Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’ on North Glenbuchat Estate in Cairngorms National Park

RSPB Scotland has released the following press statement:


RSPB Scotland has today issued an appeal for information following the disappearance of a satellite tagged golden eagle near Strathdon in Aberdeenshire.

The young male eagle was fitted with a transmitter by a licensed raptor study group member, before it fledged from a nest in Deeside in the summer of 2016. Data received from the tag allowed conservationists to study the movements of the bird, known as “338”, as it explored north-east Scotland’s countryside.

As with most young eagles, the bird spent the first few weeks after fledging in the area around its nest, before moving further away as it matured and was more able to fend for itself, spending much of its time on the eastern side of the Cairngorms National Park.

Overnight on Sunday 5th/Monday 6th March, the tag fitted to 338 inexplicably stopped working, having being functioning perfectly up to that point. The bird’s last recorded position was in Glenbuchat just before nightfall on 5th March. No further data has been received.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said: “As soon as we became aware of this bird’s disappearance, we notified Police Scotland, in line with PAW Scotland protocols, who concurred that the circumstances were suspicious. These tags are very reliable, and the sudden cessation of transmissions strongly suggests the bird has died. Had the bird succumbed to natural causes, we would expect to continue to receive data and to be able to locate and recover the body of the eagle with ease”.

Follow up enquiries on the North Glenbuchat Estate by police officers, assisted by RSPB staff, yielded no sign of the bird.

In 2011, a satellite-tagged golden eagle was found illegally poisoned on the same estate, with a shot short-eared owl and poisoned buzzard also discovered. Another satellite-tagged golden eagle disappeared here in September 2011, with further such tagged birds also vanishing in the same area, in February 2012 and May 2013. In April 2014, the first young white-tailed eagle to fledge from a nest in the east of Scotland in one hundred years also disappeared here.

Ian Thomson continued “The circumstances surrounding the disappearance of eagle 338 are similar to a number of previous cases currently being considered by an independent review of satellite-tagged birds of prey commissioned by the Scottish Government. If this review reveals a geographical pattern to disappearing golden eagles, we will be pressing the Scottish Government for firm action, including the introduction of a licensing system for driven grouse shooting, with sanctions for licence removal from land where there is evidence of illegal practices. In the meantime, we appeal for any information about the disappearance of this bird to contact the police”.


Eagle 338 successfully fledged from a nest in Deeside in 2016. Photo copyright Scottish Raptor Study Group.

As the RSPB Scotland statement says, eagle 338 is not the first to ‘disappear’ on the North Glenbuchat Estate.

In March 2011 a satellite-tagged eagle (#57319) was found poisoned on North Glenbuchat Estate (toxicology tests confirmed the banned poison Carbofuran had been used). A follow up police search, under warrant, recovered the remains of a short-eared owl under a rock – a post mortem confirmed it had been shot; a poisoned bait (rabbit) laced with Carbofuran; and a poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Nobody was prosecuted.

In September 2011 a satellite-tagged eagle (#95065, named Strathy) ‘disappeared‘ on North Glenbuchat Estate. Its tag had been functioning perfectly well before it suddenly and inexplicably stopped.

In February 2012 a satellite-tagged eagle (#57111) ‘disappeared’ on North Glenbuchat Estate. Its tag had been functioning perfectly well before it suddenly and inexplicably stopped.

In May 2013 a satellite-tagged eagle (#84133, named Angus 33) ‘disappeared‘ on North Glenbuchat Estate. Its tag had been functioning perfectly well before it suddenly and inexplicably stopped.

In April 2014 a satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle (White 1) ‘disappeared‘ on North Glenbuchat Estate. Its tag had been functioning perfectly well before it suddenly and inexplicably stopped.

That’s a lot of catastrophic tag failures all in one small area, over a six year period, isn’t it? And it’s patterns like this that the forthcoming raptor satellite tag data review will be exploring. What’s the betting that similar patterns will be seen in other areas in Scotland where the land is managed intensively for driven grouse shooting (e.g. Monadhliaths, Angus Glens)?

