East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership was established in December 2015 and comprises six estates working in ‘partnership’ with the CNPA.

The Partnership’s statement of purpose can be read here.

Here are the estates (boundaries sourced from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website):

  1. Glenlivet Estate. 2. Glenavon Estate. 3. Mar Lodge Estate (National Trust for Scotland). 4. Invercauld Estate. 5. Mar Estate. 6. Balmoral & Birkhall Estate.

Last October, almost two years after this Partnership was established, we wanted to find out what progress had been achieved. We submitted an FoI to the CNPA asking for copies of all correspondence relating to the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership since 1 January 2016.

Here’s the reply we received in November 2017:

We have searched our Corporate Drives for the period as above and we hold no information‘.

Impressive amount of progress, eh?

We do know that in February this year the CNPA was advertising for a part-time East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership Officer, on a decent salary of £28,770 – £34,633 pro rata.

Assuming someone has now been employed in this new position, they’ve certainly got their work cut out in delivering the objectives set out in the Cairngorms National Park Management Plan 2017-2022, which includes improving raptor populations in the National Park. Recent peer-reviewed science has revealed that the local hen harrier population has crashed (here) as has the local peregrine population (here).

Oh, and satellite-tagged hen harriers keep going ‘missing’ in highly suspicious circumstances inside the National Park, just like hen harrier Calluna, as do satellite-tagged eagles such as sea eagle Blue T and golden eagle #338.

National Park or National Disgrace?

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