The life, and death, of golden eagle Fearnan

Yesterday we learned that yet another young golden eagle had met an untimely death at the hands of an industry incapable or unwilling to move into the 21st century (here). The shocking result of a series of secretive, evil acts pervading the remote glens and mountainsides of Scotland. Secretive yet relentless. A lonely agonising death as the eagle spasms and fits and gasps its last breath, its feet clenched in chemical paralysis.

To most of us, Fearnan is just another statistic; one of a growing list of eagles lost in the most barbaric way. But here is his story, in the words and pictures of Keith Brockie, a man who knew Fearnan well. Thanks, Keith, for sharing with us.

Male golden eagle chick in his eyrie in Glen Lyon, Perthshire with oven-ready red grouse and red-legged partridge as prey. 25th June 2011:


Portrait of the eaglet prior to being satellite-tagged:


Holding the young male golden eagle chick prior to tagging the chick. Ringed by my wife, Hazel, her first eagle chick ringed:


Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB, fitting the satellite tag harness onto the eaglet prior to stitching and glueing the harness bands to establish a good fit:


Fearnan flying alongside a hillside in Glen Lyon on 18th December 2011. You can clearly see the satellite tag and aerial mounted on his back. Unusually he stayed with his parents hardly venturing more than a few kms out of his natal territory from 23rd July when he fledged ’till 4th March 2012. His parents no doubt forced him out of their territory as they were about to lay eggs:


His movements were monitored by Roy Dennis (see here where you can see his movements throughout Scotland). This map shows his last movements ’till his untimely death on 22nd November 2013. Prior to this he had travelled from Loch Awe, Ben Dearg, spent much of his time in North Perthshire and the Monaliaths ’till he made the fatal mistake of visiting the grouse moors of Angus. Indeed whilst I was doing golden plover monitoring on Dunmaglass estate near Inverness in June this year, Fearnan flew past only 50 metres away:


Fearnan lying dead on a hillside overlooking Glen Lethnot on 3rd December 2013, when he was picked up by RSPB Investigations personnel (photo courtesy of them) and police. Later veterinary investigations revealed that he had been poisoned by carbofuran, a highly poisonous systemic insecticide (now banned) which is particularly toxic to birds. The golden eagle was recently voted most popular of the ‘Big Five’ wildlife species in a poll by Scottish Natural Heritage. This is the way they are treated in the ‘Year of Natural Scotland 2013’:


The area where Fearnan was found dead is really bad for the persecution of raptors. Here are some of the known examples, merely the ‘tip of a very large iceberg’. 2008: a white-tailed eagle and a buzzard found poisoned, with 32 meat baits and a baited mountain hare also found. 2009: a white-tailed eagle and 2 buzzards found poisoned on one estate and a poisoned golden eagle and buzzard found on another estate. 2010: a poisoned red kite and nearby 2 poisoned buzzards with pigeon baits laced with poison. 2011: a buzzard seen shot. 2012: a tagged golden eagle trapped and transported overnight into a Deeside wood with a feather trail from a lay-by where it later died. 2013: the first white-tailed eagle eyrie in Eastern Scotland for 200 years chopped down by a chainsaw! These are just the known raptor deaths. Considering four satellite-tagged eagles have been killed in this area recently and fewer than 10% of young golden eagles are tagged each year in Scotland, how many moor are lying rotting amongst the heather on these grouse moors – another 36? These grouse moors where the persecution is taking place are acting as a sump, constantly killing immature eagles trying to find vacant territories. THE TIME IS LONG OVERDUE FOR SHOOTING ESTATES TO BE LICENSED to add further pressure on estates to curb the illegal persecution of raptors. The SGA and SLE would have you believe that persecution is declining but those of us who monitor raptors know differently! Please write to the Environment Minister to express your disgust:


61 thoughts on “The life, and death, of golden eagle Fearnan”

  1. So sad especially for this beautiful bird ,this is one that was found but what about all the other untagged birds . This poison is left for birds of prey illegally, shocking . Money counts, wildlife doesn’t.

