Posts Tagged ‘white-tailed eagle

29
Dec
21

“These crimes are being covered up”: RSPB Scotland speaks out as bird crime soars

Bird crime soared across the UK in 2020, and RSPB believes Scotland’s native birds of prey will continue to be persecuted, according to two new articles published yesterday in The Courier and The Press & Journal:

Birds of prey such as hawks, eagles, kites, buzzards, harriers, falcons and owls are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

The RSPB’s annual report revealed that 2020 was the worst year on record for bird crime across the UK.

There were 137 known and confirmed incidents of birds of prey being killed, the highest number in 30 years.

This trend has continued in 2021, according to Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations.

He said: “Bird crime covers a whole manner of crimes against wild birds, but what is particularly of concern are those crimes that have an impact on the populations and ranges of a variety of species.”

According to Mr Thomson, bird crime, also known as raptor persecution, is particularly rife in the north-east, with the hen harrier population being a fraction of what it was 20 years ago.

He also explained that golden eagles are only occupying around a third of the breeding territories that they ought to; meanwhile, peregrines have largely disappeared from the uplands in the north-east.

Mr Thomson believes that these low population numbers are largely down to the persecution of birds of prey for the intense land management of grouse moors.

Birds of prey are at the top of the food chain and they hunt and eat grouse and pheasants.

In an attempt to maximise the number of game birds available for clients to shoot, grouse moor managers will eliminate any threats to their birds.

This can include burning patches of heather moorland and releasing clouds of smoke into the air, leaving medicated grit out in the open and hare baiting.

The National Golden Eagle Survey shows that across Scotland the population as a whole is doing well and that there are significant increases in the west where there are no grouse moors.

Mr Thomson said it is the east of Scotland where the populations are a fraction of what they should be.

Scientific reports show that the illegal persecution of golden eagles, hen harriers, red kites and peregrines are largely happening in areas managed for game bird shooting.

Unfortunately, these findings are largely happening in the middle of nowhere,” Mr Thomson said, “out of sight, out of mind, where witnesses are very far and few between.

But, occasionally, an incident occurs that is detected.

In 2020, about a week into lockdown when the entire population of the country was told to stay indoors or to exercise within five miles of your house, we had a young white-tailed eagle poisoned on a grouse moor in Strathdon, in an area with an appalling history of crimes against birds of prey going back 10-plus years.”

Mr Thomson explained there have been cases of birds of satellite-tagged birds disappearing under “suspicious circumstances”.

In March a golden eagle was illegally poisoned on the Invercauld Estate, a grouse moor in the Cairngorms.

Last year a satellite transmitter that had been fitted on a golden eagle was found at the side of a river.

It was wrapped in lead sheeting and thrown into the river where it lay for four years until a walker found it on the bank.

Mr Thomson said: “This is the efforts that people are going to cover up these crimes, they don’t want to be caught.

The problem is, as I say, these crimes are seldom witnessed; to actually get any idea of the scale of it we’re really depending on doing population studies.

We’re never going to find all the victims because, needless to say, if someone shoots a golden eagle they’re not going to leave it around for the RSPB or the police or a hillwalker to find.

These crimes are being covered up.”

The RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations explained that there are other factors that have impacted the populations of birds of prey.

He said that all birds face challenges “just surviving”, through natural mortality, starvation, and loss of habitat due to the intensification of land management or agriculture.

Because of this, populations are much lower than what would be ideal, and so deliberate and illegal killing is adding extra strain to the populations.

As well as being important for biodiversity, birds of prey are an attraction for tourists visiting Scotland.

People interested in photography travel from all over the world to capture Scottish wildlife, bringing millions to the economy.

Mr Thomson highlighted that, on the Isle of Mull, around £5 million a year goes into the island from people going to see white-tailed eagles.

The Scottish Government plans to introduce licensing to grouse moors, which Mr Thomson described as a “game-changer”.

He believes the loss of a license to shoot will introduce a significant deterrent to the estates that do persecute birds of prey.

There are places you wouldn’t want to take your dog for a walk in case it gets caught in a trap or eats something poisonous,” he said. “It’s not just birds that are dying, it’s people’s pets.

Perish the thought that some day some small child will come into contact with chemicals like this, it could have absolutely devastating effects.

It’s not only illegal but it’s reckless and indiscriminate.”

ENDS

06
Dec
21

Update on raptor persecution investigations in Scotland from National Wildlife Crime Unit

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club’s (SOC) virtual annual conference. One of the speakers I was keen to hear was PC Gavin Ross, an Investigative Support Officer at the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU).

Gavin is the ISO for Scotland and has been in post for a year (see here).

