Posts Tagged ‘white-tailed eagle


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?


Environment Minister acknowledges potential economic impact of wildlife crime linked to grouse shooting

It’s been another year of shocking wildlife crimes being uncovered on grouse moors in the UK, including the illegal poisoning of this iconic white-tailed eagle, found dead on a grouse moor inside the Cairngorms National Park in the spring (see here).

[The poisoned white-tailed eagle, photo by Police Scotland]

Last week, Scottish Greens MSP Alison Johnstone lodged a Parliamentary question asking what assessment the Scottish Government has made of the impact on the rural economy of wildlife crime linked to grouse moor management (see here).

Her question, and a supplementary one, were ‘answered’ by Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon during Portfolio Question Time yesterday in the Scottish Parliament.

When I say ‘answered’, I use the term loosely. A more fitting word might be ‘sidestepped’.

Here’s how it went:

It’s good that Mairi Gougeon acknowledges the potential economic damage of wildlife crime linked to grouse moor management – it’d be insane to claim that the photograph of that poisoned eagle, laying dead on a grouse moor inside the Cairngorms National Park of all bloody places, would not have an economic impact and, as the Minister pointed out, on Scotland’s international reputation.

But the question Alison asked was ‘What assessment of that economic damage has the Scottish Government undertaken?’

None, it seems.

Still, as the Government’s response to the Werritty Review is imminent, we can all look forward to “decisive action” on wildlife crime linked to grouse moor management, as Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham assured us all in August after a huge outpouring of public anger about this poisoned sea eagle (see here).


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.


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.


Parliamentary question – economic impact of wildlife crime linked to grouse moor management

There’s been a fair bit in the press in recent days on the alleged positive impact of grouse moor management on the Scottish rural economy, following the publication of a series of new reports.

Representatives and supporters of the grouse shooting industry will, of course, tend to focus on the assumed economic benefits and rarely, if ever, will they mention the economic costs of this damaging industry.

So this is a really important parliamentary question that’s been lodged by Scottish Green’s MSP Alison Johnson:

Question S50-04745. Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party. Lodged 4/11/2020.

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact on the rural economy of wildlife crime linked to grouse moor management.

Current status: Due in Chamber on 12/11/2020.

I’m not sure which Minister will be answering this question next Thursday but I look forward to the response.

Here’s a photo of a police officer examining the corpse of a white-tailed eagle, found illegally poisoned with a banned pesticide on a grouse moor inside the Cairngorms National Park earlier this year (see here). [Photo by Police Scotland]

He wasn’t the first victim and he certainly won’t be the last. Raptor persecution, whether that be poisoning, shooting or trapping, is still rampant on many Scottish (and English) grouse moors, despite it having been illegal since 1954.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Scottish Government intends to assess the economic cost of this ongoing criminality.

UPDATE 13 November 2020: Environment Minister acknowledges potential economic impact of wildlife crime linked to grouse shooting (here)


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.


Proposed golden eagle reintroduction in Wales: interesting commentary from last night’s event

Further to yesterday’s blog (see here) about the proposed reintroduction of golden eagles to Wales and the two very different approaches being taken by two ‘competing’ organisations (see here), one of our blog readers attended last night’s public consultation event being hosted by Dr Paul O’Donoghue of Wilder Britain.

Many thanks to that blog reader who has provided us with a set of questions he asked and the short but extraordinary answers he says were provided by Paul O’Donoghue, as follows:

Question: On a scale of 1-10 how confident are you that this will take place next year?

Answer: Nine

Question: Why not follow IUCN guidelines and get birds from the nearest population?

Answer: Golden eagles in Scotland are not breeding enough to take any away, the numbers are in decline. IUCN guidelines say that you shouldn’t impede donor populations.

Question: Who are you working with in Norway? Have you entered in to dialogue with DEFRA for an import and export licence?

Answer: No dialogue with DEFRA yet. Vets lined up ready for disease risk assessment. We have a very good environmental lawyer working with us by the name of Susan Shaw.

