RSPB Scotland Head of Investigations, Ian Thomson, brings us this latest blog following the publication of a Scottish Government commissioned review of satellite tagged golden eagles.

This afternoon, on the floor of the Scottish Parliament, the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform  made a series of announcements aimed at bearing down on those who continue to kill Scotland’s birds of prey. This followed the publication of the Scottish Government-commissioned review of satellite-tagged eagles instigated after the suspicious disappearance of eight birds in the Monadhliath mountains south-east of Inverness, between 2011 and 2016.

The report showed that approximately one third of tagged golden eagles fledging from Scottish nests are being illegally killed, with a clear link between these crimes and land intensively managed for driven grouse shooting - particularly in four areas of the eastern and central Highlands.

None of the report’s findings came as a big surprise to those of us who have recovered the bodies of poisoned eagles from the Angus Glens or upper Donside, or searched in vain for birds that have suddenly and inexplicably disappeared in the mountains above the River Findhorn.

But the report is utterly damning nonetheless. The main findings are:

  • Of 131 young eagles tracked, as many as 41 (31%) have disappeared (presumably died) under suspicious circumstances significantly connected with contemporaneous records of illegal persecution.


  • Some areas managed as grouse moors were strongly associated with the disappearance of many of the tagged eagles.


  • Tagging revealed that the persecution of young eagles is suppressing the golden eagle population in the central and eastern Highlands, and hampering overall recovery from historic, widespread persecution.


In other words, almost a third of young tagged golden eagles dispersing from their natal areas, where presumably they are tolerated or even welcomed, are being killed particularly when they move into four identified areas where intensive grouse moor management is the main land-use, and this is constraining the national population of golden eagles.

The report also makes clear that wind farms were not associated with any recorded golden eagle deaths, and it also completely exonerates tagging itself with “no discernible adverse effects on the welfare, behaviour or survival of the birds”.

This report demonstrates an astonishing scale of systematic, organised criminality. And yet, it is likely that none of this would have come to light had these birds not been fitted with satellite tags.

When you consider these findings alongside the similar disappearances of satellite-tagged white tailed eagles, red kites, goshawks, peregrines and hen harriers, not included this review, and remember 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.

Recognising this, the Cabinet Secretary has announced the setting up of an independent enquiry to look at the environmental impact of grouse moor management and to recommend options for regulation, including licensing. She also said that government officials are looking into immediate measures that will  bear down on areas with a long and proven history of the criminal targeting of protected birds of prey, as highlighted by the review. We look forward to hearing more detail on what is proposed.

This report completely and finally bankrupts the myth that raptor persecution is in long term decline and we hope that its publication and today’s announcements represent a watershed moment for the future conservation of our birds of prey.

So will representatives of the shooting industry finally stand up and publicly acknowledge the level of crime that is taking place? Will forward-thinking members of the shooting community – gamekeepers, sporting tenants, factors and landowners - reject the denials, excuses and obfuscation we have heard so often and join with us in a progressive partnership to develop a robust licensing scheme for gamebird hunting in Scotland, with a regulatory system that helps tackle wildlife crime and delivers a range of public benefits?

We’ll find out in the coming days and weeks...