  2. Another two fingers to the uk tax payer, they,ll carry on taking our subsidies to pay for their so called sport, they wont put anything in the form of taxes back in to the treasury, remember they all claim to be running at a loss and they,ll carry on doing exactly what they please. they dont care about our wildlife or the enjoyment others get out of watching it. the year of natural scotland has been a joke to them. absolutely sickened again and cant get my head around the fact none of the shooting fraternity has the bottle to turn on their own. CA comments no more than a cheap stunt to attract more members, shamefull

      1. Sorry that comment was supposed to be to Jimmy who wrote ‘These type of gamekeepers are by far the worst vermin on grouse moors!!’

        My comment to you is.
        ‘and cant get my head around the fact none of the shooting fraternity has the bottle to turn on their own.’
        I was thinking exactly the same today before i heard about this latest poisoning.
        I guess the landowners are a very small circle and they are scared to grass up their own but surely it has to happen soon. Makes me very respectful of gamekeepers who have been know to expose other gamekeepers.

  3. This sequence of images is a powerful story. Surely there are journalists out there who can present this bird’s life, and untimely death, to the public. It should really open people’s eyes as to what is happening on driven grouse moors. And in the year that the GE is voted Scotland’s favourite wild animal.

  4. Just like to add my sympathies to all those who put their time and effort into monitoring Feaman and thank them for sharing his story. must be like losing a mate

    1. Absolutely disgraceful. And to think these people responsible are doing this for their “entertainment”.
      On behalf of Manchester Raptor Group I send our sincere condolences.

    1. Merlin, you are right, it is indeed like losing a friend. We watched Fearnan growing up and learning to hunt on his natal territory for the summer, autumn and winter of 2011. I’ll never forget an image I have of him gliding over the shoulder of a hill then stooping fast into the heather. There was a great tangle of talon, beaks and wings as his rather ruffled father was unceremoniously jumped on! The pair of them sat together in the heather for a number of minutes, before dad flew away and Fearnan stayed there preening. This is the most awful end to a glorious bird. He was not even settled in Angus, a travelling boy just passing through.

  5. We must BAN DRIVEN GROUSE SHOOTING, it attracts so many gamekeeper criminals. Ban it and wildlife crime will most likely half over night! They have proved beyond doubt that they cannot live in the 21st century. You are right Jimmy, they are the true vermin.

  6. Email sent to our environment minister. Feel sad for the people who did all the work with Fearnan, they must be sick. Had a wee bit of a polite rant at our Minister but I did enjoy it. I await his reply, hopefully not for to long. lol.

  7. Here is a copy of an email sent to the Environment Minister. Thanks to blog reader Alister Clunas for allowing us to publish it here. By the looks of our blog stats, a lot of people have already clicked on the link to the Minister’s email address. Please keep writing and letting him know how you feel.

    Dear Mr Wheelhouse

    I am appalled that yet another Golden Eagle has been found poisoned in Angus. However congratulations are due to the police, PAW and the RSPB for getting a press release out promptly.

    The litany of raptor persecution continues unabated. The golden eagle is supposed to be our national bird. We should protect, value and treasure eagles not poison and persecute them.

    A small number of people perhaps as few as 50 are preventing the will of the Scottish people and the government of Scotland to see certain birds of prey reach their full ecological range. This is not a new problem. Most birds of prey have been protected since 1954. How long are SLE and SGA allowed to be part of PAW? Thier line is that it is only a matter of time and peer pressure that will stop persecution? How long will the government be taken in by this tosh?

    Why then are the few allowed to defy democracy. We have government funded schemes to re introduce sea eagles and red kites but these are not reaching their full potential because of persecution.

    I want to be able to take my grandson to see golden eagles. He is one year old, by the time he is old enough to go and look for eagles will there be any left? Why should these small number of persecutors prevent me from doing so.

    I for one have had enough but when will the government have had enough and take appropriate action?

