why is it so difficult to investigate the illegal killing of a golden eagle?

Way back in June, we blogged about a golden eagle that had been found dead in suspicious circumstances in Grampian in May (see here). Four and a half months after the dead bird was found, a press release has now been issued by the RSPB which provides the sickening details of how this eagle is believed to have been destroyed (read it here, if you’ve got a strong stomach).

Yet again, as in so many other alleged persecution cases, there has been an unexplained and lengthy delay in releasing this information to the public. It should not take this long, especially for such a high-profile incident of such an appalling nature. Isn’t investigating wildlife crime a supposed ‘priority’ amongst Scottish police forces? That’s what we’re told! The reality still seems somewhat removed from that ideal, even after all this time and all these other cases with which to fine tune a response. Note that it’s the RSPB that has released this information today; not Tayside Police and not Grampian Police.

We’ve been given some interesting information about this incident. The press release states that this eagle’s satellite tag sent signals from “a hillside overlooking Glen Esk” and those data apparently suggested the eagle didn’t move from that precise spot over a 15-hour period, until it inexplicably moved, under cover of darkness, close to a layby 15 km north over the border into Grampian. Well, according to the grid reference provided by the sat tag, which may or may not be accurate because accuracy can be affected by a number of variables, this location is on Millden Estate. Millden Estate may be a familiar name to some as it was where a young sat-tagged golden eagle named ‘Alma’ was found poisoned in 2009 (see here). Nobody has ever been charged in connection with her death.

It appears the police trusted the accuracy of the sat tag data enough to pinpoint a location for an informal ‘search’ on Millden although the extent of this ‘search’ was apparently limited to the precise grid reference  from the sat tag. We understand that a search warrant was not requested to examine vehicles or the wider estate for potential evidence. Why not? It’s also worth noting that there are two other sporting estates in Glen Esk – were either of these also searched as part of this inquiry? If this eagle had been caught in an illegal spring trap in Glen Esk, as is being alluded to in the media, who’s to say on which estate the trap was located? (although that assumes the trap was un-anchored, which would be highly unusual). That’s where a wider search, especially of vehicles, might have come in useful.

So here we are again. YET ANOTHER eagle persecuted in Scotland and YET ANOTHER profoundly unsatisfactory response from those with a  statutory duty to investigate. How many more of these (e.g. see here for a long list of others) do we have to endure before we see a fundamental change in the way these offences are investigated and prosecuted?

UPDATE 25th September: If you would like to use your anger about this case in a positive way, please send an email to the new Scottish Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, to tell him how you feel about this disgraceful crime: ministerforenvironment@scotland.gsi.gov.uk He already knows about the incident – he tweeted about it last night: @PaulWheelhouse “Absolutely appalling – disgusted with whoever did this“. What he might not know is the strength of feeling of the rest of us.

59 thoughts on “why is it so difficult to investigate the illegal killing of a golden eagle?”

  1. For what its worth..it is perfectly possible [and has been witnessed by reputable persons] for a golden eagle to break free of a tied down gin trap [the most likely leghold trap to have been used here]…so I would agree that a wide search area of its last tagged position would be sensible. The real mystery here is the night move to Aboyne…surely only caused by a human hand…..but without recorded witness statements and a trial in court this will go on the vast “unsolved cases” pile regarding killed raptors…and will be subject to the usual conspiracy theories…no matter who decides to carry out an investigation. No one will admit to this disgusting crime.

  2. In May 2011 a Golden Eagle was found by walkers in Glen Mark, upper Glen Esk. It seemingly died of natural causes but had a badly damaged claw / talon. Could this also have been the effect of a spring trap being used somewhere in Glen Esk?

  3. As ‘sporting estates’ have proved that they are unable or unwilling to self regulate them selfs, and that they obviously harbour so many criminals, and that so many crime’s are, again obviously, commited on them, it is time that they are all made illigal. Let the natural forest re-claim them and let the wild life return to them. Any lost revenue that these killing sites bring to the local communities, will be more than compensated by wild life tourism and a healthy countryside.

