SNH put positive spin on worrying golden eagle news

eagle-poisoned2There’s a very curious news item doing the rounds this morning that seems to have originated from an SNH press release. The news is that two immature female golden eagles have attempted to breed in two different locations and that this is somehow an indication of a potential ‘upturn’ in the fortunes of the Scottish golden eagle population.

To the unassuming general public, the news that golden eagles are breeding at an earlier age than normal (3 years old instead of the usual 4-6 years) may well sound like a positive story. On a superficial level this is probably true – breeding golden eagles, at whatever age, has got to be good news, right?


According to several scientific studies, the occurrence of breeding subadult eagles should actually be used as an early-warning of potential population decline. The reason these Scottish golden eagles are attempting to breed at three years of age is because there is little or no competition for that vacant territory. Why is there little or no competition? Because one or both of the territorial adults have been killed and there are very few non-breeding adults (known as ‘floaters’) around to challenge for the territory. If the population was healthy, it would be these breeding-age floaters that would move in to the territory, not an immature three-year old bird.

An excellent study (Whitfield et al. 2004 – see below) has also demonstrated that subadult and mixed-age breeding golden eagle pairs in Scotland have lower breeding success than adult pairs – a result of inexperience and persecution, seeing as most golden eagle territories in Scotland with subadult breeders are in areas associated with illegal persecution.

Des Thompson from SNH does mention the link to persecution in this press release but he kind of glosses over this and instead suggests that these young breeders are good news. They are good news as long as they are not bumped off, and the chances of them being bumped off is quite high because, as mentioned above, these territories with immature breeders are only available because the adults have already been persecuted.

Instead of spinning this as a ‘good news story’ and ignoring the known warning signs of a population in decline, SNH should be telling us how they are going to beef up their conservation efforts at these sites and get the Scottish golden eagle population back to a favourable conservation status – as it is, it is far from that.

The news story has been reported here, here and here.

Here is a PDF of the scientific study mentioned above, entitled The Effects of Persecution on Age of Breeding and Territory Occupation in Golden Eagles in Scotland:  Effects of persecution on age GE

7 thoughts on “SNH put positive spin on worrying golden eagle news”

  1. Do we expect anything better from SNH? They’ve lost all credibility over the past 3 or 4 years, and I now struggle to think of them even as being neutral, never mind on our side.

    1. You’re right, they’ve lost all credibility and are no longer fit for purpose. Bring back the halcion times of NERC which later became the NCC. Unfortunately it has continued it’s downward degeneration into the present SNH/NE, they are now an entirely different regime without autonomy and are basically yanked in any direction at the whim of DEFRA and the government.

  2. I just hope that this young female in Aberdeenshire survives until next year, as the territory I presume she has adopted for the past ten months borders an estate that has a notorious persecution record.

  3. That BBC link also says this at the side ‘Heavily persecuted in the past, these birds are now gradually increasing in number with 400 breeding pairs thought to be in Scotland at present.’
    There isn’t a comments to tell them is is rubbish.
    I anyone has heard of an increase i haven’t heard about it and it has been 400 pairs for decades with increases in the west and decreases in the east. Experts can correct me if i’m wrong.

    1. I couldn’t stand the BBC article so wrote this complaint below.

      The statement on the right states ‘Heavily persecuted in the past, these birds are now gradually increasing in number with 400 breeding pairs thought to be in Scotland at present.’ Firstly they are not increasing. Numbers have been 400 for decades. Secondly they are still being persecuted. I don’t care so much if it was just a mathematical error but it is much more serious. The upbeat tone of your statement is extremely misleading. Golden Eagle persecution is still occurring on an annual basis. Your statement is ignoring this and pretending serious crimes are not being committed. This is just the type of propaganda the shooting estates who are persecuting birds of prey want the public to believe but it is simply a lie. The Golden Eagle has increased in the western part of its range but has decreased in the east as a direct result of persecution and if you read the article itself Roy Dennis alludes to this problem. Immature birds are breeding because of persecution. Get your facts straight and don’t give me this ‘happy’ crap. Would you dare play down other criminal activity?

      Click to access Illegal_bird_killing_tcm9-335703.pdf

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