Question: When did you last talk to Lorcan O’Toole? [Golden Eagle Trust, Ireland]

Answer: End of last year.

Question: Are you still confident in an 80% survival rate, when Ireland only works on around 30%?

Answer: Ireland’s success rate is a lot higher than 30%, I am confident at 80%, I wouldn’t be surprised if they all survived.

Question: Have you completed a Habitats Regulations Assessment?

Answer: Yes.

Question: What assessment are you conducting in respect of ecological damage to protected species?

Answer: That’s part of the Habitats Regulations Assessment.

Question: Golden eagles are not a Schedule 9 species. What licence do you need?

Answer: Will only need a licence to hold the birds in aviary before release.

Question: Why just release ten birds? Any plans to top up? Is it just a test population?

Answer: We might apply to top up if we feel the need. It’s not a trial though.

Question: Why is Snowdonia an ideal habitat? Even better than Scotland?

Answer: Scotland is less productive and barren. There is much more diverse habitat in Snowdonia, forests, mountains, moorlands, lowlands etc.

Question: You said feasibility studies were complete. Aren’t these consultation supposed to be part of those studies?

Answer: We have completed the ecological studies, these consultations are part of the social/economic study.

Question: Why do RSPB, BTO and North Wales Wildlife Trust appear to be distancing themselves from you?

Answer: That is up to them, we have asked them to be involved. We don’t need them anyway.

Question: Why favour golden eagle over white-tailed eagle?

Answer: White-tailed eagles are in conflict with farmers in Scotland and have much more impact on red listed species. If another organisation suggested white-tailed eagle we would strongly object.

Question: What is your estimated budget for this project?

Answer: That is something we are still working on.

Question: How much have you raised so far?

Answer: I can’t say but it is more than enough.

Question: Who are your main donors?

Answer: Not at liberty to say, they want to remain anonymous.

The answers Dr O’Donoghue is reported to have given about his fundraising activities are quite interesting. If he has already raised ‘more than enough’ funds for the project, presumably his ‘sponsor an eagle’ fundraiser on the Wild Britain website’s home page will be removed without further delay:

Although, if, as is reported, he’s ‘still working on’ what the project’s budget might be, how would he know whether he’d raised ‘more than enough’ funding already? It’s all very bizarre.

Our blog reader reported that ‘about twelve people’ attended last night’s public consultation, which doesn’t sound like very many. We’re told that one member of the audience pointed out the low attendance, possibly due to Covid, and suggested that O’Donoghue should consider putting on an online event so more people could attend. O’Donoghue is reported to have agreed with this suggestion and said he would look in to setting up a Zoom meeting.

We’re told that the audience included a few disgruntled farmers and some members of the public who were unhappy that the event wasn’t bi-lingual, with mutterings of ‘colonialism’. Somebody asked how many landowners had agreed to participate in the proposed reintroduction and the answer was ‘two on board at the moment’ but a conviction that more would soon join in and there’d be no shortage of potential release sites.

One member of the audience apparently called him a ‘crackpot’. O’Donoghue is said to have claimed there’d be no Great Bustards in the UK if it wasn’t for him.

A third public consultation event is due to take place in Caernarfon but the date has not yet been released. Hopefully the online event suggested by a participant at last night’s event will also take place.

Many thanks to the blog reader who provided the above information.

You have to feel for the other organisation that’s interested in restoring both eagle species to Wales. The Cardiff University-based Eagle Reintroduction Project Wales has, for the last three years, quietly undertaken scientifically-rigorous feasibility studies for the potential reintroduction of golden and white-tailed eagles to Wales. They’ve already published some of their findings in a peer-reviewed journal, with more to come, and they’ve been developing widespread partnerships, working towards putting forward a well-evidenced and widely endorsed case for a potential reintroduction if their scientific analyses support such a move.

If you’d like to help them please visit their crowdfunder (here), donate if you can or simply spread the word.


Update on parliamentary motion on ‘disappearances of birds of prey over driven grouse moors’

Three weeks ago we reported that Alex Rowley MSP (Scottish Labour) had lodged a parliamentary motion relating to the ‘disappearances of birds of prey over driven grouse moors’ (see here).