    1. Do you really think with all the problems the country faces the suggestion of making sporting estates illegal is ludicrous! Sporting estates hugely benefit rural areas and with open heather moorland being currently rarer than the rainforest letting them regenerate in trees and rank heather would be an ecological disaster. There is not enough revenue involved in wildlife tourism to compensate for loss of sporting revenue the money that is spent on it currently in certain areas would simply be diluted over the whole country. Bear in mind there is no proof that this eagle was ever caught in a spring trap look at the number of birds killed by trauma on the SASA website that there is never any suggestion of any wrong doing about.

      1. As you say, it does seem a ludicrous suggestion. However wildlife crime does need to go higher up on the political agenda, and with the worst of the estates threatened with closure, it just may make the rest, particulary those that don’t resort to bad practice, more willing to expose those that do. As to the forest, I would love to see more regeneration of the natural caladonian forest such as Rothiemurcus, and am so pleased that some former estates, such as in Glen Feshie, are doing just that.

        1. I find it interesting that Glenfeshie is now being hailed as a good conservation minded estate when only a few years ago hundreds of deer were slaughtered in a matter of days using a helicopter and contact killers to help tree regeneration. I fail to see the difference why it’s ok from a ‘conservation’ point of view to use ruthless measures but not from a sporting one!? Oh and wasn’t a poisoned eagle found on this estate in 2006 but as it’s not a grouse moor someone else must have been responsible!

          1. I remember that episode well. But deer are primarily a forest dwelling animal, it is well known that those that have to survive on the open hill are poor specimans compared to their forest counterparts. So in time as the forests regenerate (we almost lost this habitat completely) the deer together with all other forest animals, will survive and flourish.

            As for the eagle you are correct, someone else must have been responible!

      2. Shooting esates should be licensed and subject to much tighter regulations and vetting – too many clearly don’t take laws on wildlife protection seriously.

        1. Well surely its ouyr responsibility to protect and retain a rare and fragile ecosystem. Its frequently mentioned on here how rare and vital some raptors are to this country even though on a worldwide scale the population is thriving whilke its not important to keep open heather moorland which is only really found in Scotland and England?

          1. Heather moorland in the grousemoor sense is anything but fragile…its what survives when fire is used as a management tool.

            Actually the habitats that are rare and fragile are blanket bog, dry heath upland woodland, scrub etc…all the habitats that have been destroyed to create an impoverished heather monoculture. All of our native species evolved in these habitats…..including red grouse.

      3. Heather moorland is a degraded ecosystem and and is maintained in this damaged condition by current (mis)management. You cannot seriously compare heather moorland to rainforest. That’s just crass. It would be far better for the planet if we allowed heather moorland to revert to woodland. There would be economic consequences of course – it would take some time for the rural economy to adjust, but there is every prospect of a better contribution to the economy from a healthy ecosystem. It is time we abandoned this misguided and sycophantic praise of heather moorland as a valuable habitat.

  4. Will the last Golden Eagle have to die in Scotland before such crimes are investigated and prosecuted with competence and urgency!!???

    1. Slightly exaggerated scaremongering saying the Scottish population is increasing steadily all the time and are no longer considered under serious threat!

      1. A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “There are a number of irregularities in this case. After looking at what the scientists have inferred may have happened and also studying the interpretations thereafter, the SGA has decided to open its own inquiry and will conclude this before commenting on a case it believes is far from clear cut.
        “As an organisation we will be happy to present our findings to the Police in order to assist the investigation.
        “The SGA provides all its members with up-to-date information and proper guidance, in line with the law in Scotland, as to how to set and operate legal traps.

        1. You missed this foot note from their statement…“As an organisation we have been extremely pleased at the dramatic fall in bird of prey abuse cases in Scotland, with only 2 confirmed cases in 2012, and will continue to work towards there being none.”
          For it to make much sense you have to reaklise that the act of an eagle taking a grouse is their definition of “bird of prey abuse”.

        2. SGA have abandoned their investigation…something more important has come up….

          “The Scottish Gamekeepers Association is asking members and supporters to help track down English Springer Spaniel, Riley, who has been missing for a fortnight.
          Riley, a liver and white two and half year old, was last with owner Sharon on the Loch Sandy Walk, Glen Clova.
          Sharon has contacted the SGA office to see if anyone has seen Riley, who is mostly white in colour, undocked, and has an electronic collar.”

