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Disappearing Golden Eagles

The stories haven’t rivalled North Korea’s nuclear testing for media coverage. But the suspicious disappearance of hen harriers over Scottish grouse moors has hit the headlines recently. Several tagged birds have been added to an ever-growing missing list this year. Conservation groups suspect that the birds are being killed to prevent them from preying on game birds. Land managers claim that they are innocent.

41 Lost Eagles


Unfortunately, it isn’t just hen harriers which are disappearing. It has now emerged that Golden eagles are also prone to dropping off the radar over grouse moors. A Scottish Government report earlier this year revealed that 41 golden eagles from 131 satellite tracked birds had disappeared in suspicious circumstances between 2004 and 2016. That’s a lot of birds!

Illegal Killing


The report stated that grouse shooting estates were the most likely killers of the missing birds. With a third of the tagged birds having disappeared, the situation is extremely worrying. More golden eagles have been tagged this year and it is hoped that the evidence from their tags will help to identify where the illegal killing is taking place.

Scotland provides the perfect territory for Golden Eagles and the birds should be able to thrive in the region. But they are the enemies of grouse and pheasant shooting moors and it would appear that the game managers are prepared to protect their stock by killing the eagles.

Thermal Imaging Technology


Conservationists have reported that they have heard about game managers approaching roosting eagles at night. They use thermal imaging equipment to locate then and then shoot them. They recover the bodies and then dispose of them carefully and ensure that they remove incriminating shotgun shells. Raptors are also poisoned.

Lack of Evidence


This year’s newly tagged birds face an uncertain future. If the current climate persists, a third of the birds will be lost. Some game keepers are acting responsibly regarding wildlife but the gathering weight of evidence suggests that many are not. But without any evidence of their crimes, there is nothing that can be done.

Unprecedented pressure was placed on landowners after the recent investigation by Scottish Natural Heritage, on behalf of the Scottish Government, culminated in a report highlighting the rate at which the birds were being lost.

New System


The Scottish government is now considering a new licensing system for shooting estates. Under the proposals, any estates suspected of killing wildlife will be banned from commercial shooting activities. There are six key areas where raptors are disappearing - the northern Monadhliaths; Angus glens; east Grampians including Ladder Hills; and Gaick Forest, Glen Tilt, with further clusters identified in the upper Tay and Forth and south Loch Ness.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: "Raptor persecution takes place and the SGA are not attempting to deny it. The organisation have expelled five members in five years for wildlife crime convictions."

You can’t help thinking that the controversy is set to continue. However, it does appear that things are coming to a head. New licensing laws could make all the difference but, in the meantime, it would be useful if evidence of illegal activities could be uncovered.


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