    • stop the sham that is PAW – It gives SLE and SGA some credibility that they do not deserve. They are not contributing anything useful to the debate and just snipe from within at the RSPB and others;
    • consider giving greater powers to the SSPCA as was promised;
    • allow surveillance evidence;
    • make a single person responsible for each trap;
    • take forward a successful prosecution case to establish vicarious responsibility;
    • licence driven grouse moors.

    The time for action is now.

    Yours sincerely,

    Alister Clunas, CEnv MCIEEM

    1. ‘A small number of people perhaps as few as 50’
      That is the only bit i find extremely doubtful. ‘Perhaps as few as 50 estates’ maybe.
      Otherwise great letter. Mine probably just get his secretary angry!

  8. Although I have not followed this site and kept up to date with the golden eagle plight, I can only say …. If something is not done sooner than later all we will have left on this green island are rich people sat around looking over their large estates with no wild life to be found.yes hunting is fine and if they would only release enough grouse and quails for man and bird then maybe we can all live together without harming inosent wild life that is only trying to survive. I wonder if the men or woman who are doing theses acts of extreme cruelty know what it is like to be poisend… Maybe they should think about how they would feel with such pain raging around their body’s. Sad news for all concerned, so sorry to read all of these terrible things.

    1. Well Les, please keep following this site if you possibly can. It exposes a lot of foul criminal activity that is a serious and disgraceful blight on our country (i.e. all of the UK). However, what is exposed is only a tiny proportion of the crimes being committed. By it’s very nature, raptor persecution will, for the most part, leave much evidence that is never detected due to birds being killed in remote parts of the country.

      We are dealing with a group of people who are criminal, backward in their outlook and are either beyond belief in their views, or who think that they are above the law. In some cases they hold all of these opinions.

      I actually wonder what else are such people doing. Folk that disregard the law tend not to just break particular laws. It becomes a more general activity. Such is the way criminals behave.

      1. Nice of you to point out to the person above, that clearly has very little understanding of the issues here, that grouse are not “released” and quail do not enter into the argument at all. You lot really aught to get your theories straight because you honestly sound like the most childish, spoiled, deceitful bunch in the whole debate,

        1. Quite correct in your points about quail and grouse but what difference do those errors make to the issue at hand, ie the persecution of raptors. Are you suggesting that as grouse cannot be captive bred and released that that fact justifies raptor persecution?

  9. We hear one case after another and these are clearly only a small percentage of the crimes that are being committed by grouse estates. It seems nothing that is being done at the moment is working. Time for radical solutions; license grouse estates and ban shooting on any that break the rules.

    1. And impose anti organized crime laws. Poison on land should be enough to charge the landowner.
      The often touted ‘small minority’ or even ‘tiny minority’ is meaningless when there is no statistical evidence available. If it is true that it is a small minority (whatever that means) it is very clear that this ‘minority’ have no intention of changing. Minister Wheelhouse even spoke on the radio this autumn that it was only ‘one or two’ sporting estates! His strategy seems to be the old Zen story of the thoroughbred horse running to the shadow of the whip. He often speaks as though the raptor crime levels are dropping due to his measures which amount to no more that the shadow of threats. Unfortunately his logic is unsound he fails to take into account the donkeys and mules. Perhaps the threat of vicarious liability has brought down raptor persecution, that remains to be seen but that would be a minor success. What he is not addressing are those criminals who are blatantly continuing the persecution. It is against these people (gamekeepers and more so the landowners) that stricter measures need to be applied. It is not enough to wait and hope for ‘fashions’ to change’ which seems to be Wheelhouse’s strategy. We need stricter implemented laws. Why hasn’t there been another estate which has had it’s subsidies withdraw other than Glenogil Estate? I notice that Glenogill Estate had 10 raptor persecution incidents AFTER the farm subsidy had been withdrawn so even the withdrawal of £107,000 was not enough of a deterrent. Even so the only options are to hit them deep in the purse by licensing only those shooting estates that abide by the law and imposing prison sentences to the landowners whose land the crimes are committed. WE need to get very tough against this so called ‘minority’ who are refusing to join the modern world and obey its laws. The time for shadows is over. Nuke the bastards!

