Posts Tagged ‘white-tailed eagle


Two more satellite-tagged eagles disappear on Scottish grouse moors

Press release from RSPB Scotland (4 Nov 2019):

Two satellite-tagged eagles disappear on the same day

Both last recorded on grouse moors

RSPB Scotland is appealing for information after two young satellite-tagged white-tailed eagles disappeared in highly suspicious circumstances. Transmissions from the tags of both birds ceased on 22nd July this summer, one last recorded over a grouse moor in Inverness-shire, and the other over an Aberdeenshire grouse moor.

[White-tailed eagle, photo by Ben Andrew]

The Inverness-shire grouse moor is in an area with a history of bird of prey persecution, including numerous suspicious disappearances of tagged golden eagles over several years. These incidents led the Scottish Government to commission an independent review in 2016 into the fates of satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland, with the subsequent report finding that a third of these birds had most likely been illegally killed.

The birds that disappeared in July were both from the first generation of chicks from breeding pairs in the tiny white-tailed eagle population in east Scotland. Illegal persecution lead to white-tailed eagles becoming extinct in Scotland in 1918. The birds have returned to this eastern part of the country through a reintroduction project run by RSPB Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage between 2007 and 2012.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, said: “Yet again, rare, protected birds of prey have disappeared in highly suspicious circumstances, with their last known locations on grouse moors. And yet again, we can be almost certain that these birds have been killed, with those responsible destroying all the evidence. The disappearance of these two eagles is more than a loss of two birds; it means any future breeding success they might have had, helping to boost the numbers of these rare birds, has also been destroyed. Illegal persecution is seriously undermining the re-establishment of a white-tailed eagle population in this part of Scotland.”

Satellite tagging technology allows conservationists to monitor the eagles as they establish and develop a breeding population following the reintroduction, as well as providing insight into the threats they face and how best to help them. The tags, designed to transmit regularly, even after a bird has died, are fitted by licensed, trained fieldworkers.  RSPB Scotland was monitoring the eagles’ tag data and, in both cases, they suddenly ceased transmitting, with no prior evidence of any technical issues.

The National Wildlife Crime Unit and Police Scotland were immediately notified and, under routine procedure, were provided with the tags’ data to allow them to make a separate independent assessment of the birds’ likely fates. Follow-up investigations by the police, including searches of the final known locations of the birds, have yielded no further information as to their likely demise. Neither bird, nor their transmitters, have been seen or heard from subsequently, strongly suggesting that they have been illegally killed.

Ian Thomson continued: “In 1999, Donald Dewar, Scotland’s first First Minister, described raptor persecution as a “national disgrace”, but twenty years on, it continues unabated. It’s clear that current legal deterrents aren’t working and is long overdue that the stain of raptor persecution was removed from our nation’s reputation by the introduction of robust regulation of a driven grouse shooting industry that is blighting our country’s incredible wildlife and contributing to its biodiversity crisis.”

White L was a male eagle tagged as a chick at a nest in in Fife in 2016. His tag last transmitted on a grouse moor a few miles from the famous Banchory to Fettercairn Road, in Aberdeenshire. The other chick fledged from a nest in Inverness-shire in 2018 and disappeared on managed moorland near Tomatin in the northern Monadliaths. As well as repeated disappearances of satellite tagged eagles, this area of Inverness-shire has seen numerous incidents of shooting, poisoning and illegal trapping of eagles, red kites and hen harriers.

The independent peer-reviewed report which followed the Scottish Government commissioned review of the fates of satellite tagged eagles provided unequivocal evidence of the link between the highly suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged raptors and criminal activity associated with grouse moor management.

Anyone with information about either of these birds or any other wildlife crime is urged to contact Police Scotland on 101 or call the RSPB’s raptor crime hotline on 0300 999 0101.



Isle of Wight sea eagle reintroduction: one dead, one missing

Earlier this summer six young white-tailed eagles were collected from nests in Scotland and translocated to release aviaries on the Isle of Wight at the start of a new five year project aimed at restoring this species back to the south of England (see here).

This conservation initiative is being led by the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Forestry England, with a number of other supportive partners.

