21 eagles, 6 years, 0 prosecutions

Ever since that poisoned golden eagle was found in Glen Orchy in June 2009, we’ve been assured by the authorities (including in an email from a spokeswoman of the former Environment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham) that, despite our concerns to the contrary, the alleged wildlife crime uncovered that day was being ‘dealt with’.

We’ve had to wait for almost three years to find out that, according to a statement in The Herald attributed to RSPB investigator Ian Thomson, nobody has been charged with poisoning that golden eagle (see Herald article here).

It’s just the latest in a long line (21 eagles in six years!) of both confirmed and suspected eagle deaths for which nobody has ever been prosecuted.

In fairness, some of the 21 examples shown below may not be a result of criminal behaviour (i.e. the bodies of seven of the eagles listed have never been recovered so foul play, whilst suspected, cannot be verified, but neither can it be ruled out). However, there have been 14 confirmed eagle deaths (13 poisoned and one shot), that we know about, for which nobody has been charged. There are probably more confirmed deaths that we don’t know about because for some reason, some confirmed deaths are not being publicly reported. And without a shadow of a doubt, there are other deaths that are attributable to criminal behaviour that never see the light of day.

Here’s the list of the ones we do know about:

MAY 2006: A dead adult golden eagle was found on the Dinnet & Kinord Estate, near Ballater, Aberdeenshire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Grampian Police launched an investigation. Five years and 11 months later, nobody has been prosecuted.


JUNE 2006: A dead golden eagle was found on Glen Feshie Estate in the Cairngorms. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary launched an investigation. Five years and ten months later, nobody has been prosecuted.




AUGUST 2007: A dead adult female golden eagle was found on an estate near Peebles in the Borders. She was half of the last known breeding pair of golden eagles in the region. Tests revealed she had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Lothian & Borders Police launched an investigation. Four years and eight months later, nobody has been prosecuted.




AUTUMN 2007: Tayside Police received a detailed tip-off that a young male white-tailed eagle (known as ‘Bird N’) had allegedly been shot on an estate in Angus. The timing and location included in the tip-off coincided with the timing and location of the last-known radio signal of this bird. Four and a half years later, the bird has not been seen again. With no body, an investigation isn’t possible.


MAY 2008: A one year old male white-tailed eagle hatched on Mull in 2007 and known as ‘White G’ was found dead on the Glenquoich Estate, Angus. Tests revealed he had been poisoned by an unusual concoction of pesticides that included Carbofuran, Bendiocarb and Isofenphos. A police search in the area also revealed a poisoned buzzard, a baited mountain hare and 32 pieces of poisoned venison baits placed on top of fenceposts on the neighbouring Glenogil Estate. Laboratory tests revealed the baited mountain hare and the 32 poisoned venison baits contained the same unusual concoction of highly toxic chemicals that had killed the white-tailed eagle, ‘White G’. Three years and 11 months later, nobody has been prosecuted.


JUNE 2009: An adult golden eagle was found dead at Glen Orchy, Argyll, close to the West Highland Way. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Strathclyde Police launched a multi-agency investigation. Two years and ten months later (April 2012), Tom McKellar pled guilty to possession of Carbofuran stored in premises at Auch Estate, Bridge of Orchy. Nobody has been prosecuted for poisoning the golden eagle.


JULY 2009: A two year old female golden eagle known as ‘Alma’ was found dead on the Millden Estate, Angus. Tests revealed she had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Alma was a well-known eagle  – born on the Glen Feshie Estate in 2007, she was being satellite-tracked and her movements followed by the general public on the internet. Tayside Police launched an investigation. Two years and nine months later, nobody has been prosecuted.


AUGUST 2009: A young white-tailed eagle was found dead on Glenogil Estate, Angus. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Tayside Police were criticized in the national press for not releasing a press statement about this incident until January 2010. Two years and 8 months later, nobody has been prosecuted.


MAY 2010: Three dead golden eagles were found on or close to Skibo Estate, Sutherland. Tests revealed they had been poisoned; two with Carbofuran and one with Aldicarb. Northern Constabulary launched a multi-agency investigation. One year later (May 2011), Sporting Manager Dean Barr pled guilty to possession of 10.5 kg of Carbofuran stored in premises at Skibo Estate. One year and 11 months later, nobody has been prosecuted for poisoning the three golden eagles.


JUNE 2010: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: A golden eagle and a white-tailed eagle were found dead on an estate near Farr, Inverness-shire. Tests revealed they had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary apparently did not search the property until July 2011. One year and ten months later, nobody has been prosecuted.


DECEMBER 2010: A decomposing carcass of a white-tailed eagle was found and photographed on Logie (Lochindorb) Estate, Morayshire. It was reported to Northern Constabulary. By the time the police arrived to collect it, the carcass had disappeared. The police said they couldn’t investigate further without the body.


MARCH 2011: The body of a young golden eagle was discovered on North Glenbuchat Estate, Aberdeenshire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Grampian Police launched an investigation and raided the property in May 2011. One year and one month later, we are not aware of any pending prosecutions.