  10. We are a rescue a rehab centre in Ireland and we are seeing more and more casualties coming in to us from both shooting and poisoning, surely these creatures have enough to contend with out there with natural occurrences – they were here first! when are people going to realise that they should be helped not persecuted by us, so called intelligent, civilised people. It makes me sick to see such a magnificent creature treated so barbarically !
    Rosie Campbell, Animal Magic, Limerick, Ireland

  11. Those that give a toss don’t have any clout. Those that have the clout don’t give a toss! Nothing changes.

  12. Over 100 emails sent to the Environment Minister’s inbox so far….well done and thank you to everyone who cared enough to spend a few minutes tapping on a keyboard. For those of you who haven’t done it yet..don’t stand by and watch from the sidelines. The Environment Minister works for YOU – tell him what you expect of him.

    1. Hi Guy,

      A number of journalists subscribe to this blog, including local and regional journalists & editors from around Scotland as well as a couple from the big UK national papers. We’ve given Keith’s contact details so who knows, perhaps they’re already talking with him…

  13. Why do these places get subsidies from the public purse? I never knew that this was a subsidised industry. This is disgraceful. Only the wealthy go grouse and pheasant shooting and yet we help to pay for it?? And the estates where the shoots take place kill the wildlife!! Unbeleivable!!

  14. There’s one thing for sure there will be an estate owner,gamekeeper laughing up there sleeves as they have got away with murder yet again…makes me sick

  15. The only way to curtail the mass persecution of raptors on grouse moors is to ban driven grouse shooting totally in favour of ‘walked up’ shooting over pointers. This would lessen the pressure on gamekeepers to have large packs of grouse driven over the butts and be good exercise for city bound fund managers, bankers et al (although keepers would have to be trained in the use of a defibrillator!). Perhaps Sony could develop a virtual driven grouse game to satisfy their blood lust. Ah well, dream on!

  16. email sent to the Environment Minister

    Dear Mr Wheelhouse

    I do not live in Scotland. I have little understanding of Scottish political parties or your laws and I know nothing of yourself and your moral integrity.

    However, the question that is begging to be asked is:- Are Britain’s democratically elected governments conniving or cowardly? Or both?

    I look forward to your answer.

    Susan Hicks

      1. Parliament now in recess – not back to work until 6th Jan. The Minister will have a bulging inbox to deal with on his return: over 150 emails sent to his email address via this blog and probably many more from other sources. Great response from people who have had enough.

  17. Sadly we have seen this far too often. As humans we are greedy. We are encroaching on every bit of available territory these birds roam arund in. Yes they are looking for territory that is vacant for them to take but as humans we are dictating to them that they are not welcome here. We have to accomodate them. What we are breeding is part of the food chain for them. They only kill when they are hungry and what ever they take can be replaced in abundance. They are not greedy but as humans we are.

  18. The problem of poisons being used is terrible without a doubt. But as someone who is from the area near where the bird was found, attitudes are improving. It is vital that young game keepers coming through the ranks understand the importance of these magnificent birds and it is clear that the law must tighten up on this practice. I am confident that we will see less of this in the future but estates and keepers must be prosecuted. When people are slagging off these estates we must remember that the reason that the Scottish hills are still in such good condition is due to the hard work of the men and women who care for them.

    1. Jamie with respect I heard this fourty years ago, attitudes haven’t improved, I worked as a beater and was told dont work on such and such estate it isn’t safe as they shoot birds just rising above your heads, you cant generalise every estate is the same as yours or the few nearest to you just because everything there is above board. you only have to look at how many have been up in court this month to realise that. the reason Golden Eagles are still surviving in Scotland today is due to the hard work of the men and women who care for them, these people have just lost one they have put a hell of a lot of work into. totally agree we need to toughen up on prosecutions but again with respect we need more of the shooting fraternity to turn against these estates and the fight to start from within, our frustrations mount, why aren’t we seeing this

      1. Also with respect Jaimie I personally don’t like the way our hills are on these sporting estates, I really detest the look of muirburn and would far rather see a more natural appearance, such as they are striving for in Glenfeshie estate.