          Maybe if the keeper would just tell them where he put the bait out……

          1. If it was wearing an electronic collar chances are it has a tendency to run off, chase things or generally misbehave so I reckon this is more likely the cause of its disappearance! Christ your will be blaming keepers for the recession yet!

      2. Actually Golden Eagle populations are struggling in many parts of Eastern and Southern Scotland with a number of poisoned birds already picked up this year – the worst areas are as ever associated with shooting estates. Most birds were found cos they were radio tagged, god knows how many untagged eagles have died in remote areas. The gamekeeper diaries recently published here highlights the ugly truth behind much of the grouse industry in Scotland.

        1. Yes there is an lack of breeding pairs of eagles in eastern and southern Scotland but immature youngsters dispersing from the rest of the country regularly frequent these other areas. There is vast tracts of land up the west coast, Islands and North of scotland with succesfully breeding established eagles I fail to see why its required to have nests from coast to coast the length and breadth of the country when the areas you have mention are comparisingly small when you consider Scotland as a whole. Bear in mind much of the east and southern parts of the country are more populated and more populated so disturbance and the lack of suituble nest sites are possible reasons for the lack of lesting pairs.

      3. Grouseman, you’ve been reading this blog for long enough now to know that that’s just not true. Why do we have to keep going over the same ground? Read the Golden Eagle Conservation Framework (see link below) – it clearly shows, using the best available science, that golden eagle distribution in Scotland is constrained by illegal persecution. Where’s your evidence that the Scottish population “is increasing steadily all the time”??!

        Click to access Report%20No193.pdf

  5. Persecution and hybridization has led to the point where there are only around 40 pure bred Scottish Wildcats left, according to the Scottish Wildcat Association. So in Scotland we have a globally unique species that is facing a silent extinction due to a number of uncontrollable factors; the Golden Eagle in years to come might face the same destiny because of persecution and environment changes (http://www.davidadam.org.uk/golden.eagle.report.htm)
    I am always amazed at how far some shooting estates will go to achieve raptor and predator free land, we are truly back in the ‘Victorian’ era of gamekeeping where rich, fanatical owners employ more estate workers than would be normal in order to achieve the ‘perfect’ environment for grouse viability. In my local north Angus area I would say that at least 2 estates fall into this category and both have an alleged raptor poisoning history.

  6. Grouseman I’m glad you agree there is a lack of breeding pairs of eagles in the east and the south of Scotland. And yes dispersing youngsters frequent these areas, but why don’t these birds mature in to adults…………..because they are regularly poisoned, trapped and shot by grousemen.

  7. Unsurprisingly, there is no condemnation of this or the Hen Harrier death on the GWCT and BASC websites. Does their silence suggest that they find these actions perfectly acceptable in the management of the countryside and they are in fact secretly happy about said events?

    And despite the evidence pointing to the use of an illegal trap in the Golden Eagle death, the SGA refuse to condemn this killing but will instead conduct their own inquiry. Of course, their results will be inconclusive as to the result of the death. Or perhaps the death will be attributed to another eagle and the dead bird was carried in the talons of its killer to its final resting place.

  8. There have been several such rewards offered in the past for information re a particular wildlife crime in Scotland – I am unaware of any of that having been claimed. Remember that this whole area of crime is deliberately shrouded in secrecy – everyone denies it is even taking place [as you repeatedly see in comments to this blog]. Waving more money about wont change that – the people doing this are happy to do it, they think its a good tradition they are carrying on.If someone broke ranks and informed on their colleagues they would never work in the shooting industry again. I imagine that the real mood within gamekeeping today [not that of their representatives – wait for some really interesting conspiracy theories on this one!] is, “what a plonker, didnt he realise it was being tracked?”…..and “why didnt he just smash the transmitter?”.