His presentation opened with an explanation of the differences between the NWCU and Police Scotland (essentially the NWCU is an intelligence gathering unit but it also has other functions, particularly supporting the police with wildlife crime investigations). He went on to describe the seven national wildlife crime priorities and the importance of partnership-working in tackling wildlife crime. In fact he mentioned the importance of partnership-working quite a few times and encouraged attendees to report anything suspicious as this information all helps to build an intelligence portfolio around certain areas and individuals.

The subject of raptor persecution was prominent in this presentation, as you might expect for an audience with the SOC.

We learned that this year alone there had been police enquiries into the death and /or disappearance of 14 eagles: 11 golden eagles and 3 white-tailed eagles. It was emphasised that as only a small proportion of eagles are tagged, this figure was likely the tip of a much larger iceberg.

Six of the 14 investigations related to satellite-tagged birds (whose tags had stopped suddenly without any indication of a technical malfunction, and are therefore considered suspicious).

Two of the 14 investigations are considered ‘historical’ in that they relate to the discovery of items (tags!) that had been cut off eagles and dumped in a river or a loch in previous years (e.g. see here and here for previous examples of this).

As these are ongoing investigations much of the detail was redacted from the presentation. That’s fair enough for a while, to protect the integrity of the investigations, but I hope Police Scotland will be publicising the circumstances of these incidents in due course.

Gavin also talked about what he called ‘Operation Stoop, aka Operation Tantallon’, which is the ongoing investigation into the theft and laundering of wild peregrines. This is a multi-agency operation involving the police, Scottish SPCA, NWCU and SASA, with additional support from members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group. So far three people have been charged, including a serving police officer (see here), but as it’s a live case many details are currently being withheld.

Gavin didn’t reveal any details but talked about the wide range of investigative techniques deployed so far, including surveillance, peregrine DNA analysis, searches under warrants, bankers warrants, cyber crime and the Proceeds of Crime Act.

I think the breadth of this investigation and the resources being thrown at it is testimony to the seriousness and extent of this particular crime, and from what I hear it’s certainly not just restricted to Scotland. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more in due course.

Overall this was an interesting and well-delivered presentation. I hope the NWCU will consider doing more of these and making them freely available on their website.

23
Oct
21

New release location being sought for white-tailed eagles in Norfolk

Following last week’s news that the Wild Ken Hill Estate in Norfolk has inexplicably backed out of hosting a project for the restoration of white-tailed eagles in East Anglia, which was due to start next year (see here), project leaders at The Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation have announced that the search is on for a new release location.

[A white-tailed eagle hunting over the north Norfolk coast. Photographer unknown]

A statement posted on the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation website reads:

We are very disappointed that Wild Ken Hill do not wish to proceed with the White-tailed Eagle reintroduction project that Natural England licenced earlier this year. The early results from the Isle of Wight project are extremely encouraging, and we continue to believe that East Anglia is highly suitable for the second stage of the restoration of the White-tailed Eagle in England, as detailed in the Ken Hill feasibility report.  As such, we are now seeking an alternative location, and are in consultation with Natural England about this. We hope to report more news in due course‘.

Given the number of pheasant and partridge shooting estates in Norfolk, including the royal Sandringham Estate with its reputation for hosting raptors (ahem), and the game-shooting industry’s repeated claims about how raptors are always welcome, there shouldn’t be any difficulty finding a new venue to support the planned release of young eagles.

Should there?!

16
Oct
21

Wild Ken Hill Estate in Norfolk pulls out of sea eagle restoration project

Well this is all a bit odd.

The Wild Ken Hill Estate has pulled out of hosting a white-tailed eagle restoration project in west Norfolk.

Earlier this year, the progressive rewilding estate was hailed by conservationists as news emerged that the estate had joined forces with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation to release up to 60 white-tailed eagles, donated by Poland, over a ten year period to help restore the species to its former range in East Anglia.

Public support was in place (91% of respondents to a consultation were in favour of bringing the eagles back), even the neighbouring Sandringham Estate was reported to be ‘supportive’ (here), Natural England had agreed to licence the project (here) and a crowdfunder had raised over £9,000 to help pay for logistics (here).

Everything looked to be going ahead for the first eagles to be released in 2022 until a recent announcement on Wild Ken Hill Estate’s blog saying the project was ‘on hold’:

Eagle project on hold

We have reluctantly decided that we will not reintroduce White-tailed Eagles at Wild Ken Hill in 2022 as planned.

We continue to believe that the restoration of White-tailed Eagles to Eastern England is an important and inevitable conservation goal, and also that the original plans for a release beginning in 2022 could have been delivered very successfully in partnership with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation.

We have, however, taken the difficult decision to focus on other aspects of our nationally-significant nature and regenerative farming project. In particular, we feel it is worth putting our full weight behind the pioneering innovations we are making as part of our regenerative farming approach. The greater biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and improved profitability demonstrated at Wild Ken Hill with this approach over the last 3 years have the potential to have a huge impact across the UK if adopted by others; we feel it is therefore imperative to focus on these. In addition to regenerative farming, Wild Ken Hill supports beavers and is a release site for Natural England’s curlew headstarting project.