APRIL 2011: The body of a white-tailed eagle was found at the base of cliffs on Skye. The person who discovered it (a professional medic) considered it to have been freshly shot with a rifle, decapitated with a sharp implement and thrown from the cliff top. He took photographs and alerted Northern Constabulary and RSPB. There was a delay of two weeks before the now probably decomposed carcass was collected. A post-mortem was inconclusive. This incident was not made public until one year later after a tip off to this blog. We are not aware of any pending prosecutions.


NOVEMBER 2011: The signal from a satellite-tracked young golden eagle (hatched in 2010) stopped functioning when she was at a location in the Monadhliaths, a well-known raptor persecution black spot in the Highlands. Her last known location was checked by researchers but there was no sign of the bird. Another ‘disappearance’ in suspicious circumstances or a technical malfunction of the satellite transmitter?

14 thoughts on “21 eagles, 6 years, 0 prosecutions”

  1. 21 eagles, 6 years, 0 prosecutions = zero political will to actually do anything. Politicians paying lip service, as we increasingly realise, means little. Attending conferences means little (Judas was at the last supper, it didn’t mean he was on the side of the good guys) when the actions afterwards offer us nothing.

  2. Dead eagles are found in Scotland, they are found to have been poisoned by a certain substance, that same substance is found at the home of employee’s on the same estates, yet no one is prosecuted. In Scotland at least 2 persons have been convicted & jailed for murder, yet in both cases a body was never found.

    1. I think the problem here is that the standard of proof required to obtain a conviction is too high.
      My understanding (and I am open to correction) is that when a poisoned bird is found and the same type of poison is found in the possession of the suspect it is still necessary to prove (in the absence of an admission) that the actual poison that killed the bird came from the container of poison found in the suspect’s premises.

  3. A truly scandalous situation compounded by the feeling that various police forces and may be others in the legal chain are badly letting us and more to the point eagles down. One can only hope in the continuing absence of prosecutions that one of the unknown culprits or possibly all of them have nasty accidents involving their equally nasty poisons.

  4. Leaving aside the incidents that never involved a corpse being found, this sad litany of poisoning incidents worries me as it suggests other implications that I hope are just not true!! We all know that rural policing involves a “nudge and a word” far more than urban policing ever can, but these circumstances suggest that sensible principle is being applied to more serious cases than being a bit drunk and singing loudly on a Friday night!! In the absence of progress why can’t the Police Authorities provide updates on cases upon which they are making no progress ( they may do , so I may be showing my ignorance! ). Surely after , say, 18 months , such cases are no longer seen as a priority and any success then arising must link to someone being “shopped” and little else. A bleak prospect indeed in terms of success being gained. In addition to all this Dougie’s points refer to an almost unattainable level of proof being required. Another series of ridiculous anomalies that require investigation and amendment.

  5. Hi Dougie,

    Thanks for your comment. We’ve asked around for advice about the standard of proof and this is our current understanding –

    To date, SASA is not yet able to conclusively differentiate between two batches of the same substance (e.g. Carbofuran found in a poisoned bird and Carbofuran cached at a suspect’s premises). It is therefore not a requirement to show that the poison used to kill the bird was from the same poison cache.

    If there is enough circumstantial evidence, that can be enough to convict. However, each case has to be taken on its own merit. For example:

    If a bird poisoned with Carbofuran was recovered, AND
    Poison baits were found on the same land, AND
    There was only person involved in predator ‘control’, AND
    Poison was recovered in his possession, AND
    Trace evidence was found on items belonging to him (gamebag, knife etc),
    THEN this scenario would present a significant amount of circumstantial evidence. BUT, if you start to reduce the amount of circumstantial evidence, e.g. remove the discovery of the poisoned baits, then the likelihood of conviction is diminished.

    Ultimately, (assuming the case is prosecuted!!), the Sheriff makes the decision based on his/her interpretation of the evidence, including the credibility of witnessess etc. Therefore, the crucial elements are the quality of the initial investigation, the quality of the report to the Fiscal, and the quality of the prosecution. There have been cases when keepers have been convicted of poisoning raptors (not eagles though!) and possessing the poison, so it can be done.

  6. Surely Glenogil estate must have some comment about poisoned bait being ‘found’ on their property. Their website is very detailed about the fantastic shooting to be had there – obviously the two are unrelated!

  7. This whole event is truly scandalous. I am currently reading “Wildlife Detective” by Alan Stewart. A”warts and all” book. Excellent read for those that care about our wildlife.

        1. for a moment I thought you had wrote Housekeeper as your nickname, I was just going to point out that huge lump under the carpet where it looks as though someone has brushed everything, then I realised you had wrote Grousekeeper so you’ll already know about it

        2. If I had written that for the money…I would have starved by now…the only shame felt here should be by those who have killed, tortured and trapped birds and animals that the rest of society, by Law, have said they wished protected and valued…

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