  19. It makes you wonder just what these Raptor persecuting criminal shooting estate owners are capable of in their own small minded worlds away from the estates, a world where many of them are supposed to be esteemed peers of the realm, makes you feel sick just thinking about it. Many are members of parliament and or the house of lords, corporate business owners, bankers, judges, barristers, some are even of the highest peerage in the country if you know what I mean? It’s probable that the selfish greedy attitude shown on the shooting estates towards protected species and the environment is also present in their other occupations, ruthless couldn’t care for anything other than themselves. It’s a case of we’ll keep the status quo the way we like it even if we do break the law to do it and you lot can take two fingers and bugger orf.

  20. The Swedish Governemnt have decided to decrease all populations of Golden Eagles, Brown bears, Wolves and Wolverines.

  21. Comments from the 2011 young scotish gamekeeper of the year, thoughts please.
    Raptor-grouse conflict is always a topical issue with gamekeepers and it’s one on which he has strong views. “Managing land for grouse means you have to concentrate really hard on all the ground predators. Stoats, for instance, can have a massive impact on grouse so we have to focus on doing all we can about the predators we’re allowed to manage then use every scaring device in the book to keep buzzards and other predators away. “The people who resort to poisoning have totally lost the plot and they’ll be the end of this industry if they’re not stopped. Anyone caught using poison should be given the full penalty. I think that would help,” he states. “But I think that for buzzards there has to be some leeway found. The industry needs some assurances that the powers that be are listening to us. Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has the power to allocate licences in problem situations but a lot of people are saying it’ll never happen. SNH should show us they are listening, they mean business and they’ll stick to their word. Somehow a balance needs to be struck.

    1. It’s an interesting statement. The open condemnation of poisoning could be seen as a positive, but then there is no condemnation of illegal trapping, shooting or bludgeoning. Perhaps these are more favourable methods as less evidence of criminality is left behind. And then again, we have the usual, nonsense regarding Buzzards and the gamekeepers twisted, warped and wrong idea of a balance. Where is the natural balance on an estate that deliberately releases numbers of non-native creatures, to the detriment of natives? And where is the natural balance if many species are culled to protect one or two species?

  22. I think it is time for you all to use the term ‘Red Grouse’ moor as there are 2 types of grouse and the management on 99.9% of this land is for Red Grouse. We are now seeing mass damage to the habitat by this management reducing the biodiversity from draining causing flooding down stream,bracken removal, roads and even mountain hare. As someone pointed out these estates pay nothing to the treasure but except an average £180,000 a year and for the big estates the figure runs into 7 figures from us. May be this is the way to the government not just crying death of a raptor as remember these people are their pals and until the general public realise they are slaves to these folk then nothing will happen. Any way have a great Xmas

  23. This cannot be ignored by the police or the government. The value to us all of amazing birds of prey is immeasurable. Anyone capable of killing them should be held to account. These people see animals through a view distorted by profit gained from people taking pleasure the ‘sport’ of grouse shooting.

  24. I am absolutely appalled and sickened by what I have just read about the deliberate poisoning of Golden Eagles and other Eagles and Mountain Hares who come across the chemical laden bait in the Moorlands, their habitat .
    How can this be allowed, and why are there no laws to forbid / prevent this happening ?
    Our Wildlife needs protecting , NOT killing .
    Please tell me that there are those of you in power that can help to STOP this evil and devastating practice . And just so that the rich and powerful can enjoy a day’s shooting, whether it’s Grouse, pheasant or whatever .
    Well to quote a favourite saying “ Murder is a Crime Not a Sport !
    Sent from my i

  25. Anything with a hooked beak seems to be killed by these evil people. Maybe if the land owners were brought to justice by banning them from house shooting for 5 years would help to stop them from killing our beautiful birds.

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