We are sure that the restoration of the White-tailed Eagle to England will continue successfully on the Isle of Wight, and we hope that dispersing juvenile eagles continue to visit Wild Ken Hill and the Norfolk Coast, attracted by the area’s suitable habitat.

We wanted to specifically and publicly offer our apologies to the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, who have been exceptional project partners to date and a pleasure to work with.

We also would like to thank and apologise to those that supported this project when participating in the consultation, particularly the 91% of the general public that offered their support and the many landmanagers and conservation organisations that did the same.

We will shortly be in touch with those that supported the Crowdfunding campaign to offer a full refund.

ENDS

That’s all a bit odd, isn’t it?

Mark Avery has suggested that some birding, landowning and shooting interests may have been ‘leaning on some members of the family’ (see here) and there is certainly some evidence of that here.

Was that enough to make Wild Ken Hill Estate buckle? It’s pretty disappointing, if it was, especially as real and potential concerns were carefully considered in the project’s comprehensive feasibility report, published in April 2021:

What has been said, and/or what threats have been made since then, to force Wild Ken Hill Estate to reconsider its involvement?

The most ridiculous thing in all of this is that the eagles are already making their way back to Norfolk, including visiting the Wild Ken Hill Estate, as they disperse from the release project on the Isle of Wight.

How long until the first poisoning incident, do you reckon?

05
Sep
21

12 more white-tailed eagles released on Isle of Wight

Twelve more white-tailed eagles (also known as sea eagles) have been released on the Isle of Wight as part of a licensed project to reintroduce the species to southern England.

Formerly resident in parts of England, the sea eagle was extirpated a few hundred years ago thanks to persecution. The same thing happened in Scotland but the eagles have since been successfully reintroduced there after Norway generously donated young birds for the project, first for the Isle of Rum (1975) and then later in Wester Ross (1993-1998).

The reintroduction project in southern England is led by the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Forestry England, and began in 2019 by releasing six eagles in the first year and seven birds last year, bringing the total released so far to 25.

The aim is to release up to 60 birds over a period of five years with the objective of creating a small breeding population in the region after an absence of over 240 years.

Young eaglets are being collected by experts from the Scottish Raptor Study Group, under licence, from selected nest sites in western Scotland and are taken down to special release aviaries on the Isle of Wight where they’re cared for until ready for release. Each eagle is carrying a satellite transmitter so the team can monitor and track their progress.

[Two young sea eagles released from the holding aviary and considering their first flights. Photo by Forestry England]

Roy Dennis, MBE, Founder of the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation said: “We are now three years into this reintroduction project, and it is extremely encouraging to see just how successfully white-tailed eagles are settling into the English landscape. Highlights for me have included watching the birds learn how to successfully fish all year round and the growing interactions between the birds. I am also always fascinated in tracking some of their huge exploratory flights across England and Europe and their ultimate return back to the Isle of Wight.” 

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. None of this would be possible without the support of many people and I would like to thank everyone who has helped us again with this year’s release and ongoing monitoring of the birds.” 

Steve Egerton-Read, White-Tailed Eagle Project Officer, Forestry England, said: “Over the last three years we have closely tracked the progress of these incredible birds. It’s been brilliant to see how well they are fitting into the landscape and we are hopeful that before too long they will breed in England again.” 

It’s been particularly rewarding to hear from people across the country who are delighted to have seen the birds in their local area. It’s still a real thrill for me to see these incredible birds in the skies above the Isle of Wight and I look forward to the day that they are re-established right across southern England.” 

For more information about the project and to keep updated about the eagle’s movements, please visit the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation website here.

21
Aug
21

Golden eagles have been illegally killed on Scottish grouse moors for 40+ years but apparently we shouldn’t talk about it

In response to the news that Police Scotland are investigating the circumstances of five eagles found dead in the Western Isles earlier this month (see here), Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), the grouse moor owners’ lobby group has issued what I’d call a staggeringly disingenuous statement, where the blame for ongoing raptor persecution appears to be being projected on to those of us who dare to call out the shooting industry for its ongoing war against birds of prey.

Here’s SLE’s statement in full, dated 20 August 2021:

Response to raptor fatalities should not depend on location or landuse

Reports of five eagles being found dead on the Western Isles are very serious. 

Police Scotland has said that officers are investigating and it is to be hoped that the facts of these potentially shocking incidents are established as quickly as possible.

The birds – four golden eagles and a white-tailed sea eagle – were found at separate locations on Lewis and Harris and it is said that, at this stage, they are not linked.

