News : Jan 2014

Golden eagle considered unsuitable as national bird by MSP who believes it symbolizes the Nazi regime

29 January 2014

The Public Petitions Committee hearing took a bizarre turn yesterday when the RSPB’s proposal to designate the golden eagle as our national bird was attacked by a member of the petitions panel. Jackson Carlaw MSP (Scottish Conservatives, West Scotland) suggested that the golden eagle was a symbol of ‘imperial power’ as used by the Romans and the Nazis. He suggested the Robin might be a better candidate, before then arguing that perhaps ‘another’ national symbol wasn’t even necessary. Fortunately, his cross-party colleagues on the Petitions Committee chose to put the petition through to the next stage which will include a public consultation. They also stated they would seek consultation from the Scottish Raptor Study Group and we look forward to providing information in support of a formal designation for the golden eagle.

A video of yesterday’s proceedings can be viewed here for 4 weeks.

It’s worth pointing out that Poland has had an eagle as its national emblem since the 1300s and did not see reason to change it after being invaded in WW2. Indeed, in 2011 a new football strip for the Polish national team excluded the eagle emblem and, following protests from fans and politicians alike, the eagle was reinstated.

Petition to formally designate the golden eagle as Scotland’s national bird is heard at Holyrood

28 January 2014

The Public Petitions Committee in Holyrood will hear evidence today in support of the petition to designate the golden eagle as our national bird. The petition was lodged last December by RSPB Scotland. Evidence will be heard today from SRSG member Duncan Orr-Ewing (RSPB Scotland) and wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan. The petition has the full support of the Scottish Raptor Study Group. Further details about the background to the petition and today’s hearing can be found here.

Calls to control sea eagles rejected by SNH

Scottish Natural Heritage has rejected calls for sea eagle ‘controls’ being proposed by NFU Scotland. Des Thompson, principal advisor on biodiversity at SNH, told the BBC there was ‘plenty of space’ for the growing white-tailed eagle population and pledged to continue working with farmers and crofters to improve livestock husbandry and ensure there is plenty of prey for the eagles. Full story on the BBC website here.

SRSG member says call for grouse-shooting licences is ‘sadly inevitable’

Tayside Raptor Study Group member, Logan Steele, has written to the Scotsman to suggest that the recent calls for grouse-shooting licences are “sadly inevitable following decades of failed initiatives, joint working groups, codes of practice committees and legislative changes”. He points to the spate of recent raptor persecution incidents to emphasise his point. His letter can be read here.

Dead bird & suspected poison bait discovered in South Lanarkshire

22 January 2014

Police are investigating the discovery of a bird carcass found close to a suspected poisoned bait in the Carmichael area of South Lanarkshire this morning. Samples have been sent for toxicology analysis and Police Scotland are urging members of the public to “exercise caution” if they discover animal or bird carcasses in the countryside. Full story on the BBC website here.

Amendment to Parliamentary Motion calls for review of legislation covering game management, in response to continuing raptor persecution

21 January 2014

The Scottish Raptor Study Group welcomes an amendment that has been lodged to a Parliamentary Motion concerning raptor persecution. Claire Baker MSP’s amendment includes a call for sufficient resources to be given to Police Scotland and the Crown Office to undertake investigations and subsequent prosecutions for raptor crime. In addition, there is a call for a review of the legislation covering game management to assess whether there is scope for further measures to be taken against the perpetrators of raptor crime. Details can be found here.

Scottish Raptor Study Group calls for red grouse management to be licensed

18 January 2014

The Scottish Raptor Study Group has sent the following letter to Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse:

May we send best wishes to you and to your colleagues for 2014. In one respect the year has not started off well, given the continuing concern over the report towards the end of last year of the most recent (the most recently detected, that is) golden eagle poisoning incident. The untimely demise of “Fearnan” is of course the last publicly known episode in the long and depressing saga of Scottish golden eagle mortality caused by criminal action.

The Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) wishes to put forward suggestions for the future of red grouse management, primarily in the context of such management as it affects raptor populations, but would like to mention first some details of a recent case study we’ve undertaken. This takes the form of a critique of a press release by the SGA six months ago and related map, citing at least 55 “active golden eagle nests” in the “keepered grouse areas of East and Central Scotland.” We emphasise here that the SRSG is not mounting a deliberate attack on the SGA (indeed the SGA article stated validly that red grouse management can help to provide a worthwhile food supply for golden eagles) but merely seek to put forward the full picture in relation to that press release.

The SRSG has carried out a detailed analysis of golden eagle territory occupation and non-occupation in the Highlands south-east of the Great Glen, effectively by far the larger part of the area described by the SGA in its press release and shown on the related map. By no means however can all of that area count validly as “keepered grouse” ground. While our analysis discloses 52, not 55, “active golden eagle nests” per the SGA definition of these, it also shows that there are 57 “non-active” golden eagle territories (to which the SGA did not refer) in the area concerned – but taking into account also peripheral tracts of land managed for red grouse shooting although with known vacant golden eagle territories on them. Furthermore breeding Scottish golden eagles should be more widespread than they are at present, in lowland farmland as they are in Sweden for example.