  9. Walked to Mount Battock on Millden Estate last Sunday. The place is virtually a grouse farm and must run from the top down, if the trap was here it would be sanctioned by not just one rogue keeper. I have e-mailed the police wildlife officer about grid locations of the ‘incidents’ but 2 days later still waiting. I will ask the local bobby at the Inveresk Community Council meeting about why there has been such a delay in releasing very sparse info. It would be easy to take the bird from Glen Esk over to Deeside – Forest of Birse – Aboyne using the Fungal hill track which is mostly on Millden land.

    1. I’m not sure how you specify an estate as a grouse farm saying they are a wild bird and their population can only be increased my managing their habitat and controlling predatory species? Millden may be an example for an intensively managed grouse moor but it can hardly be classified as a farm.

  10. I think Grouse Farm is a perfect description and your naive if you think it isn,t. Ants farm Aphids, its a well known fact. We dont say the Ants have an Aphid Estate! Personally I,m not happy with them being called Sporting Estates, many sportsmen and Countrymen would also disagree with that description. A true Countryman isn,t interested in bag size, he,s interested in a good days shooting in good company on a decent moor. Half these estates aren,t owned by Countrymen any more. They are owned by city bankers and the likes whose only interest is in making money out of them no matter what the cost

    1. The problem with your argument is very few (if any) sporting estates in Scotland even break even never mind make a profit. Even after any grant schemes and subsidies they are all run at a loss and subsidised by the landowner for his own pleasure and to fulfill their obligation to look after the land. Yes the money grouse days can be sold for is comsiderable but as they are cyclic by nature any good years have to pay for the several that aren’t. They provide considerable employment in rural areas where there is little other industry, invest in the local economy, put children in the schools and prevent the increase of rural depopulation.

      1. If these estates are being run at a loss (which I don’t believe) and are subsidised by the landowners, then it all must come down to the sheer bloodlust of the landowners. Are you suggesting that their preference would be to lose money on an annual basis, in a concerted effort to kill Scotland’s iconic species?

        1. I’m glad you agree the red grouse is an iconic Scottish species so you must also agree they should be helped and numbers increased by proper grouse moor management…………….

          1. No, you have misinterpreted my comment. When I mentioned that there was a concerted effort to kill Scotland’s iconic species, I was talking of the many raptor species that are killed illegally, alongside the illegal killing of other creatures that have the audacity to consider predatory thoughts. And then there’s the Mountain Hare, which as far as I am aware is not a predator of grouse, yet is still killed by the true vermin of the countryside, the criminally-minded gamekeeper.

            So, if you agree that iconic species should be given help to increase their numbers, why do you persistently defend those that illegally kill raptors and other predators? Or, do you, like many others in the gamekeeping world, believe that eagles, harriers, buzzards, merlins, peregrines, wildcats, pine martens, etc are nowhere near iconic, and deserve to be shot, trapped, snared and poisoned on a daily basis?

  11. Grouseman do you honestly expect me to believe that any of these moors are run at a loss, if you get a shooting party of ten and five pay by cash do you honestly expect me to believe the full amount gets declared, as I said half these moors are owned by city bankers and their likes, people who have no qualms about taking huge bonuses from failng banks, I dont understand why you would expect me to believe they would run any business at a loss! you mention grants and subsidies, walthham moor is getting £2.5 million quid over ten years. Our pig farmers are selling up because they cant afford to feed their stock, our dairy farmers are protesting becase it costs them more to produce milk than what they,re getting for it. putting on tweed breeches and jackets doesnt make you a countryman.

    1. Running a grouse moor as a buisiness especially in Scotland would be rediculous and unviable! There is simply too many variables and too much unpredictability involves! When am entire years work can be wiped out by a bad spring, disease or a huge tick rise the running costs for that year are the same regardless so who covers them in this situation. Yes these estates are run by accountants but more as a way of avoiding tax on the money they make in their other buisiness interests. You also mentioned farmers struggling well farming is the must heavily subsidised industry in the country so it’s not the case that estates are reaping the money instead. I can assure u that I’m not a tweed breeks and jacket toff I’m a working man that has lived and worked in the countryside all my life.