No grouse shooting takes place on the Western Isles and we wholeheartedly support the police’s appeal for information and anyone who can help should call Police Scotland on 101, or make a call anonymously to the charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

It has been suggested that intraguild predation – where one species predates on another – may be one possible explanation in these cases but equally we accept there is the prospect that a terrible wildlife crime has been committed to protect livestock.

If that is the case, outright condemnation is the only rightful response.

That applies wherever raptor persecution takes place.

The response from some quarters thus far to the incidents on the Western Isles is in sharp contrast to what happens over alleged incidents that occur in areas where land is managed for grouse shooting. In these cases organisations and campaign groups are very quick off the mark to point fingers. If a wildlife crime takes place on land managed for shooting, livestock farming or any other land use (and such incidents are thankfully rare, becoming more so all the time) then it must be investigated and the culprits should face the full force of the law. It can be difficult to prosecute but Scotland now benefits from some of the most stringent laws against raptor persecution in Europe. A lot more could be achieved with less finger pointing and more constructive collaboration on the ground. Scotland is fortunate to have historically high numbers of golden eagles and we want to see even more of them.

ENDS

So SLE is unhappy that campaigners keep ‘pointing fingers’ at the grouse-shooting industry whenever an illegally shot / poisoned / trapped bird of prey is discovered dead or critically injured on, er, a driven grouse moor?!!!!!!!!!

Or when satellite-tagged hen harriers and golden eagles keep ‘disappearing’ in suspicious circumstances, on or close to driven grouse moors.

If these crimes were just a one-off, once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence then yes, perhaps SLE would have a point. However, the connection between the driven grouse shooting industry and the illegal persecution of birds of prey has been clear for decades, and backed up with endless scientific papers and Government-commissioned reviews (here are the latest for golden eagle and for hen harrier).

Here’s an example of how long this has been going on – a scientific paper published in 2002, using data from 1981-2000 – demonstrating an indisputable link between grouse moors and illegal poisoning:

1981 – that was 40 years ago!!

And yet here we are in 2021 and still illegally poisoned golden eagles are being found dead on grouse moors and still nobody has ever been successfully prosecuted in Scotland for killing a golden eagle. The most recently confirmed poisoned eagle was this one inside the Cairngorms National Park, right next door to the royal estate of Balmoral. In fact this eagle is believed to have fledged on Balmoral a few months before it flew to neighbouring Invercauld Estate (an SLE member, no less) where it consumed a hare that had been smothered in a banned pesticide and laid out as a poisoned bait. The person(s) responsible for laying this poisoned bait have not been identified.

[Poisoned golden eagle laying next to poisoned mountain hare bait, Invercauld Estate, Cairngorms National Park. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

Such is the extent of illegal persecution on some driven grouse moors, it is having (and continues to have) a population-level effect on some species, including golden eagles, hen harriers, red kites and peregrines.

And such is the extent and quality of this scientific evidence, the Scottish Government has committed to implementing a licensing scheme for grouse shooting in an attempt to try and rein in the criminal activity that underpins this so-called ‘sport’ because Ministers recognise the grouse-shooting industry is incapable of self-regulation.

I don’t know what SLE means when it says it wants ‘more constructive collaboration on the ground‘. Perhaps it means that gamekeepers will step forward and provide more than ‘no comment’ interviews when the police are investigating the latest crime on a grouse-shooting estate, instead of offering the usual wall of silence?

Perhaps it means the estate owners will refuse to employ the sporting agents and head gamekeepers whose methods are well known to include routine raptor persecution? (These individuals are well known – it’s no secret within the industry who they are).

Or perhaps it means that the shooting industry itself, including the game-shooting organisations, the shooting press etc will blacklist those estates known to still be killing birds of prey, instead of accepting funding donations from them and pretending that they don’t know what’s going on there?

That’d be useful, constructive collaboration, wouldn’t it?

Until all of that happens, SLE and the rest of the grouse shooting cabal can expect people like me and my colleagues in the conservation field to continue shining a bloody great big megawatt spotlight on this filthy industry.

20
Aug
21

Five eagles found dead in Western Isles – Police Scotland open investigation

Police Scotland have opened an investigation on the Western Isles after the discovery of five dead eagles within the space of a week.

Two golden eagles and a white-tailed eagle were found dead on the Isle of Harris on 7th August, and another two golden eagles were found dead on the Isle of Lewis on 14th August 2021.

This article about the discoveries appeared yesterday in The Herald:

Police say they are investigating after five eagles were found dead in the Outer Hebrides in a space of a week. 

Two golden eagles had been found dead two miles south of Bragar on the Isle of Lewis on August 14. 

While two golden eagles and white tailed sea eagle were found dead near Bowglass on the Isle of Harris, a week before on August 7. 

The birds found on August 7 were significantly decomposed but forensic work is being undertaken to try to establish how they died.

Although the eagles were found dead in similar circumstances, the incidents are not being treated as linked.