[WTE Reintroduction Project team Steve Egerton-Read, Dr Tim Mackrill, Ian Perks, Roy Dennis. Photo by Robin Crossley]

A project update blog has been published (here) and it announces that one of the eagles has died (the post mortem was inconclusive about the cause of death but further tests are being undertaken) and other eagle’s tag has stopped transmitting from the mainland. The missing eagle is named ‘Culver’ and is the bird whose spectacular London fly over caught the public’s attention in early September (see here).

Of his disappearance the blog update says:

We have analysed the tracking data, consulted with the police, and other experts. We have also conducted both ground and aerial searches in the most likely area using radio tracking equipment (all birds are fitted with a radio transmitter in addition to the satellite tags). However to date we have not been able to determine his location. There have been sporadic unconfirmed reports of white-tailed eagles from various locations and therefore we are keen to hear from anyone who may have seen Culver or any of the other birds“.


First batch of white-tailed eagles released on Isle of Wight

Some more excellent news!

Press release (22 August 2019)

The first white-tailed eagles to be reintroduced to England have been released on the Isle of Wight. The six young birds, the first to be returned to southern England for 240 years, are part of a five-year programme to restore this lost species led by Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation.

The young birds were collected under a Scottish Natural Heritage licence from the wild in Scotland and brought to the Isle of Wight. Here they have been fed and monitored by a team of experts and dedicated volunteers whilst becoming familiar with their new surroundings. All six birds have made good progress and have now been successfully released. The team will initially continue to provide feeding sites for the birds to encourage them to settle along the south coast.

[WTE Reintroduction Project team Steve Egerton-Read, Dr Tim Mackrill, Ian Perks, Roy Dennis. Photo by Robin Crossley]

Before being released the birds were fitted with small satellite trackers so their progress can be closely monitored. Data on their movements will be available on the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation website and once the birds are well established it is hoped that they will become a familiar site over the skies of the Island and nearby mainland coast.

Roy Dennis, Founder of the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation said:

I have spent much of my life working on the reintroduction of these amazing birds and so watching them take to the skies of the Isle of Wight has been a truly special moment. Establishing a population of white-tailed eagles in the south of England will link and support emerging populations of these birds in the Netherlands, France and Ireland, with the aim of restoring the species to the southern half of Europe. The team is pleased that the project fulfils one of the specific aims of the Government’s 25 year Environment Plan.

We have seen from other reintroduction programmes that returning lost species offers real benefits for nature and the health of our environment, and to people and local economies. I would like to thank everyone from the local community who is working with us to support and manage this project including our volunteers and project officer who are all Isle of Wight residents. We are also very grateful to the private donors who are supporting the project.”

Bruce Rothnie, Forestry England’s South District Forest Management Director, said:  “The diversity of our wildlife is under real pressure with many species now in long-term decline. The nation’s forests provide an important habitat for wildlife and are playing a critical role in supporting the successful re-establishment of many lost or threatened species. We are immensely proud that the woodlands we manage on the Isle of Wight and surrounding South Coast are now home to these incredibly rare birds as they return to England’s coastline.”

[One of the first White-tailed eagles to leave the release aviary. Photo by Forestry England]

The Isle of Wight was chosen as the location to reintroduce the white-tailed eagles, also known as sea eagles, as it offers an ideal habitat for these coastal loving birds. Areas where the cliff edges have slipped will provide quiet areas for the young eagles, and its network of cliffs and woodlands provide many potential nesting sites. The Solent and surrounding estuaries will provide a rich food supply for the eagles, with fish such as grey mullet and water birds forming a key part of their diet.

The Isle of Wight was also chosen for the project given its central position on the south coast allowing the birds to disperse east and west along this coastline.

A comprehensive feasibility study and public surveys were conducted prior to reintroduction and a steering group made up of local organisations and members of the community has met and is helping to guide the project.

The project is also expected to make a significant contribution to the local economy. A similar scheme on The Isle of Mull was found to have boosted its local economy by up to £5 million a year, demonstrating the interest in this iconic bird.

The reintroduction of Britain’s largest bird of prey is being conducted under licence from Natural England, the Government’s wildlife licensing authority. Further releases of the birds will take place annually as part of the five year programme, with at least six birds released each year. It will take several years for the young birds to become established and breeding is not expected to start until at least 2024.

Chairman of Natural England, Tony Juniper, said: “The return of these spectacular birds to England is a real landmark for conservation. I very much hope that it will also provide a practical demonstration of the fact that we can actually reverse the historic decline of our depleted natural environment.

