Raptor satellite tag review: the questions being addressed

As many of you will be aware, we are currently awaiting the publication of a review of raptor satellite tag data in Scotland.

This review was commissioned in August 2016 by Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, in response to the news that eight satellite-tagged golden eagles had all ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths. She said she wanted to see whether the data demonstrated ‘a pattern of suspicious activity’.

Photo of a young golden eagle, satellite-tagged by members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group (Photo by Dan Kitwood).

The Cabinet Secretary later extended the review to not only look at golden eagle satellite tag data, but also data from tagged red kites and hen harriers. This was in response to the news of yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier (‘Elwood’) who also ‘disappeared‘ in the Monadhliaths just a few weeks after fledging.

We knew the review was being undertaken by two highly experienced and respected researchers (who each have a publication list as long as your arm) so there weren’t any concerns there, and we knew that the report was due to be submitted to SNH by the end of March 2017. Other than that, very little detail has emerged about what, exactly, the review would include.

Following a recent FoI to SNH about a related matter, we now have some information about the questions the review will address:

This information was revealed within some correspondence between Scottish Land & Estates and SNH in February this year. The name of the SLE correspondent has been redacted but it’s probably safe to assume it was (now recently departed) CEO Doug McAdam. It looks like SLE are a bit twitchy about what this review might reveal. Here’s a copy of the correspondence: Correspondence between SLE_SNH re sat tag review

So when can we expect the review to be published? We know a draft was submitted to SNH at the end of March 2017 and that it was sent to three experts for peer review. Almost a month has now passed so we would expect the peer-review process to have been completed and any proposed editorial suggestions to have been finalised. What we don’t know is whether the publication of this review will be delayed due to election purdah.

What we can be sure of is if the review has not been published by the time of the General Election on 8 June, SNH and the Scottish Government will be put under intense pressure to put it in the public domain. If they think the public will sit quietly for months, or years, awaiting publication, they are very much mistaken.

7 thoughts on “Raptor satellite tag review: the questions being addressed”

  1. We have a case of equivalency here of the great African Elephant in the room, which is under severe threat, representing our missing Golden Eagles, and indeed, many of our other raptors! The ineluctable is there that felony is involved in the disappearance of 8 Golden Eagles. Just how much proof has to be adduced that there is a serious threat coming from certain shooting estates? Who is responsible for the “emasculation” of the SNH and our forces of law and order, when it comes to dealing with such matters? What hold to they have over our Government? If the ruling junta has such a pride in Scotland, why does it not show a greater zeal in trying to reverse the damage of centuries to the natural environment? Will there be some kind of Apocalyptic flash in the sky and the whole of Scotland will have a make-over, and the Golden Eagles and other predators will lie down with the lamb of the shooting estates?

    Being a member and activist for many humane causes, I am grossly embarrassed by my country, Scotland, having such an indifferent Government in power, when it comes to matters of conservation and animal welfare. Both of these causes are now recognised as factors in deciding whether a country has a high standard of humane concern being shown by its politicians and its legal services (police, fiscal and judiciary), enforcing any laws that may mitigate or discourage the killing of wildlife and the abuse of animals in general. When I read about Britain having a population of animal lovers, I sardonically laugh, as the amount of slaughter of wildlife such as our Birds of Prey, Mountain Hares, Badgers, Foxes etc., and the gross cruelty to domestic, circus, zoo, slaughter house, farm and laboratory animals, all give the lie to that specious claim. If it were not for the courage and determination of individuals and groups, the suffering and slaughter would be of a higher amount. The very existence of an SSPCA, Animal Concern, Scotland for Animals, Greyhound Protection, Cat Protection, Dog Trust working against neglect and sadism, along with the purely conservation of species and landscape groups, such as the Scottish Wildlife Trust, John Muir Trust, RSPB, betokens a great weakness in the informing of our young people in our schools, colleges, universities and places of religion, of a need for compassionate behaviour. The absolute tosh of the statement, “People Come First” by some of our charities and politicians is often used to extricate them from showing an interest in such matters, or to use public support for their own image of being attentive to human need, and letting nothing else get in the way. We experience such laxness of ethics, when we contact our politicians over an issue involving conservation or animal welfare. Fortunately, there are mavericks among our politicians who adamantly stand up against a system that would like to let those who use animals for financial gain, research or sport, have free rein to do as they pleased. With our Golden Eagles we find that indifference and deference to the shooting estates and their minions. Thank heavens for the Nemesis of Scottish Raptor Persecution, and its determination not to be indifferent, but to hold wildlife criminals to account.

  2. I can’t see why purdah would affect the publication of this report. There is guidance for Scottish Government civil servants on the election here: https://beta.gov.scot/publications/uk-general-election-2017/ My reading of it is that the business of devolved government goes on during this period, and that consideration should only be given to delaying something where it relates to a reserved matter.

    In any case, this is not an announcement of policy (unless the Government has already made up its mind what its response is to the report, which seems unlikely), but the publication of a piece of research. So, again, I can see no reason why it shouldn’t be published once it has been peer reviewed and finalized.

    1. You’re right, Pete, and we’d given this some thought. There’s no reason for the report itself not to be published as it’s not political, it’s just research. However, a policy decision based on the report’s findings would be political (although you could argue that tackling crime is not a political issue, or at least it shouldn’t be) so perhaps the Cab Sec’s reaction might be subject to purdah. It’s hard to know.

      1. I don’t think you can expect sensitive research to be released asap. I’ve been waiting since July 2016 for the final research report findings into the results of tests on three types of traps to see which comply with the humane trapping standards which the UK was supposed to implement in July 2016 in accordance with the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards! The government has made the policy decision to delay implementing humane trapping standards for 2 years so there’s no reason not to publish.

        Each time I write to DEFRA they take the maximum 28 working days to reply. The SLE correspondent must be important to get a reply on a Saturday and to get an apology for the delay of 5 working days in replying!

        I think the questions being asked by SNH are very interesting and should shed some further light on the relationship between the shooting industry and the demise of raptors.

  3. In the first email from SLE to SNH the name of the (possible) consultants has been redacted :- ‘will the consultants REDACTED isn’t it?’ . In the reply SNH say ‘under contract to SG and SNH, by Natural Research,’ therefore, apparently, naming the consultants.
    I don’t know if this is relevant to anything or if SLE were just fishing in the dark for information they didn’t have.

    1. Not sure there’s anything in it. SLE may have named individuals, rather than the name of the organisation, hence SNH redacting the details.

      It’s no secret that Natural Research is conducting the review.

  4. Very interesting. Two references to the potential impacts of tagging on bird welfare in one short letter. Defensive position taken?
    Perhaps a greater emphasis on the impacts of shooting, poisoning and trapping of raptors by certain individuals, would have prevented the need for a letter in the first place.

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