Inspector Jane MacKenzie said: “Around 1.25pm on Saturday 14 August 2021, officers received a report that two golden eagles had been found dead two miles south of Bragar on the Isle of Lewis. Enquiries are ongoing to establish the full circumstances.

Enquiries are also ongoing after two golden eagles and white tailed sea eagle were found dead near Bowglass on the Isle of Harris on Saturday, 7 August, 2021. They were significantly decomposed but forensic work is being undertaken to try to establish how they died.

Eagles are protected birds of prey and Police Scotland will always investigate reports of these birds being found dead. It can be highly complex, requiring detailed scientific work, but we will always strive to bring anyone responsible for this type of wildlife crime to justice.

Anyone with information about these birds, or any wildlife crime, can contact Police Scotland on 101, or make a call anonymously to the charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”

ENDS

That police quote is fairly circumspect, which is perhaps understandable given the investigation is still in the early stages and this isn’t an official police press release. However, local information provided to me suggests the investigation into the first incident is much further ahead than has been indicated here. Based on that information, I’m very surprised to see the journalist claim the incidents are not being treated as linked (presumably that information came from the police?). Hmm, I wonder…..

Although if a crime is confirmed, don’t expect the investigation to result in a prosecution. Despite Inspector MacKenzie’s fine words, which undoubtedly were given with genuine sincerity, I’m not aware of anybody being convicted for killing an eagle in Scotland.

Ever.

If you have information about these five dead eagles, please contact Police Scotland on 101.

04
Aug
21

New golden eagle satellite tags being tested in Cairngorms National Park, an eagle-killing hotspot

Press release from Cairngorms National Park Authority (3rd August 2021). My commentary is below that.

High tech tags to give insight into lives of golden eagles in Cairngorms National Park

Three golden eagle chicks in the Cairngorms National Park have been successfully tagged using the latest innovative technology. Three estates in the Cairngorms National Park – including two in Strathspey – are part of this latest raptor tagging initiative, a partnership project that has been developed and funded by the Cairngorms National Park Authority and NatureScot.

The ‘Celltrack’ tags being used have come from the USA and are among the leading technology in raptor tagging. They will provide a better understanding of the species’ movements, habitat preferences and mortality.

The birds’ movements are tracked in real-time by CNPA staff and partners with transmissions coming in daily, providing a multitude of data that can help better understand the life of juvenile golden eagles, with an inbuilt alert system should mortality occur, whether through natural causes, persecution or other anthropogenic influences. The tags have the ability to detect unusual behaviour and send alerts with accurate locations.

‘Celltrack’ tags make use of an innovative dual communication system with data being sent over the mobile phone network as well as through a network of (ARGOS) satellites. By using this hybrid communication system, the large quantity of location fixes acquired each day can be transmitted over the mobile phone network, with the additional security of satellite communications when birds are out of signal.

Dr Ewan Weston, an independent research ecologist, has been in charge of tagging the golden eagle chicks under licence. He commented: “Having been involved in fitting tags to eagles for 14 years, the technological advances in the tags we use now bring data that was previously unimaginable. The data we receive, feeds into wider research on the species and covers aspects of golden eagle biology and environment, providing an insight into aspects of their lives in incredible detail. This work has included aspects of their dispersal behaviour, interaction with the landscape and developments such as wind farms.”

Dr Pete Mayhew, Director of Nature and Climate Change at the CNPA said: “The more we know about golden eagles in the Cairngorms National Park – from fledging through to acquiring their own territories – the better we can conserve and enhance their populations for the future. This is another excellent conservation partnership project involving government bodies and private estates who all wish to see a healthy future for our raptor species.”

The CNPA set out plans for a golden eagle tagging project in 2019, which included the use of British Trust for Ornithology-provided tags; however, delays in production, technical issues and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has seen the project switch to using ‘Celltrack’ tags. However, partners will continue to work closely with BTO over the coming months, including sharing data from the three recently tagged golden eagle chicks.

Seafield & Strathspey Estates are a partner in the project – their Chief Executive Will Anderson said: “We are very proud of our raptor populations here and as a result we are involved in several tagging projects. We are particularly pleased to be partnering with the Park Authority in this initiative as the type and volume of data collected is likely to be incredibly beneficial to be able to plan for the future with the birds needs in mind.”

The RSPB Scotland has also had one of their young golden eagles tagged as part of this project. Fraser Cormack, RSPB Scotland Abernethy Warden said “With raptors still being persecuted in Scotland the data that these tags provide could be crucial in helping to stop such crimes. Also with this potentially being a new territory it will be great to see the chicks movements after fledgling and where it disperses to in the future.”