Turning to land use aspects, our analysis discloses the following: of the 52 “active golden eagle nests”, 8 (16%) are on (high intensity) driven grouse moors, 23 (44%) are on land managed to some extent for (lower intensity) i.e. broadly walked-up grouse shooting although within some of these 23 golden eagle territories the red grouse interest is very marginal now and 21 (40%) are on what one can call “non-grouse” areas; but of the 57 “non-active” golden eagle territories, 31 (54%) are on driven grouse moors, 14 (25%) are on land managed (with the above caveats) for walked-up grouse shooting and 12 (21%) are on non-grouse areas. We suggest that the above percentages, in relation to the three different land uses in question, are very telling. A similar message was brought out in the 2008 Golden Eagle Conservation Framework report published by SNH.

Taking the obvious difficulties that golden eagles encounter in trying to survive (let alone breed) on extensive parts of the land that is intensively managed for red grouse shooting along with the known adverse effects of this type of management on Scotland’s populations of hen harriers, goshawks and peregrines, we urge the Scottish Government to take more effective measures to put a stop to the present ongoing criminal persecution of these (and any other) raptors on much of such land. There is a need also for such measures in some other parts of the Highlands and in southern Scotland. Increasingly the evidence is stacking up that, despite allegations to the contrary, it is not just a few who in the red grouse industry are involved in raptor crime but that the problem is rife throughout much of this industry. Looking to wider issues and as is now being recognised belatedly, there are clear biodiversity disadvantages in the intensification, sometimes extreme intensification, of red grouse management practices that is taking place increasingly in much of this bird’s Scottish range.

We contend that the maverick side of the red grouse industry has failed over many years to put its house in order, that it still has no intention of doing so and that it is in contempt of the species protection laws that are justifiably in place. We feel that, this part of the private sector having failed conspicuously in these respects, the public sector must be more closely involved now in rectifying matters. Our view is that the Scottish Government should institute as quickly as possible a system of licensing of red grouse management (applying both to persons including corporations and to landholdings) backed up with stringent sanctions and should adopt other countries’ practices aimed at curbing wildlife crime in general and raptor persecution in particular, where these would seem to be useful in the Scottish context.

We suggest also the following three features of such a licensing system:

(1) that it should operate in a proactive and not a reactive way, in other words that a grouse shooting enterprise should be required to prove that it is fit to operate as such rather than others having to prove that it is not fit to do so;

(2) that it should regulate all red grouse shooting management and not just the driven shooting component since what could be a quite intensive grouse shooting enterprise (with all that that could involve in the way of raptor persecution) might be able to sidestep in some way the driven shooting requirements and continue to operate in defiance of the law; and

(3) that it should apply also to the management of other game bird species (especially red-legged partridges) that are used as “red grouse extras” or as “red grouse substitutes.”

We hope that the Scottish Government, with the support of its statutory agencies, will implement these suggested measures. To do so would not amount to “taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut”, as some might contend.

Scottish Raptor Study Group
January 2014 

Loch Garten osprey chick ‘killed in collision in fog’ in Spain

17 January 2014

A young osprey raised at the RSPB’s flagship Loch Garten Reserve in 2012 has been found dead in Spain. The young bird, named Caledonia by local school children in the Highlands, was being satellite-tracked on her migration route. She was found in the cloisters of a convent in Seville and is believed to have collided with a cable. Full story from the BBC here.

Scottish farmers calling for ‘action’ against white-tailed eagles

The National Farmers Union (Scotland) is calling on the government to implement ‘control measures’ against reintroduced white-tailed eagles in western Scotland. They claim the sea eagle population is ‘out of control’ and is having a negative impact on sheep and other species such as golden eagles. The editor of The Scottish Farmer also suggests that the eagles might attack a small child; a now familiarly sensationalist claim, often rolled out for scaremongering purposes but with as much credibility as the notion that babies are delivered to parents by a stork. 

A recent scientific study has shown that sea eagles have a ‘minimal impact’ on lambs in the Gairloch area of western Scotland (the study was initiated in 2009 when farmers claimed that three eagle pairs had taken 200 lambs – see here).

Two further studies have shown that white-tailed eagles are not having any negative effect on golden eagles in western Scotland in terms of where they nest (see here) and what they eat (see here).

In 2010, a study was undertaken to estimate the economic benefits of sea eagle toursim on the Isle of Mull. The study found that up to £5 million of tourist spend every year is as a result of visitors coming to see the eagles, and that 110 eagle tourism-related jobs are supported each year (read the report here).