Interestingly, two press releases have so far been issued in response to this RSPB Scotland press release. One is from the landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates and the other one is from the North Glenbuchat Estate. It’s interesting to note that both press releases came via ‘public relations and crisis management’ experts, Media House.

The statement from Scottish Land & Estates appears to be supportive of the RSPB’s appeal for information. Read it here: Scottish Land & Estates press release North Glenbuchat eagle

The statement from North Glenbuchat Estate is very different. Read it here: North Glenbuchat Estate press release North Glenbuchat eagle

The estate’s statement includes the following claim: “The estate head gamekeeper filmed what he firmly believes to be the eagle in question yesterday afternoon” (March 30 2017) and there is an accompanying video of this eagle (here). It’s well worth a look. It’s definitely a juvenile golden eagle and it’s definitely been filmed on Glenbuchat Estate. However, it’s not known when the footage was taken and it’s extremely difficult to see whether this eagle is even carrying a satellite tag. But even if it is carrying a tag, how on earth can the keeper “firmly believe” that this is eagle 338? Surely he / the estate knows that there are plenty of satellite-tagged eagles flying around Scotland at the moment and it could be any one of those!

It all looks a little bit lame and a teensy bit desperate, but maybe that’s just us. Maybe eagle 338 is still flying around the Cairngorms National Park, along with all the other ‘missing’ satellite tagged eagles. Perhaps, having learned to use jamming technology to block the signal from their satellite tags, they’re now hanging around the Co-op car park in Grantown on Spey, using their skills to block remote-locking car keys with criminal intent so they can steal the vehicles and go joy riding around the National Park.

There are bound to be further responses to today’s news over the coming days and we’ll be reviewing those as and when they appear, but the one response we’re really keen to hear is the one from the Environment Cabinet Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham. We don’t plan to bombard her with outraged emails this time. She knows the score, she knows exactly what’s going on, and she knows that there is high expectation for her / the Scottish Government to finally address this issue with the full force it demands.

She will be considering the findings of the raptor satellite tag review over the next couple of weeks so while we wait to hear what action she intends to take, you can amuse yourselves by reading this article about the ownership of North Glenbuchat Estate, written by Andy Wightman in 2014.

(Photos by RPUK)

UPDATE 4 April 2016: More on missing golden eagle #338, North Glenbuchat Estate (here)

34 thoughts on “Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’ on North Glenbuchat Estate in Cairngorms National Park”

  1. They are strictly correct that “There is no evidence that the estate has been involved in any wrongdoing or criminal activity”; but circumstantial evidence surely overwhelming; also the appeal to HH sat tag failures as justification is extremely weak, clutching at straws, as we know what happened to most of those…

  2. Note also this statement published on fieldsportchannel “Masked officers from the RSPB have intruded on a Scottish estate looking for an eagle. The estate found it, and filmed it healthy and flying – but still the RSPB issued a release implying the estate had killed it.”

    1. The field sports channel is utterly vile. If the general public all watched it for a few hours I bet most would realise they are watching a pretty sick, deluded bunch of tossers not dealing with their inadequacies as human beings. What a parade of the sad and friendless you see on it. Sums up what a large proportion of the shooting fraternity really are.

  3. No sign of a tag at 33 seconds into the video, you’d think it might be apparent at that point…

  4. Hmmmm…Peer of the realm….Cousin to The Queen……[Ed: the rest of this comment has been deleted as potentially defamatory]

    1. Cut the heads of all the Royalists off, mount them on pikes as a warning to the next ten generations that power and money corrupts and to respect the land and care for the poor.

      P.S. RPS, if you delete this, can you say it is deleted for being treasonous instead of just illegal. Forward the revolution!

  5. This area seems to have become quite a black spot for Eagles, coincidence or foul play? I know which one I would go for!

