Shock study shows third of ea­gle deaths ‘sus­pi­cious’

The Oban Times - - Outdoors -

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.’

Pho­to­graph: RSPB Scot­land.

This satel­lite-tagged golden ea­gle was found poi­soned on an An­gus grouse moor in 2013.

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