As we mentioned yesterday, some individuals within the game shooting industry have recently been doing their level best to discredit the work of raptor fieldworkers, and particularly anything associated with tagging raptors, be it leg rings, wing tags or satellite tags. As usual, their level best falls way short of the mark.
Some of it amounts to libel (so we won’t be discussing that here as legal action is being considered), some of it is quite disturbing (distributing images of children without parental consent and without any attempts to pixelate faces) and some of it is either a complete fabrication or a gross distortion of the truth. All of it is being done as a crude and cynical attempt to undermine the findings of the forthcoming raptor satellite tag review, which we anticipate will provide damning evidence of the extent of satellite tagged raptors that ‘disappear’ on Scottish grouse moors.
Here’s a good example of some of the propaganda being peddled by the game shooting industry. This photograph has been repeatedly posted on Facebook and other social media platforms as an example of ‘bad practice’ at a raptor tagging event. It shows a group of people at an eagle nest site in Perthshire in 2014. According to Bert Burnett of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, who has posted this image several times, these people, including Duncan Orr-Ewing of RSPB Scotland, are “having a picnic underneath an eagle nest” for several hours and thus by implication are causing unnecessary disturbance at the site and causing the adult birds to desert.
What’s actually happening here is a group of people, including four licensed experts and their invited guests, have climbed to an eagle nest site and while the climbers have gone to retrieve the eaglet from the nest so its satellite tag can be fitted in safety on the ground, Duncan is eating a sandwich. That’s it. It’s a few sandwiches short of a picnic, or is that just Bert?
Another photograph that Bert has circulated was also taken at this site on the same day. It shows Duncan quite rightly checking the fit of the young eagle’s sat tag harness before the bird is put back in its nest.
This photograph elicited all sorts of comments on social media, with suggestions that sat tagging golden eagles is harmful to the birds, that it’s detrimental to their survival and one person even claiming that “they [the raptor fieldworkers] are a far greater threat to birds than any shooting interests“.
He posted another photograph (which we won’t post here for legal reasons) that shows a woman and her son on the nest ledge after the eagle had been returned to its nest. Bert said this about it: “What happens to birds after tagging is very questionable. Allowing your families and friends to climb up intae the nest just for photo shoots is totally out of order and shows no concern for the birds future welfare“. On a later post he also claimed the woman had been “hoisted in to the nest“. What the photo actually shows is a Schedule 1 licence holder and her son who have just climbed to the nest to return the eagle after tagging. It’s probably hard for Bert to comprehend that a woman might actually be a Schedule 1 licence holder and that she’d be capable of climbing to the nest without being “hoisted in” (surely her breasts would get in the way?) but when your mindset is firmly stuck in the 18th century then it’s probably no surprise at all.
As for Bert’s comment, “What happens to birds after tagging is very questionable“, well, it’s not questionable in this case. This eagle was satellite tagged in Perthshire in 2014. The bird fledged successfully and its movements were tracked until 2016 when its tag signal suddenly stopped transmitting and the eagle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Perthshire. We’d respectfully suggest that this eagle’s disappearance (probable death) was not caused by Duncan eating a sandwich at its natal site two years earlier nor by it being put back in to the nest by a woman, but was more than likely caused by illegal poisoning, illegal trapping or illegal shooting on or near a grouse moor in the Highlands.
A week ago, Bert again posted the photograph of Duncan eating a sandwich and he wrote the following on his Facebook page:
Once again, Bert hasn’t checked his facts. This eagle territory has NOT been deserted since Duncan and his colleagues safely fitted the satellite tag to the young eagle in 2014. On the contrary, the breeding pair has remained on territory and produced chicks every year since. In fact last year’s chick, ‘Freya’, was seen by millions of viewers as she was filmed being satellite tagged for the BBC’s SpringWatch programme!
Now, we can take the mick out of Bert all day and as long as he continues to spout nonsense we’ll continue to call him out – it’s actually quite enjoyable and he’s helping our cause no end. But there’s a darker side to what’s going on, with the targeted harassment of certain named individuals, and we’ll be blogging about that shortly.
In the meantime, have a look at a blog written by Duncan today (see here) for a more serious view on raptor tagging procedures and also check out this statement from the BTO which details the stringent requirements that must be met before anyone gets a licence to ring and tag birds in the UK: Overview of BTO Ringing Scheme training and licensing procedure
UPDATE 30th September 2020: The eagle’s satellite tag found in the river: poetic injustice (here)