      1. Glen Ogil estate owned by an investment banker received £829,664 during 2005 – 2008 and had £107,650 docked because of the raptor poisoning investigations in 2006. [Ed: please note, the owner of Glenogil was appealing against this financial penalty. We haven’t yet been able to unearth the outcome of this appeal. Funny that].

        1. And your point is? Grants and subsidies are designated by the government for farming and forestry interests and other aspects of land management such as natural birch regeneration schemes. Are estates not supposed to receive these payments when they are available? It doesn’t show that sporting estates make a profit. I’m sure the running costs of Glen Ogil by the time you employ a large staff all with houses and vehicles they greatly exceed the £207’416 a year paid to them.

  12. Annual cost of running a grouse moor is between £100,000 – £150,000 according to grouse moor news published on behalf of Savills, you dont need to be an accountant to work out that leaves quite a bit of pocket money left from the subsidies alone. which incidently are the same subsidies farmers get? sorry but when you say grouse moors run at a loss, yet accountants and investment bankers are queing up to buy them I find it very hard to believe

    1. Much as we are getting off topic we have started on this line now so I have a couple of points to make. Yes the average cost of running a small/moderately sized grouse moor may be somewhere in the region of £100,000 – £150,000 a year but the grants for a smaller place will also be less. Saying that Glen Ogil and Leadhills have been mentioned take these as an example. The average cost of employing a keeper (including house, vehicle, clothing etc) is about £30,000-£35,000 per annum so these large moors with perhaps 8-10 keepers, well i will let you do the maths! Add onto this figure perhaps the cost of employing a shepherd or two, handymen, a sporting manager and the upkeep of a lodge, buildings, hill roads etc your point of having change left over from a couple of hundred thousand starts to look a bit silly. You are absolutely correct several moors are being bought up my investment bankers and hedge fund managers but only because these are the individuals with the ‘new’ money that can afford to run them properly and want the social status of having a grouse moor.

      1. You forgot to mention the annual costs of all the traps, snares, amunition and poisons needed to kill the plethora of non-grouse species.

        1. Actually with obviously the exception of poisons all the other things you have mentioned such as ammunition and traps are included in the costsi stated for employing a keeper.

          1. And then there’s the legal costs incurred whenever a gamekeeper is taken to court for the illegal use of the above methods (and dare I say it, illegal payments to ensure the criminal escapes conviction or the trial collapses). I don’t know if these have been figured into the above calculations.

  13. Fascinating though all of this financial talk may be..this blog is about raptor persecution..or are we saying that killing protected birds and routinely breaking of the law are justifiable because it does or does not make a profit?!!…I’d love to have more money, wouldnt we all but Im not going to break the law to do it.

    A couple of points here…the grouse moor section of an estate may well be an economic drain on the rest of it but its the kudos of having a grouse moor that keeps most in existence – you could describe it as tradition or you could describe it as rank snobbery, depending on your point of view. To say that they are kept by landowners “to fulfill their obligation to look after the land” however, is romanticised nonsense. An intensively run grouse moor isnt looking after the land, its exploiting it, with examples such as Glenogil and Leadhills where a huge fee is paid to a manager and contracts drawn up to ensure profits.. In addition there are plenty of examples of grouse moors being turned over to more profitable forestry and sheep farming in Scotland, when it suited the estate owners, so nothing here is cut and dried.

    Yes, an estate is a business and businesses have to keep within the law, as do us individuals.

  14. Grouseman the annual cost of running a small grouse farm is around the £70k mark, there is a good break down of these costs on wikipedia amongst other places online. Savills quoted costs are for medium to large grouse farms, they also describe them as a lucrative “business”. I,m still of the belief a lot of tax payers money is going straight into the back pockets of these land owners, while they continue to persecute our Raptors simply to increse profit

    1. Merlin if you are resorting to Wikipedia to find information to argue with and by insisting on callimg them grouse farms I’m not even going to contest this point with you any longer as you are clearly too closed minded, bigoted and immature to accept rationality.