This motion was triggered not only by the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged golden eagle Tom, who vanished in to thin air during lockdown in May this year, along with his fully-functioning satellite tag, with his last known location being on a driven grouse moor in Strathbraan, a well-known raptor persecution hotspot (see here), but also the suspicious disappearance of seven other satellite-tagged golden eagles in the same area, the disappearance of another satellite-tagged hen harrier on another Scottish driven grouse moor (here), the illegal poisoning of a satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle found dead on another Scottish grouse moor (here), and the 43 hen harriers that have either gone missing or have been killed in the UK in the last two years, mostly on or close to driven grouse moors (here).

A quick check today on the progress of this parliamentary motion has revealed it has full cross-party support, with MSPs from all parties signing up:

There are 26 supporters to date, from Scottish Labour, SNP, the Greens, the Lib Dems, an independent, and, surprisingly, the Conservatives. Well done Peter Chapman MSP (Scottish Conservatives, NE Scotland) for being the sole supporter (so far) from this party.

The motion needs four more supporters before it reaches the threshold of 30 MSPs from at least two different political parties to qualify for a Parliamentary debate.

Parliamentary motions are ‘live’ for six weeks before they’re culled (if they haven’t attracted sufficient support) so this one still has about three weeks to run.

If your MSP is not listed, please consider dropping them an email and encourage them to support this motion. If they refuse, it’d be interesting to hear their explanations. NB: Ministers and Cabinet Secretaries are not eligible to support these motions.

If you’re unsure about who your elected representatives are, you can find them here.

Thank you


Seven more white-tailed eagles released on Isle of Wight

Following the recent news of a young white-tailed eagle being found dead on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park, killed after ingesting a banned poison (see here), here is some some more positive news for the future of this iconic species.

Press release from Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation (18th August 2020)

Successful second release of White-tailed eagles takes place in landmark English reintroduction project

The return of white-tailed eagles to England has reached its next key milestone with the successful release of a further 7 birds on the Isle of Wight. The five-year reintroduction programme now in its second year is led by Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, and aims to restore this lost species after an absence of 240 years.

Over five years, up to 60 white-tailed eagles will be released with the aim of establishing an initial population of 6- 8 breeding pairs on the Isle of Wight and along the mainland coast. The first six birds were released last year. It will take several years for the young birds to become established and breeding is not expected to start until at least 2024.

[Juvenile white-tailed eagle, photo by Robin Crossley]

Each bird is fitted with a satellite tracker to enable the team to monitor and track their progress. Evidence from similar reintroductions suggests that the rate of survival to breeding age is around 40%, and four of the six birds released last year have survived and are doing well.

As they mature the released white-tailed eagles have, as expected, begun to explore widely. Their journeys have taken them across much of England as they explore and learn about the landscape for the first time. Between these explorations, the birds have regularly been seen fishing for Grey Mullet in the estuaries of the Solent and observed in the skies over the Isle of Wight.

Bird enthusiasts and members of the public across the country have supported the project by reporting sightings of the eagles and sharing these via @seaeagleengland on social media and via our online sightings form.

Roy Dennis, Founder of the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation said: “We are delighted that we have been able to release this next group of birds this year as planned. We have seen from other reintroduction programmes that returning lost species offers real benefits for the health of our environment, and to people and local economies. This is particularly important at these difficult times as people rediscover nature and its benefits.”

“It has been very exciting to follow the exploratory flights of the birds we released last year and to see how they are learning to live successfully in the English landscape. We have been particularly encouraged that the birds have been catching Grey Mullet in the estuaries of the Isle of Wight because we believe this will become an important food source as the population develops, and is one of the key reasons we considered the Isle of Wight and the South Coast suitable for a reintroduction.”

“A project like this relies upon the involvement and support of many, many people. I would like to thank everyone who has helped us again this year including the local organisations and individuals on our steering group. We look forward to the day when these amazing birds become a regular feature in the skies above us.”