Andy Turner, NatureScot Wildlife Crime officer, added: “NatureScot are providing strong support to the CNPA on this project. This innovative technological development will strengthen our understanding of golden eagle movements, aiding both research and hopefully acting as a deterrent to illegal persecution. The ability for instant alerts and complex motion data will provide welcome new insights into the movements of these special birds.  If this is successful, I hope we can deploy this technology more widely.”

Licenses to tag Golden Eagles are granted on behalf of NatureScot by the British Trust for Ornithology who look at various criteria, especially animal welfare. Tag data will be managed by a small, dedicated team at the CNPA and Dr Ewan Weston, NatureScot, and Police Scotland’s Wildlife Crime Unit.

ENDS

Hmmm. In principle, I am fully supportive of the continued satellite-tagging of golden eagles in Scotland because of the incredible insight they have provided in to the lives of this often elusive species.

Researchers have been able to provide tag data to influence conservation policy, based on new information about these birds that would previously have been almost impossible to find out (e.g. see here for a fantastic piece of modelling, based on satellite tag data, to predict how young dispersing golden eagles in Scotland will use specific landscape features, and here for the most recent scientific paper, again based on satellite tag data showing how young golden eagles in Scotland are actively avoiding wind turbines).

This sort of research is fundamental to our ability to conserve golden eagles and the quality of the research undertaken in Scotland is held in high regard by fellow scientists in Europe and North America.

I’m also very pleased to see the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) and NatureScot continue to recognise the importance and significance of golden eagle satellite-tagging, and be willing to put their money where their mouths are by funding this tagging sub-project, despite the best attempts of the grouse-shooting industry to derail this type of research. The shooters object because as well as ecological and biological insights, these tags are also providing illuminating information about the locations where golden eagles are still being illegally killed, almost 70 years after they became a protected species.

Significantly, the satellite tag data have allowed researchers to identify several geographical clusters where golden eagle persecution still takes place and more often than not, these are on or very close to moors being managed for driven grouse shooting. Unfortunately for the CNPA, some of those clusters are actually inside the Cairngorms National Park:

[This map shows the last known locations of satellite-tagged golden eagles that have either been found illegally killed or have disappeared in suspicious circumstances between 2004-2016. Data from the SNH report Analyses of the fates of satellite-tracked golden eagles in Scotland (2017) authored by Dr Alan Fielding & Dr Phil Whitfield]

It’s clear then, that the CNPA (and NatureScot) are in an embarrassing position and want/need to be seen to be doing something about the ongoing persecution. And ongoing it is, as we’ve seen with an illegally poisoned white-tailed eagle being found on a grouse moor inside the National Park last year (here) and yet another illegally poisoned golden eagle being discovered on another grouse moor inside the National Park earlier this year (see here). The subsequent bad press from these crimes is difficult for the CNPA to deal with (e.g. here).

And that leads me to be cynical about the timing of this latest press release. If you remember, back in 2019 the CNPA issued a similar press release (see here), stating that a new type of tag had been developed and would be fitted to golden eagles in the National Park over the forthcoming 18 months. The CNPA claimed this new tag would ‘provide an instant fix on any birds which die’.

The reality was somewhat different. The ‘new tag’ wasn’t developed to a sufficient standard that it could be trialled and thus was not fitted. That 2019 press release was considerably premature and I’m going to stick my neck out again and say this latest press release is similarly premature. Although this time a ‘new tag’ has actually been fitted and deployed on three young birds, it is far too soon to know whether the tag actually works as is being claimed, not least whether it will provide an ‘instant alert’ when an eagle dies. The ‘new tag’ being deployed this time is collecting the same type of data as the tags we currently deploy on golden eagles, and it has been used to track raptors in North America, but it is not the tag that we were told was being developed, with public funding, to specifically help detect illegal persecution of golden eagles in Scotland.

So why might the CNPA be keen to put out this press release prematurely? Well, if you’re a cynic like me, you might think that the CNPA has recently received a barrage of criticism for its inability to prevent the illegal killing of golden eagles (and other raptors) inside the National Park, sparked by the discovery of the poisoned golden eagle on Invercauld Estate earlier this spring, and so they’re keen to try and turn that around:

[The deliberately poisoned golden eagle, next to a poisoned mountain hare bait. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

The timing of the press release might also have a lot to do with the CNPA’s forthcoming five-year management plan, where it will have to report on its failures to meet the previous plan’s raptor conservation-based objectives. If the CNPA can chuck in a few ‘positives’ in to the new plan, such as the deployment of these new tags, it might act as a sweetener to those who will, quite rightly, be criticising the Park’s lack of progress on this issue.

Having said all that, I wouldn’t be alone in being delighted if this tag does function as is being claimed, and provides an ‘instant alert’ when an eagle dies, whether that be from natural causes or from illegal persecution. Any technological advance that would help the police to identify the criminals would be warmly welcomed by all (except for the criminals, obviously).