      1. The Tayside wildlife crime officer replied to my request for more accurate information on the locations of this bird’s last days. The police are not giving out any more info and their investigations and searches have been carried out fully. They also do not want anyone to go out looking for evidence.
        It is a bit perplexing when the police ask publicly for anyone with info to come forward when the exact areas involved are not specified; anyone seeing something suspicious in the ‘rough’ areas of a hillside overlooking Glen Esk or a back road near Aboyne was the general request?
        The local police officer attending the Inveresk Community Council meeting last night knew very little about it and it was not on his report to the council. Hey, eagle crime is just not as important as diesel theft, reckless youth drivers and wild camping………..

        1. Well done, Dave, at least you tried. Interesting that the WCO thinks the searches have been carried out fully – but they somehow failed to search any vehicles!

          It seems eagle crime comes further down the list than dog shitting and speeding.

          Keep up the good work.

          1. Oh, I forgot to add that Tayside police also reported at the Inveresk Community Council meeting that a 17 year old girl had been charged with interfering/destroying a fox snare near pheasant pens just outside Brechin; doesn’t make sense that resources are ploughed into this when this Eagle has received no justice – the law is on the shooting estate’s side most of the time.

  15. Thank you for your letter of the 25 September 2012 to the Minister for Environment and
    Climate Change, Mr Paul Wheelhouse. I have been asked to respond.

    I agree that the media reports were a terrible story of the suffering of a young golden eagle. The reports may suggest that the circumstances of this incident were suggestive of an offence however there is no hard evidence and it remains possible that there is an alternative explanation. It is therefore inappropriate for me to comment.

    The unlawful killing of any raptors has no place in today’s Scotland and we will continue to work hard to eradicate this criminal activity. We believe that the partnership approach with
    the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland, is bringing the reduction in bird of prey poisoning that can be seen in the statistics in recent years. However we are not complacent and if there is evidence of a switch to other methods of persecution we will take action to bear down on those methods.

    The Scottish Government recognises that game shooting generates significant income and employment in our rural economy, often in areas where there are few alternative opportunities. However it is important that these businesses operate within the law, and the Scottish Government recognises that most such businesses do so. However where there appear to be conflicts for example between raptors and highly-intensive grouse moor management, we believe that an approach of seeking to improve the effectiveness of law enforcement while working with partner organisations to isolate those persisting with illegal practices is the best way forward.

    Scottish police have a clear focus on tackling wildlife crime cases. Law enforcement’s role in tackling wildlife crime was reviewed by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary Scotland in 2008, and there was a follow-up review in 2009. As a result there are officers with wildlife crime duties in every police force area and a consistent and professional approach from senior officers.

    It is frustrating that it is difficult to detect, prosecute and convict those responsible for wildlife crimes. However while it easy to make suppositions about circumstances of an apparent offence as reported in the media, wildlife crime must be subject to the same standard of proof as any other crime. Police and prosecutors also apply the same stringent procedure for dealing with wildlife crime as for any other sort of crime.

    You say that the golden eagle population is threatened by illegal persecution. The Golden Eagle Conservation Framework published by SNH in 2008 did identify persecution in eastern Scotland and food shortages in the west as threats to the birds’ conservation status. It is difficult to estimate the amount of illegal persecution, but we recognise that in the longer term the best measure of success in dealing with raptor persecution will be when vacant golden eagle territories, as identified in the Framework document, are re-occupied.

  16. Grouseman, you may be right about me but I have presented you with facts, supplied by Savills who are the main dealers in the sales of grouse moors, you haven,t produced facts just assumptions.Your latest that it costs £30k – £35k annually to employ a keeper is along the same lines. Savills quote £18k to employ a “Head Keeper” throw in accommodation, £4k – £5k, even though this is usually bought with the estate, and a vehicle, again a one off purchase every eight years or so and both of which are tax deductible, hardly comes to what you have stated? simple question which I believe is relevant to ” the new money” coming into the sport, changing attitudes in shooters and the zero tolerance of Raptors currently on moors. Our favourite banker, Fred Goodwin and Sir Jackie Stewart went shooting in Spain with 5 Friends, they shot close to 1,000 partridge in a morning, do you think this was sporting or do you think they were shooting birds that were too easy, in other words “unsporting” just to boost their own ego,s?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: