Young golden eagles ‘disappearing’ on grouse moors in Scottish Highlands

RSPB press release:

RSPB Scotland has issued an appeal for information following the disappearance of another young golden eagle, the eighth of this species to vanish in the same area in less than five years. The young female golden eagle, named Brodie, hatched two years ago and was fitted with a satellite transmitter shortly before she fledged from her nest. Brodie was being monitored by conservationists as part of a national study to improve our understanding of the movements and survival of young golden eagles. Her last recorded position placed her in the northern Monadhliath mountains, south east of Inverness on 2nd July this year.

Since November 2011, eight golden eagles, all less than three years old, fitted with satellite transmitters have disappeared in the same area. The birds were being monitored by RSPB Scotland, the Highland Foundation for Wildlife, Natural Research Ltd and Forestry Commission Scotland. Satellite transmitters are increasingly being used to study the movements of wild birds to gain an understanding of their behaviour and travels following fledging. They are fitted under special licence by a small number of highly accredited individuals, and golden eagle experts. Satellites continue to transmit if a transmitter becomes detached from a bird, or if a tagged bird dies naturally allowing recovery of the body.

ge disappeared

Despite comprehensive searches, under the authority of the Police, of the areas around the last recorded positions of all eight eagles none of the birds or transmitters have been recovered, and no further data has been received from the transmitters. The first eagle vanished after last being recorded in the hills above Strathdearn in November 2011; following this a second disappeared in July 2012, and a third in March 2014. In October 2014, transmissions from two further eagles stopped at another location across the valley, three weeks apart. Three eagles’ tags stopped transmitting at a scatter of locations in the hills above the River Findhorn, in May, June and the latest bird, Brodie, in early July this year [1].

Since satellite transmitters first began to be fitted to raptors in Scotland around ten years ago several tagged birds were subsequently found to have been illegally killed [2]. All had been poisoned except for one which had been caught and injured in an illegal trap prior to being deliberately moved to another location. More recently, tagged birds have tended to go off the radar [3]. In every case, data received from the transmitters prior to their disappearance indicated the tags were functioning correctly, before suddenly stopping.

The golden eagle that disappeared in May 2016, a young female, had fledged from a nest in Galloway in 2015, one of only two fledged young from the tiny population of this species in the south of Scotland that year. The golden eagles in this area do not tend to leave the south of Scotland and so it was very unusual that this young bird roamed north rather than exploiting the vacant territories close to where she fledged.

DumfriesGalloway GE chick

Dave Anderson from the Scottish Raptor Study Group, who tagged this eagle said: “I was privileged to satellite-tag this large female chick in July 2015 with a fellow member of the SRSG who monitors the site. This bird was the first successful fledging from any nest in this area since 2010. The data we were receiving from her was of great interest as we followed her journey northwards to Cairngorms National Park, with excellent location information.

We were looking forward to seeing if she would head south again later in the year, however the tag stopped transmitting abruptly on the 18th May 2016, shortly after her first birthday. This is a very sad end to arguably one of the most important golden eagle chicks fledged that year in Scotland. There are no words to describe how disappointed I am at this bird’s disappearance”.

RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, Ian Thomson, said “It is surely no coincidence that the overwhelming majority of satellite-tagged birds of prey that have disappeared in Scotland have been in areas intensively managed for gamebird shooting and in areas that have an appalling previous record of confirmed incidents of raptor persecution. These eight birds have all disappeared in an area where driven grouse moor management dominates the landscape, and where there have been many previous cases of illegal killing of protected raptors, including the poisoning of a golden eagle and a white-tailed eagle as recently as 2010 [4].

Given the reliability of the transmitters, the chance of so many birds disappearing over such a short timescale without some kind of human interference is so small as to be negligible. The pattern we see here is consistent with the birds having been killed and the transmitters destroyed.

“Once again, the commendable positive efforts of those landowners and estates who welcome golden eagles and host their nesting attempts, including elsewhere in the Monadhliaths, are being catastrophically undermined by those who have a complete disregard for the law, and who continue to threaten the conservation status of these magnificent birds. All of these eagles were young birds exploring Scotland before establishing their own territories and with their disappearance any potential future breeding by them to aid the population’s recovery is also lost.

“We ask that if anyone can provide information as to the fate of these eagles that they contact Police Scotland or RSPB Scotland’s investigations team.


  1. The eight eagles that have disappeared since November 2011 in the Monadhliath mountains are:
Tag no./Bird name Date and place fitted with tag Date last recorded
57124 6th July 2010, at a nest in south Inverness-shire 22nd November 2011
“Foinaven” 29th June 2011, at a nest in north west Sutherland 17th July 2012
129002 1st July 2013 on Mull 5th March 2014
107133 30th June 2013, at a nest in north Perthshire 9th October 2014
119886 29th June 2012, at a nest in Deeside 31st October 2014
00000583 5th July 2015, at a nest in Galloway 18th May 2016
129010 1st July 2014, at a nest in south Inverness-shire 4th June 2016
129015 “Brodie” 26th June 2014, at a nest in east Inverness-shire 2nd July 2016
  1. Satellite-tagged golden eagles found to have been illegally killed:
  • 1 poisoned in Angus, 2009
  • 1 poisoned in Glenbuchat, Strathdon, in 2011
  • 1 poisoned in Lochaber in 2012
  • 1 illegally trapped in Angus in 2012
  • 1 poisoned in Angus in 2013
  1. Other raptors that have gone off radar include three satellite-tagged golden eagles and a white-tailed eagle which disappeared in September 2011, February 2012, May 2013 and April 2014 respectively, all in upper Donside. Other tagged golden eagles have disappeared in west Aberdeenshire (May 2012) and Angus (February 2011).
  1. A golden eagle and white-tailed eagle found dead in the Monadhliath mountains in 2010 were confirmed as having been illegally poisoned with carbofuran at the laboratory of Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) – SASA ref. No. 10123
  1. A Scottish Natural Heritage review of wildlife crime records and other threats found that the golden eagle population in the the Monadhliath mountains had unfavourable conservation status, with poisoning in particular being associated with grouse moors. (“A Conservation Framework for Golden Eagles”, SNH 2008)


We’ll be blogging more about this later today…

In the meantime, please sign this petition (here) calling on the Scottish Government to introduce a licensing scheme for gamebird shooting.

And then please sign this petition (here) calling on the Westminster Government to ban driven grouse shooting.

UPDATE: Interesting blog about the use of satellite tags and what they tell us about raptor persecution, written by Head of RSPB Scotland Investigations, Ian Thomson here

UPDATE: Full formal response from Cabinet Secretary for the Environment Roseanna Cunningham here

UPDATE: 40 eagles, 10 years, 0 prosecutions (blog) here

UPDATE: Ministerial reaction to ‘missing’ golden eagles (blog) here


BBC News here

The Guardian here

The National here

The Herald here

Press & Journal here

STV News here

BBC Radio Scotland interview with Ian Thomson (Head of Investigations RSPB) here (starts at 1:50:05) – available for 29 days.

BBC Radio Scotland interview with Tim (Kim) Baynes (Scottish Moorland Group) here (starts at 2:40:00) – available for 29 days.

43 thoughts on “Young golden eagles ‘disappearing’ on grouse moors in Scottish Highlands”

  1. I caught a snippet of a radio discussion last week where someone, presumably an anti-raptor person, was claiming that the main reason Golden Eagles were ‘going missing’ was down to them being predated by “these introduced White-tailed Eagles.” I suspect we might hear more such excuses, but it’s important to bear in mind that interspecific behavioural studies have shown Golden Eagle to be the dominant species, so regular predation by White-tailed Eagle is somewhat unlikely, and I suspect rarely recorded, if ever. I’m no eagle expert, so happy to be corrected if I’m mistaken.

    1. That sounds totally plausible . . . on the basis Golden eagles know how to turn the transmitters off and hoover up all the on site evidence before leaving. Oops, shouldn’t have let that one out. Shooters will be able to use that to make the whole thing sound credible.

    2. Golden Eagles are way more aggressive and as you rightly noted are the dominate species. Every time I’ve witnessed interaction between these birds the Golden has always come out on top. WTSE are coastal birds as well, I doubt there are any in the areas these birds have vanished but then again we all know the real reason . . .

    3. Since those pesky White-tailed Eagles learned to open pesticide containers things have really got out of hand.

  2. I reported a suspicious incident in this area to Police Scotland within the timeframe. I’ll be contacting Ian Thomson to check the police made him aware of the report.

  3. No surprise here, however the law will look the other way as they do and more birds will be killed and nothing done about it! We are the most dangerous species on this planet and there are far too many of us.

  4. Absolutely gutted to hear about all the Eagles, especially the Galloway one. Sign the petition. Something needs to be done.

    1. Yes and in one of those strange co-incidences a White-tailed Eagle in same month.
      From crime statistics in the RSPB Scotland report 2010.
      Confirmed Poison Incidents
      June, Carbofuran, Golden Eagle, Farr, Inverness-shire
      June, Carbofuran, White-tailed Eagle, Farr, Inverness-shire

  5. So the rich can kill. Blast poor birds from the sky. Injured not always killed. They stand no chance. Not a hope in hell. Wildlife poisoned trapped and shot so the rich can do this ” sport”. Disgusting. Stop it now. Unbelievable that it is allowed in this day and age.

  6. And so it goes on……. this is SHAMEFUL

    Tim baynes, bought and paid for by his feudal owners, spluttering, ” it wasn’t us”, does anyone believe him ? I thought not.

    This is being reported in the Guardian,

    and on radio Scotland, so at least the grouse moor owners cannot hide any more. If you have not yet signed the Scottish petition to ” urge the Scottish Government to implement urgent action to introduce a state regulated system of licensing of gamebird hunting ”

    Not ideal, I would prefer an outright ban, but every little helps.

    If we could all e-mail Rosanna Cunningham, that might help her to see the depth of feeling and disgust at the continuing slaughter of our wildlife, as soon as I can dig out her mail address, i’ll post it in the Guardian.

  7. Continuing denial in the face of overwhelming evidence = support for criminality. Don’t be too quick to knock Tim Baynes as, even though he doesn’t realise it, he’s one of the best campaigners for the ban and/or licencing we’ve got!

  8. I’m sure that many people will suspect, even know the person(s) who are involved with the ‘disappearance’ of the eight Golden Eagles.
    And that is the very sad situation; that until hard evidence is turned on the perpetrators they will continue to destroy our natural heritage.
    Until grouse management is stopped for good then gamekeepers should be satellite tagged.

    1. Not unreasonable actually. Lorry drivers, security guards, and (allegedly) warehouse staff are all routinely GPS tracked when they go about their duties (along with a great many other workers) so requiring gamekeepers to carry a gps tracker as they go about their duties is not totally out there. In fact it might even be a sensible health and safety requirement. If they fall down in some remote glen (at the base of a cliff that contains a peregrine nest) or stumble into a rabbit hole and break their ankle (three feet away from a Hen Harrier nest) then an always on GPS tracker could save their lives. Yes. An always on GPS tracker ought to be compulsory for the keeper’s own health and when contacting the relevant minister about licensing the industry ought to be included in the recommendations and requests for those very health and safety requirements and gps tracks subject to random spot checks to ensure that the keeper is being kept safe by their employer. Health and Safety reasons, no reasonable person could object to that.

      1. But would they not then get someone else to do the ‘dirty work’, and claim ‘ I was somewhere else ,Guv, take a look at my GPS’?

        1. No system is foolproof, but it would mean another level of complexity in it. Another potential weak link in the chain. Another hand stuck out for a bung. And of course much stronger evidence of criminality (or even just plain old breach of civil licence) if found out. We can never stop people acting in a criminal manner if they are determined to, we can just make it more of a hassle for them to do so. Don’t forget though, their GPS track would show the keeper “casing” the nests before they disappeared and that too would be evidence.

  9. Clearly the Bermuda Triangle of Golden Eagles! The wildlife laws in the UK are constantly flouted or just ignored by the local police (see the Warks police not prosecuting fox hunting – filmed, with statements and an admission of guilt – as not enough evidence!). A revolution is needed!

  10. What hasn’t been pointed out so far is the scale of persecution. Given that eight satellite tagged Golden Eagles have vanished what percentage of chicks are tagged compared to untagged and multiply that – doesn’t bear thinking about how many eagles this area must account for!

  11. Devastating to learn of 5 eagles killed with one of only 2 chicks fledged in the south of Scotland being especially tragic. I bet the criminal who did that is feeling very pleased with himself. Society would be very pleased to see him in prison.

  12. I recently wrote to Rosemary Cunningham about the loss of wildlife on shooting estates and how it was effecting genuine tour companies like my son’s [!iolo-williams/qjcct]. A reply from a John Gray came out with how much shooting was worth but he had not grabbed the apple as how much money was being taken away from these companies wanting to operate in these shooting areas. So his sums should have read – Shooting worth x minus y . And then you could have taken off all the flooding, carbon etc as other costs against the figure he was giving for favouring shooting. May be the other point comes out that many of these staff are not neutral at all and are paid by the shooting lobby to act against us! What unfair world we live in!

    1. A couple of questions. How much of the shooting industry income is via subsidy ( not to mention the tax free, cash in hand tips which gamekeepers receive) and will the shooting industry be boasting about the millions they generate next April when they will have to pay tax?

      Final question. Is anyone else dissatisfied with the Cabinet Secretary’s weak response and would anyone else be expecting her resignation?

  13. There doesn’t seem to be any end to the crimes committed on grouse moors, nor any serious response from the authorities to deter it. Of course down south the governing Tories habitually cosy up to the shooting estate landowners, whilst in Scotland we have the Tartan Tories in the likes of Fergus Ewing cosying up with them, just like the other week at the Moy Game Fair.

  14. For those who have not yet heard it, the Ian Thomson/Tim Baynes interviews on today’s BBC Radio Scotland “Good Morning Scotland” programme are worth listening to. Twice in the course of his interview Tim Baynes claimed that under the PAW Scotland raptor satellite tracking protocol the RSPB should have contacted the estates in the area concerned. He omitted to say that the protocol’s guidance states that (after approaching NWCU for advice) contact should be made with estates “in circumstances where there is no suspicion of human persecution.” Those ten words as quoted are significant.

    1. That really is a good interview. Can’t fault the BBC on that one, great stuff.
      I love the way that Baynes claims that he and MA or SLE (or whoever he represent, i get confused) didn’t know about the missing Golden Eagles until yesterday and parades their status as PAWS members.
      Unbelievable irony, some of those missing Golden Eagles are actually in the PAWS reports!!
      The guy is astonishing. I can’t figure out it is cunning, stupidity or a sociopath. I am genuinely curious.
      E-mail correspondences with Gilruth have left me with the same bafflement.

  15. They shoot poachers in Africa – a poacher being somebody who unlawfully kills protected wildlife. Time to arm conservationists and change the law so that it is not murder to shoot wildlife criminals!

  16. If they have the evidence and know the truth, then presumably RSPB will now be lobbying its millions of supporters to push the petition over the line? But yet somehow I doubt it. It really pains me as an RSPB member that they won’t come out and back the petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

Leave a Reply

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s