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this new tag once the young eagles disperse during the autumn and travel into grouse moor areas where eagles are still not tolerated.

Incidentally, there will be short film about golden eagle persecution in Scotland being shown during this weekend’s live broadcast for Hen Harrier Day (Saturday 7th August 2021). If you want to hear more about this and what else is coming up, please sign up for Wild Justice’s event notification here.

06
Jul
21

Rare breeding success for sea eagles in Cairngorms National Park but outlook for chick is bleak

The Cairngorms National Park Authority has issued the following press release today (6th July 2021). My commentary on this news is below the press release:

Raptor breeding successes for East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership

The productivity of breeding raptors in the east of the Cairngorms National Park this season is encouraging and includes the hatching of a sea eagle chick on Balmoral, the first time that the species has successfully bred on the estate.

The breeding pair of sea eagles – also known as white-tailed eagles – have been observed on Balmoral for the last few years. Both adult birds carry satellite tags and close collaboration with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has allowed the Balmoral Ranger Service to follow their weekly movements during the breeding season. A healthy male chick has now hatched and been ringed. Three golden eagle chicks have also recently been ringed as part of long-term monitoring on Balmoral.

Balmoral Estate is a member of the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership (ECMP) which has seen breeding success for golden eagles, hen harriers, red kite, osprey, peregrine and merlin, as well as short-eared owls, in 2021, across the various land holdings.

[The young white-tailed eagle chick on the nest at Balmoral. Photo by North East Scotland Raptor Study Group, a member of the Scottish Raptor Study Group]

Richard Gledson, Estate Manager at Balmoral Estate said: “All at Balmoral Estate are delighted that sea eagles have nested successfully for the first time. A previous nesting attempt in 2017 on the same site sadly failed and we have had our fingers crossed since then. The birds have been with us for a couple of years, and we have been working closely with the North East Scotland Raptor Study Group who ringed the chick last week and with the RSPB who have been sending data from their satellite tags.”

Glenavon Estate – which is home to three pairs of golden eagles, including one of the highest nesting sites in Scotland – has had a golden eagle chick satellite tagged for the first time in recent years. Satellite tags are used by biological researchers on a variety of species including eagles and harriers, and provide valuable insight into their movement and survival. Golden eagle chicks have also been tagged on the Glenlivet Estate and Mar Lodge Estate.

Furthermore, Mar Lodge has hosted six hen harrier nests in 2021. One pair failed early in the season, but the other five nests all have chicks. Two hen harrier chicks have been satellite-tagged in collaboration with the RSPB. Evidence from satellite tags fitted to some of the harriers which are now breeding shows that the birds range widely, foraging across ground on neighbouring ECMP estates.

Last year, Mar Estate witnessed the first successful breeding attempt of sea eagles in Deeside for 200 years, but the relatively inexperienced pair failed this season at the hatching stage, with poor weather likely a contributing factor, however hopes are high for success with continued breeding efforts next season and beyond.

Dr Ewan Weston of the North East Scotland Raptor Study Group, who has carried out much of the satellite tagging on ECMP estates, commented: “This year’s raptor tagging on ECMP estates builds on a positive collaboration with the estates over recent years. Despite a very wet, snowy May, the general picture in the area is that raptors, particularly golden eagles, red kites and hen harriers have done well.”

The East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership is a landscape-scale collaboration between five sporting estates and the Cairngorms National Park Authority. The partnership seeks to deliver private interests alongside public benefits, including improving the conservation status of raptors, demonstrating best practice muirburn management, expanding areas of woodland and scrub and peatland restoration. Partners have been collaborating with a wide range of ecologists in the National Park.

Xander McDade, Convenor at the Cairngorms National Park Authority, said: “We are delighted to hear that productivity of raptors in the east of the National Park looks good for 2021. However, we know that we can still do more for the birds and are committed to finding ways of improving the conservation status of moorland raptors, along with other red and amber moorland bird species. This includes working closely with the five estates that make up the ECMP on a range of conservation measures.”

ENDS

First of all, the breeding success of this pair of white-tailed eagles on Balmoral Estate is obviously very good news and long, long over due.

Norway donated 85 sea eagles for a reintroduction project in eastern Scotland between 2007-2012, although over a quarter of those didn’t survive (the main known causes of death included illegal poisoning, illegally shot, accidentally electrocuted and being hit by trains). The East Coast reintroduction was the third phase of a national reintroduction project that started back in 1975 on the west coast of Scotland, after the species was extirpated from Britain thanks to persecution in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The first successful breeding attempt in east Scotland in 2013, the first for over a century, was an historic milestone in the project and was hoped to be the beginning of a new and vibrant population in the east, mirroring the successful population growth in the west.

So far though, progress has been incredibly slow and ongoing persecution has been at the centre of that (e.g. see here for the news that a sea eagle’s nest tree was deliberately felled on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens, also in 2013-nobody was prosecuted).