It will also show how helping the recovery of our wildlife can be done at the same time as bringing benefits for people, in this case by offering a boost to the local economy through wildlife tourism, as has happened in Scotland after these birds were reintroduced there back in the 1970s.

As with all applications to restore lost native species, Natural England carefully considered the short and long term impact of reintroducing the eagles on the environment, including implications for local communities as well as the impacts on the animals themselves.

Everyone at Natural England is delighted to see this project reach this stage and I know just how excited Roy Dennis and the Forestry England team are about this reintroduction. I’m sure the local community will share their passion and excitement and look forward to seeing these magnificent creatures return to our skies.


Not everyone’s thrilled, predictably:

According to this article in The Times, the National Sheep Association (presumably a club for sheep farmers) opposed the reintroduction licence and claimed that farmers in Wales(!) hadn’t been properly consulted.

Stand by for hysteria in the press about sea eagles attacking the Isle of Wight ferry and dodgy photographs of them flying off with yachts they’ve ‘grabbed’ in the Solent.

For the rest of us, bring on the boat trips where we can pay our money to go and see these spectacular eagles.

Well done and thanks, Roy Dennis, Tim Mackrill and team.



Job opportunity: White-tailed eagle project officer, Isle of Wight

Following the news that Natural England has approved the reintroduction of white-tailed eagles to the Isle of Wight as part of a conservation effort to re-establish a breeding population in southern England (here), the project team is now recruiting for a White-tailed eagle Project Officer.

Strangely, the post is only offered as a ‘Fixed Term Appointment for 2 years with the possibility of extension or permanency but no guarantee’ whereas the proposed reintroduction is planned to cover a five-year period. Nevertheless, it’s a fantastic opportunity to be part of an exciting conservation initiative and to work with a great team of conservationists and of course an incredible species.

[Photo by Jari Peltomaki, Jouko Lehmuskallio & M.W.F. von Wright]


Location: Isle of Wight

Salary: £25,673 – £28,428

Hours: 37hr/week, full time, flexible working

Job background: South England Forest District manages some 46,000 hectares of the public forest estate across West Sussex, Surrey, Berkshire, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Dorset & South Wiltshire. Much of the land is of high importance for nature conservation, supporting some 29,000 hectares (ha) deemed to be of national importance for wildlife of which approximately 28,000 ha are also designated as being of international importance for biodiversity as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Ramsar sites. The majority of the land managed by the District is also within areas designated for their landscape value, including 4,000 ha within AONBs and 31,500 ha across two National Parks.

The White-tailed Eagle project is a partnership with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, to reintroduce this species back to the south coast of England. The project has a Natural England licence to release birds over a 5 year programme, starting June 2019.

Job description: To deliver the reintroduction project on the Isle of Wight. The Project Officer will work closely with Forestry England’s ecology team and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation to carry out a successful reintroduction programme with good monitoring and close liaison with our stakeholders and the wider public.

Key work areas: The post holder will develop a volunteer network to help deliver the reintroduction process, including feeding of the birds and monitoring post release.

  • Oversee information dissemination via a project website, social media and a programme of guided walks and talks.
  • Develop information around how and where to see the birds, including developing interpretation material for the project.
  • The monitoring and feeding of juvenile birds after their arrival on the Isle of Wight.
  • Post release monitoring will involve close observation of the birds in the field and the use of both radio and satellite tracking.
  • The key person liaising with stakeholders both on the Isle of Wight and on the mainland to ensure the success of the project.
  • The first point of contact for any concerns raised by the local landowners and organisations, with support from Forestry England ecology team and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation.
  • Be local to the Isle of Wight so that they can be on hand during the period when the birds are in cages at the release location and during post-release feeding.
  • Work with local enterprises looking to add value to the project.
  • Support the Bird Aware project in the Solent.

Essential experience:

  • Sound knowledge and understanding of birds and wider ecology.
  • Experience working with local stakeholder groups, including: farmers; landowners; non-governmental organisations; charities; local government.
  • Experience working with the public.
  • An effective communicator, both written and verbally.
  • Fieldwork experience of monitoring birds, particularly raptors
  • Experience engaging with volunteers, volunteer recruitment and management.
  • Competent in IT – Microsoft Office, website content and social media.
  • Current resident of the Isle of Wight or prepared to relocate.