  6. A friend of mine who lives in the area tells me local people who know something about the disappearances are afraid to speak out.

    1. Your correct Steve. Everyone who lives in or closebye to driven grouse shoots know the consequences of speaking out. I was warned but ignored them and paid the price. The consequences of the hegemonic power they wield can be great … however, technology will eventually expose them for what they are. When the dam of silence eventually bursts they will be overcome by the backlash.

  7. Does the ‘Notes to Editors: For guidance: An estate that has been named in a media release is not currently a member of Scottish Land & Estates.’ mean that there is another estate named in the media other than the Glenbuchat Estate, if so where? If there is not another named estate why would Mediia House issue a statement for someone if they are not one of their members?
    Are you able to clarify for me?
    In any case it’s a sickening waste of some of our beautiful wildlife. I await with interest for the Raptor Satellite Tag Review and Roseanna Cunningham’s ( @strathearnrose ) response

    1. It’s very interesting that SLE chose to point out that North Glenbuchat Estate is no longer one of their members. It’s almost as though they’re trying to distance themselves from this estate. We know that North Glenbuchat Estate joined SLE in 2013 – it would be fascinating to learn why this estate is no longer a member and when their membership ended.

  8. One of the frequently used defences is that a tag has just stopped working. This is a fair comment on the face of it as all technology occasionally fails and the estates will latch onto it as a defence. Do we have any comparative information on the proportion fail in the Western Isles with an area like the Cairngorms for example. Individual incidents are almost impossible to prove, but trends are far more difficult.

    1. It would be fair comment if it only happened occasionally. However, the frequency with which sat tags ‘fail’ in the UK is way, way, way above the usual failure rate recorded in other countries. E.g. 6% failure rate recorded for Montagu’s harrier sat tags – see

      We hope that comparable satellite tag data from concurrent golden eagle studies in the US will have been analysed in the forthcoming sat tag review.

      1. Yes, I understand the evidence of low failure rates, but the grousers will latch onto any twisted argument about different circumstances that they can find. ( Sea turtle tags.) Hopefully the forthcoming review will highlight the difference in failure rates within Scotland, particularly, related to land use.

      2. This would appear to be the 5th ‘disappearance’ over one small estate…… what are the odds of that being coincidence ?

        How much ‘coincidence’ do the authorities need, before they act ?

  9. So this estate joined Scottish Land and Estates in 2014 and just 2 years and a couple of months later is not a member ?

  10. ‘It’s interesting to note that both press releases came via ‘public relations and crisis management’ experts, Media House.’

    Media House, Jolly Jack Irvine, Levy & McRae, the S.N.P.

    It all conjures up a Muir Web image of the myriad connections among the players involved.

    I suppose that’s only to be expected in a wee country like Scotland.

  11. The video suggesting 338 is still alive is of poor quality but the paler upper wing coverts do not suggest a 2nd calendar year eagle to me and the amount of white is more suggestive of a female.

  12. Well done Kevin Keane, BBC Scotland’s “environment correspondent”, whose online report on this illustrates it with an image of a peregrine falcon. We REALLY need to collectively hassle the media to take these issues seriously.

  13. I have just read that the Cairngorms NP Board has a new member – Geva Blackett. Please, please tell me she is not the Geva Blackett who was the Parliamentary & Media Officer for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association 2000-2007?

    1. There seems to be a theme here, she is not the first ( tory ? ) Aberdeenshire councillor to work for the CNPA ?

      Her previous job would seem to be against all that a ‘national park’ should stand for ? The estates will be please with that appointment, but offers little hope for the end of criminal raptor persecution, coming from the park – shame, this should be investigated !

      [Ed: Geva is an SNP councillor, married to the (now retired) Factor at Invercauld Estate. She was fairly elected for the CNP Board so nothing to ‘investigate’ there]

  14. It’s quite obvious what’s happening here. Shooting should be banned on the estate until there are mature eagles present.

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