[One of this year’s juvenile eagles at the release pen. Photo via Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation]

Steve Egerton-Read, White-Tailed Eagle Project Officer, Forestry England, said: “We are now a year on from the release of the first white-tailed eagles and it’s very encouraging to see them doing well. We have been following their movements closely using the satellite monitoring, field visits and reports from members of the public.”

“It will be fascinating to see how the young birds released this summer explore and how they interact with the slightly older birds released in 2019. Thank you to everyone who continues to support us by reporting observations and photos of the birds as they travel around the country, we are always keen to hear about your amazing sightings.”

The reintroduction of Britain’s largest bird of prey is being conducted under licence from Natural England, the Government’s wildlife licensing authority. All of the young birds involved in the project are collected under a Scottish Natural Heritage licence from the wild in Scotland and brought to the Isle of Wight.

Natural England Chair, Tony Juniper, said: “Today is an important landmark for the conservation of these spectacular birds, and I am delighted that we have played our part by licensing this trailblazing project. A key condition of our licence was the involvement of stakeholders and ongoing monitoring, and Roy Dennis and his team have worked hard to involve local groups which has been critical to the success of this project.”

“It’s been thrilling to see last year’s birds travel across England. I hope this project sets a blueprint for further successful species re-introductions in England, which are a vital part of achieving our overarching goal for nature conservation and recovery.”

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 with plentiful sources of food in the surrounding waters. It also offers a central position on the south coast allowing the birds to disperse and link with other populations in Scotland, Ireland and on the continent.

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.

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 are helping to guide the project.



Disappearance of golden eagle Tom prompts Parliamentary motion

Earlier this week we blogged about the suspicious disappearance of Tom, a golden eagle we’d been satellite-tracking since last year with Chris Packham and who vanished in to thin air, along with his fully-functioning satellite tag, with his last known location being on a driven grouse moor in Strathbraan, a well-known raptor persecution hotspot (see here).

[Golden eagle Tom at approx 8 weeks old having his satellite tag fitted in 2019 under expert licence. Photo Raptor Persecution UK]

We produced a video about Tom’s suspicious disappearance and this, along with the RPUK blog on his disappearance, received good media coverage both online and in the printed media throughout the week, even though a journalist at The Times simply cut and pasted the text from the RPUK blog, regurgitated it in an article and attributed this to ‘a spokesman from RPUK‘. Ha!

Here’s the video for those who may have missed it:

And now Tom’s disappearance has prompted a Parliamentary motion, lodged by Labour MSP Alex Rowley as follows:

It’s not just Tom’s disappearance that has led to this. As you can see, Alex also mentions the suspicious disappearance of seven other satellite-tagged golden eagles in the same area, the disappearance of another satellite-tagged hen harrier on another Scottish driven grouse moor (here), the illegal poisoning of a satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle found dead on another Scottish grouse moor (here), and the 43 hen harriers that have either gone missing or have been killed in the UK in the last two years (here).

He’s done his homework.

For a Parliamentary Motion to be considered for debate, at least 30 MSPs from at least two different political parties need to support it. So far, Alex’s motion has attracted the support of 17 MSPs, representing Labour, SNP, Greens, Liberal Democrats and one independent.

If your MSP’s name isn’t on the list as a supporter, please email them and prompt them to sign up. If they refuse, ask them why. Put them on the spot and most importantly of all, let them know that this issue matters to you.

If you don’t know who your MSP is you can find out here

If you want to do more, and if you’re sick to the back teeth of illegal raptor persecution on driven grouse moors, please consider participating in this quick and easy e-action to send a letter to your local Parliamentary representative (MSP/MP/MS) urging action. Launched last Saturday by Wild Justice, RSPB and Hen Harrier Action, over 41,000 people have signed up so far.

This means that over 41,000 pre-written letters complaining about illegal raptor persecution and the environmental damage caused by intensive grouse moor management, are winging their way to politicians of all parties across the UK. If you want your local politician to receive one, Please join in HERE

Thank you

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