The curious incident of the eagle in the night-time

Six months ago, a dead golden eagle was found close to a lay-by on a quiet road in Aberdeenshire. The bird’s satellite-tracking data showed it had remained motionless on an Angus grouse moor for 15 hours, before inexplicably moving 15km north to the lay-by, in the dead of night, where it was found dead several days later. A post-mortem conducted by the Scottish Agricultural College laboratory in Aberdeenshire concluded that the eagle had suffered two broken legs due to trauma “that could be consistent with an injury caused by a spring type trap“. The SAC said the severity of the eagle’s injuries “would prevent the bird from being able to take off“.

This incident was not reported in the press until September 2012, four months after the eagle’s carcass had been discovered (see earlier blog on this here). Notably, the news was not released by Tayside Police, or Grampian Police; it was the RSPB that went public on this.

Since then there has been much confusion and muddying of the waters surrounding this case. As soon as the RSPB’s press release hit the national media, Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse tweeted this:

26th September 2012 @PaulWheelhouse: This is a terrible story of an eagle suffering a lingering death – anyone with info please contact the police. He linked his tweet to this BBC news story.

It seems that like the majority of us, the Environment Minister considered this eagle’s death to be linked to a criminal offence. Why else would he have urged people to contact the police with information?

The public’s response to the media stories resulted in many people writing to the Environment Minister to express their outrage at the illegal killing of yet another golden eagle. The Minister’s response in early October was baffling; despite all the evidence to the contrary (sat tag data, corpse found, post-mortem results, and a long, long history of illegal raptor persecution linked to game management practices on grouse moors), as well as the inference from his earlier tweet that he believed this eagle’s death to be the result of a criminal act, the Minister’s aide said this:

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” (see here for earlier blog on this).

This statement led to further angry letters to the Minister, and on 24th October his aide wrote the following response to one of our blog readers:

You have commented on the Minister’s letter regarding the incident involving a young golden eagle in Aberdeenshire. Please allow me to clarify. The reports may suggest that the circumstances of this incident were highly suggestive of an offence involving illegal persecution. However, whilst that may be the most likely explanation, there is unfortunately no hard evidence to that effect. In the circumstances therefore it is not appropriate to comment on this case as an example of illegal activity. However, clearly the RSPB have offered a reward for information and it remains possible that this may yet be treated as a criminal matter” (click here to read the full letter in the comments section of an earlier blog on this).

So here we are in November and it is still not clear whether this case is being treated as a criminal investigation:

  • The Environment Minister thinks that it’s inappropriate to class this incident as a criminal matter.
  • Tayside Police haven’t put out any media statements whatsoever about this eagle.
  • Grampian Police haven’t put out any media statements whatsoever about this eagle.
  • PAW Scotland haven’t put out any media statements whatsoever about this eagle.

Wildlife crime, and specifically the illegal persecution of raptors, has been identified as a priority issue by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Police. We’re repeatedly told that raptor persecution incidents will be robustly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. Given the above bullet points, are we reassured that this is the case? Where’s the transparency? Some might argue that this is a deliberate attempt to suppress the figures concerning the number of illegally-killed golden eagles in Scotland. The question to be asked is very clear and very simple:

Is the death of this golden eagle the subject of a criminal investigation?

Let’s ask Tayside Police Chief Constable Justine Curran. Email:

21 thoughts on “The curious incident of the eagle in the night-time”

  1. I would just add to this the blindingly obvious fact that in this rare case there is actually some evidence

    1. Satellite tracking locations.
    2. Exact dates, times and locations.
    3. A dead eagle with trap injuries.

    What we need to keep asking is why the Environment Minister aide was advised to say there was “a possible alternative explanation”…Who or what, exactly, is he scared of?

    1. …….yep so callled National Parks that are owned by the rich, Who then say that by managing the moor for grouse keeps the natural state of things. This is not ture as the landscape as we see it today is not natural but wholly manmade

  2. Knowledge of the issues around ongoing Raptor persecution in the U.K. is not common. Considering the current narrative of media coverage of biodiversity etc., i.e. Attenborough et al, why have we not had mainstream coverage of this subject matter ?

    The silence is Elephant sized in the proverbial room. The level of suppression beggars all possible belief.

    This has to march promptly to the forefront of U.K. conservation discourse! (Perhaps excluding Neonicotinoids)

    Be very interesting to calculate the marginal cost incurred by game concerns due to Raptor ‘co-existence’.
    My instinct is to think it is minimal and that tradition, perverse pleasure and/or the need to justify employment play a compounding role in this phenomena.

    We could so get this stopped ???

    1. Paul..there have been years of mainstream coverage of this issue – including some on this particular eagle..but it always takes the form of a short news item or, if we’re lucky a programme debating the issue which just shows a couple of professional conservationists arguing with a couple of professionals from the shooting/landowning world when surprise, surprise, they disagree.

      Compare that to say the recent massive all media coverage on the ash dieback problem.

      Suppression is the problem and it goes as high as the BBC who are afraid to tangle with certain lawyers representing landowning interests in Scotland, leading to insipid coverage of the issue.

      We just have to keep chip chipping away through blogs like this until some politician actually gets on board and turns it into a mass audience campaign. Where are you?!!!

  3. A big thanks to those of you who’ve helped raise awareness of this, and especially to those of you on Twitter who really spread the word last night: @TripleSter; @benjaminbittern; @Cekaelta; @RareBirdAlertUk; @ChrisGPackham.

    Good on you for standing up and a special thanks to all of you who’ve sent an email to Tayside Police Chief Constable.

  4. Utterly disgraceful. Have sent email to tayside police chief. Are there details of the landowner available? Perhaps we can all email them too. Am spreading the news. Pester power might just bring someone to justice!

    1. Hi Clare,

      Writing to the landowner would be a pointless exercise. To prove criminal responsibility a certain level of evidence is required. That evidence needs to be gathered by the police, who have a statutory duty to investigate suspected wildlife crime. The evidence is then assessed by COPFS who decide whether that evidence will stand up in court. That’s why we’re asking whether the police are treating this as a criminal investigation – if they’re not investigating then obviously they won’t find any evidence.

  5. A spokesman for Tayside Police said:
    We are concerned regarding this matter and, along with our partners in Grampian Police and the RSPB Investigations Unit, as well as our own Wildlife and Environment Officer, are continuing to undertake enquiries. Please be assured that Tayside Police will continue to investigate all circumstances surrounding this incident with a view to identifying those responsible and holding them to account for what is a terrible deed.
    Anyone who has information that can assist us should call 0300 111 2222, or speak to any officer.

  6. I spoke with the local police officer who didn’t know much about it at all and the wildlife crime officer who stated that,

    ‘ We will not be giving out any further information and detail on the
    specific locations. We have carried out all appropriate searches
    requiring to be done and everything has been covered by the Police that
    needs to be done. We were just looking for any extra information that
    might include someone behaving suspiciously in these rough areas or
    something unexplainable being seen. If you have information of note,
    that would be useful to us but we don’t need anyone going out looking
    for information. ‘

    So that’s a sod off for me and a sod off for raptors, simple.

    1. Sounds like a very competent Wildlife Officer, not. With that kind of answer he would probably make a fine politician.

      Speaking of politicians would writing/emailing the local MP be a worthwhile effort? If so could you provide that email address?

      This has to worth pursing letting things “dangle” is just not the way forward.

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