Desirable experience:

  • Practical experience of species reintroduction projects.
  • Sound knowledge of the application of environmental legislation to project planning and delivery in the context of species reintroductions.
  • Experience developing a suite of interpretation for a project.
  • Experience in monitoring using satellite tagging.

Closing date: 1 May 2019

Interview date: 14 May 2019

For further details and how to apply, please see here


BASC’s mask slips again as Director dismisses sat tag evidence as “hysterics”

Have a look at this tweet from Duncan Thomas, a regional director of the British Association for Shooting & Conservation (BASC):

Dear oh dear. And BASC had been trying soooooo hard to convince everyone it accepted the findings of the recently published hen harrier satellite tag paper that showed at least 72% of sat tagged hen harriers were presumed illegally killed on grouse moors.

In response to that scientific peer-reviewed paper BASC’s Executive Director of Conservation had even stated:

We are grateful that this research has been carried out. Satellite tags are a tool in the fight against persecution. We have to make sure there is no place left for criminals to hide“.

This is the second time in recent weeks that Duncan Thomas has caused what should be considerable embarrassment to those at BASC’s head office – last time was when he went on the telly to claim that “there’s a tiny amount of persecution occurring” [in the Peak District National Park] despite overwhelming evidence that’s stacked up over the last two decades that shows otherwise –  see here.

Does this look like an organisation committed to tackling the illegal killing of birds of prey?

Why is BASC still a member of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG)? It boycotted the last RPPDG meeting and then shortly afterwards claimed it was still “committed to constructive dialogue“.

Does referring to the scientific findings of the hen harrier and golden eagle sat tag papers as “#raptorhysterics” look like constructive dialogue to you?

How will this appalling attitude help progress the work of the RPPDG?


Natural England approves reintroduction of white-tailed eagles to Isle of Wight

Natural England press release (2 April 2019)

Natural England issues licence to release white-tailed eagles

Natural England has issued a licence to allow the release of white-tailed eagles on the Isle of Wight.

The release is part of a project, led by the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Forestry England, to establish a breeding population of white-tailed eagles in southern England.

White-tailed eagles became extinct as a breeding species in England in the eighteenth century.  Releases over the past 40 years have successfully re-established breeding populations in Scotland and Ireland.

[Photo by R Saunders]

Natural England has very carefully considered all aspects of the licence application.  I would like to personally thank the expert working group of local staff and national specialists who have carefully tested the application against our licensing criteria and the IUCN: International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Guidelines for Reintroductions and Other Conservation Translocations.

We have paid particular attention to:

  • the impacts on other wildlife and socio-economic interests, including livestock
  • the risk of disease transmission
  • the feasibility of the proposal and likely success
  • any risk to the donor population
  • the contribution to the conservation of white-tailed eagles
  • the adequacy of the applicant’s consultation, the evidence of support and how issues raised will be addressed
  • the applicant’s experience
  • the applicant’s monitoring plan
  • evidence of sufficient finances to support the project
  • the applicant’s communications plan and exit strategy

We have very thoroughly assessed the potential impacts on protected site features and existing wildlife.  We have discounted any adverse impacts through direct predation and disturbance by the eagles or indirectly through increased visitor pressure from ‘eagle tourists’.

We have carefully examined the potential risk of lamb predation.  There is no evidence of this becoming a problem where the eagles live alongside lowland sheep farming in Europe.  However, we will ensure that the applicant puts in place clear routes to identify and manage any unexpected issues that might arise.

The licence permits the release of up to 60 eagles (12 per year) over the next five years.  Young eagles will be sourced under licence from nests in Scotland and raised through to release on the Isle of Wight.   The first release is planned for summer 2019.

In response to queries raised through public consultation and our assessment, conditions attached to the licence ensure that no releases can occur until the applicants have:

  1. established a project steering group and a monitoring and management group with representation from key stakeholders and sectors
  2. developed a detailed monitoring strategy with clear evaluation and research objectives
  3. produced a communications strategy that clearly outlines mechanisms for escalating concerns and accessing advice and support to resolve them

Natural England is pleased to be able to license this application.  As described in the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, bringing back lost species in a well-planned and supported way not only helps wildlife populations recover, but can also help more people connect with nature and open up new business opportunities.


Excellent news!

For more detail about the project, see the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation website here


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.

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