A number of young satellite-tagged sea eagles have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on or next to grouse moors since then, and only last year a young sea eagle was found dead, illegally poisoned, on another grouse moor inside the Cairngorms National Park (see here). Nobody was prosecuted for that crime.

[A police officer examines the corpse of the illegally poisoned sea eagle found dead on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in 2020. Photo by Police Scotland].

So yes, it’s excellent news that Balmoral Estate has hosted a successful breeding attempt this year – well done to the team there – but it’s only half of the story. What happens when that young eagle fledges and disperses from Balmoral later this year?

Will it meet the same fate as this young golden eagle, which fledged from a nest site in the eastern Cairngorms last year and was found dead, ‘deliberately poisoned’ on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate earlier this year?

[An illegally poisoned golden eagle, laying next to a poisoned mountain hare bait, found dead on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park in 2021. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

I can see why the Cairngorms National Park Authority would want to issue this press release – not just to deservedly celebrate the successful breeding attempt on Balmoral Estate but probably more cynically, to try and undo some of the reputational damage that has been caused to the Park Authority and to its Eastern Cairngorms Moorland Partnership (ECMP) after the discovery of the poisoned golden eagle earlier this year on one of the ECMP’s partner estates (now no longer a partner) and the deserved criticism that the Park Authority has received for refusing to publish the correspondence it had had with the ECMP about the future of Invercauld Estate as a member of the ECMP following the discovery of the poisoned eagle (see here). This is the same tactic the Park Authority employed a few years ago when illegally-set traps were found on Invercauld Estate (here).

The ECMP can thank its lucky stars that one of its (now five) member estates is Mar Lodge, owned by the National Trust for Scotland, and with a glowing reputation for raptor conservation, especially for breeding hen harriers. Without Mar Lodge’s efforts, the ECMP’s raptor conservation efforts would be looking pretty feeble to date.

Although I noted the irony of the statement in the Park Authority’s press release that, ‘Evidence from satellite tags fitted to some of the harriers which are now breeding shows that the birds range widely, foraging across ground on neighbouring ECMP estates‘.

Er, yeah, but they forgot to mention how many of those hen harriers subsequently ‘disappear’ in suspicious circumstances on grouse moors in the ECMP and beyond (e.g. see here).

It doesn’t matter how far the Park Authority tries to spin the very welcome but too infrequent ‘good news’ stories like the breeding white-tailed eagles on Balmoral – the bottom line remains that large areas of the Cairngorms National Park are still raptor persecution hotspots and until that changes, the outlook for this young sea eagle is bleak.

30
Jun
21

23 more white-tailed eagles donated by Norway for release in Ireland

Phase two of the reintroduction of white-tailed eagles in the Irish Republic continued last week with the arrival of 23 young eaglets from Norway.

These young birds, collected under licence by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, arrived at Kerry Airport on a chartered flight on Friday and they’ll be looked after in specially-made flight pens until their release in to the wild in August.

After being driven to extinction in Ireland in the early 20th century, an ambitious reintroduction project began in 2007 as a collaborative effort between the National Parks and Wildlife Service in Ireland, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research in Norway, the Golden Eagle Trust in Ireland and a lot of volunteer farmers and supporters on the ground.

[Project Manager Dr Allan Mee with a young white-tailed eagle during phase one of the reintroduction]

100 young white-tailed eagles were released in the Killarney National Park during phase one between 2007 and 2011 and this has resulted in at least ten breeding pairs becoming established in Kerry, Galway, Clare, Tipperary and Cork producing at least 30 chicks between them.

However, a recent scientific review of the reintroduction project indicated the small population is still vulnerable to factors such as illegal poisoning and the breeding population was negatively impacted by Avian Influenza in 2018 and storm Hannah in 2019.

A decision was made to conduct supplementary releases over a period of three years to bolster the existing population. Ten eagles were reintroduced last year (see here), this latest batch of 23 new arrivals will be released this year and more are expected to be released next year.

It’s an interesting time for this species. With the on-going reintroduction project on the Isle of Wight attracting widespread support and interest, an apparent green-light to begin a reintroduction in Norfolk met with mixed support and antipathy, a lot of interest in a proposed reintroduction to Wales, on-going persecution issues in eastern Scotland and general hysteria generated by the National Farmers Union Scotland, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and parts of the media about the perceived damage supposedly being caused by sea eagles in parts of western Scotland (more on that topic soon), it’s not clear to me how the white-tailed eagle will fare over the coming years.

If it’s still not even safe for one to fly over the Cairngorms National Park without becoming victim to a poisoned bait (e.g. see here) then we have to recognise there is still much work to do.




Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Blog Stats

  • 7,930,379 hits

Archives

Our recent blog visitors


%d bloggers like this: