Shock study shows third of eagle deaths ‘suspicious’
ALMOST a third of golden eagles being tracked by satellite died in suspicious circumstances, scientists have found.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) research discovered the majority of cases were where land is intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.
The findings have prompted environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham to set up an expert group to look at managing grouse moors sustainably and within the law and advise on the option of licensing grouse shooting businesses.
The report studied the movements of 131 young golden eagles over 12 years and found more than 40 had disappeared in suspicious circumstances.
It also found there was no link between fitting satellite tags and the disappearance of the birds of prey and ruled out any connection with the position of wind turbines.
Roseanna Cunningham said: ‘The findings of this research are deeply concerning and will give rise to legitimate concerns that high numbers of golden eagles, and other birds of prey, continue to be killed in Scotland each year. There is every reason to believe similar levels of persecution affect untagged golden eagles, as well as those we are able to track via satellite tags.
‘We have already targeted wildlife criminals and those who sanction such crimes by introducing measures such as vicarious liability and restrictions on the use of general licences.
‘But Scottish ministers have always said they would go further if required and that is what I am doing today.’
She added: ‘The continued kill- ing of protected species of birds of prey damages the reputation of law-abiding gamekeepers, landowners and the country as a whole.
‘Those who carry out these crimes do so in defiance of the will of Parliament, the people and their own peers. That must end.’
Director of RSPB Scotland Anne McCall welcomed the independent inquiry and report, saying it provided a clear, factual, if very worrying, picture of the scale of illegal persecution. Scotland’s protected birds of prey continue to be illegally and systematically killed in significant numbers, primarily in areas where intensive grouse moor management dominates the landscape’.
RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations Ian Thomson said: ‘This report is a damning indictment of Scotland’s driven grouse shooting industry. The irrefutable evidence in this report, demonstrating the scale of systematic, organised criminality, is shocking and it is likely none of this would have come to light had these birds not been fitted with satellite tags.
‘When you add to this the disappearances of satellite-tagged white tailed eagles, red kites, goshawks, peregrines and hen harriers, not included in this review, and consider that satellite-tagged birds form a very small proportion of the populations of these species, the overall numbers of eagles and other protected raptors that are actually being killed must be staggering.’
A spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) said: ‘Losing, on average, four tagged eagles per year across Scotland is unacceptable. The illegal killing of any eagle is condemned wholeheartedly by the SGA and all law-abiding gamekeepers.
‘Although this study assimilates 12 years of evidence and makes difficult reading, it acknowledges recent improvements in some grouse moor areas previously associated with suspected persecution.
‘The SGA does not believe the report adequately tackles the threat wind farms pose to raptor species as there is a significant amount of published data from other countries which show a negative correlation between bird survival and turbine strike.
‘Problems clearly still exist in some hotspot areas and, in our view, this can only be tackled by all partners having access to the same telemetry data to arrive at shared and targeted solutions.’
The Wildlife Trust’s director of conservation Susan Davies added: ‘This is further proof of the need of a licensing system for driven grouse moor management to address wildlife crime and encourage more sustainable stewardship of these areas.’
This satellite-tagged golden eagle was found poisoned on an Angus grouse moor in 2013.