A shedload of golden eagles satellite tagged in new RPUK/Chris Packham project

At last weekend’s British Birdfair at Rutland Water we joined with Chris Packham to launch a new joint project.

Privately funded by a pair of extraordinarily generous and supportive philanthropists, this project has been in development since the New Year. We are grateful not only to our funders, but also to a number of people without whose help the project would have been a non-starter.

This year our project has focused on fitting satellite tags to young golden eagles across Scotland. At this stage we’re not announcing how many eagles have been tagged, or where, exactly, they’ve been tagged (the location of nest sites must remain confidential for obvious reasons), but let’s just say we’ve tagged a shedload. Here’s a small subset:

The tags were fitted in June and July by highly experienced & appropriately licensed fieldworkers, with the support of several landowners, some of whom came along on tagging days. All the tagged eagles have fledged successfully and they are all hanging out in their natal territories, as expected.

Researchers have been satellite-tagging golden eagles in Scotland since 2004. This new technology has revolutionised our ability to better understand golden eagle ecology, and particularly the birds’ early years of life when they leave their parents’ territory and wander around the country before they attempt to settle in a territory of their own and join the breeding population at between 3 to 5 years of age. For an excellent first-hand and simple explanation of how the technology works in practice, have a read of this blog written last week by Stuey Benn of the RSPB.

Understanding golden eagle juvenile dispersal behaviour has important conservation implications because at present, Special Protection Areas designated specifically for golden eagles are based on the number of breeding pairs present in a particular area, and not on the number of juvenile eagles present. Research on 36 satellite-tagged golden eagles, undertaken by Ewan Weston for his PhD (published in 2014), identified nine distinct areas, known as Temporary Settlement Areas (TSAs) where these young birds tended to spend a lot of time during certain months of the year. Here’s a map we’ve created, based on data published in Ewan’s PhD, of these nine TSAs.

The identification of these areas would have been virtually impossible without the use of satellite tags. The data collected from our tagged eagles will contribute to this ongoing scientific research to help determine the importance of these, and perhaps other yet-to-be-discovered TSAs, which may lead in future to some areas being newly designated / protected for golden eagle conservation purposes.

Of course, along with the invaluable scientific data generated by these satellite tags, showing us how golden eagles utilise different landscapes, we are also learning a lot about how one type of land-use, intensively managed driven grouse moors, is impacting negatively on the golden eagle population. This has been known for some time, but the recently published Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review clarified in which particular grouse moor areas satellite-tagged eagles are being illegally killed or are ‘disappearing’ in suspicious circumstances.

When the Review was published in May this year, we created this map to show the significant clustering of satellite-tagged eagles that had either been confirmed as illegally killed or the tags had suddenly stopped working in suspicious circumstances and the tags and eagles had ‘disappeared’ off the face of the earth:

The clusters around the Cairngorms National Park, including the Monadhliaths to the NW and the Angus Glens to the SE, are all areas where the land is intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.

Interestingly, when you overlay these data of killed or ‘missing’ satellite tagged eagles on to the map showing the Temporary Settlement Areas utilised by juvenile golden eagles, this is what you get:

[Yellow stars = satellite-tagged eagles confirmed as illegally killed; red stars = satellite tags that suddenly stopped functioning in suspicious circumstances and the tag & eagle nowhere to be found].

It’s quite clear then, that in some driven grouse moor areas, particularly in the Angus Glens, the Monadhliaths, and the NE and SW areas of the Cairngorms National Park where young golden eagles are spending a lot of time, illegal persecution is an ongoing threat.

Obviously we don’t yet know where our tagged eagles will disperse to, and whether they might head for some of these dangerous TSAs, but we’re about to find out.

We’ll be providing updates on our eagles’ movements over the coming months and if the tag data indicate that any of our birds have come to any harm, we’ll first be reporting it through the proper channels to the Police and then we’ll be publishing appropriate details on this blog.

Stay tuned!

72 thoughts on “A shedload of golden eagles satellite tagged in new RPUK/Chris Packham project”

  1. Excellent project, but the grouse shooting community is still claiming that missing eagles and their tags are being “shredded” by wind turbines! In fact they come up with various spurious theories, and advocating them too effectively in an attempt to deter scientific credibilty. Their side lap it all up, of course. We need to find a way to counter these beliefs more effectively, as simple logic doesn’t seem to impress the contrived sceptics or anyone else prepared to treat them seriously (unfortunately including some decision makers).

    1. As long as there is kneejerk hate for windfarms they will be an easy scapegoat for any amount of excuses. I’ve never quite known why there is so much kneejerk hate for them.

      1. That’s funny, because I’ve never understood why there is so much kneejerk love of them.

        Stonking great industrial structures plonked down over the Scottish countryside, visible for miles and miles, with related infrastructure scaring the landscape for a generation at least.

        1. I know, not only do they help provide clean and renewable energy which helps power not just Scotland but the whole of the UK, they are also giant art installations too. Art installations that are free to view for everyone. Whether whirling around loaded with a frantic energy, or doing that long graceful and languid beautiful dance, it is art which benefits and is accessible to all.

        2. Better than looking at coal mines, oil refineries or nuclear plants and all the infrastructure and pollution associated with them for generations.

    2. Iain you know that is not true, some of them are killed by turbines ,you also know that faulty sat,tags failing and faulty fitting has killed some,your single minded view is letting you down again Iain as it does every time you try to debate a subject and then you resort to personal attacks and abuse.

  2. This is brilliant.but sometimes i wonder when they cant reveal where.they are released and are on the land the exact land that is persecuting them.tell people they want to see them ,photo them watch them .you now have hundreds of volunteers. 99 percentage of the people you are not revealing to wont hurt one the people that have bad intention s live where they are.bring the public in

  3. In the longer term the use of tags will be a game – changer in ending driven grouse shooting since the evidence of criminality is unavoidable & will sway public opinion & political action.
    My one concern is that the criminal moor owners / managers & keepers, knowing that tagging is widespread, will temporarily reduce the illegal killing of eagles to try to deflect the criticism & delay the inevitable closing down of such an unsuatainable industry based on illegal killing of raptors.
    Only time will tell, now that they know the birds are tagged in large numbers & that the presence of a tag is obvious.
    What a shame we don’t have tiny internal, microchip – type tags that would not be obvious – maybe one day, but then again they would simply scan the birds caught in cage traps & release those that are tagged.

    Perhaps I am crediting these criminals with too much intelligence though ?

    We will soon find out since the killing grounds will continue to be identified if the usual rate of killing continues.

    The public will eventually realise that killing raptors is simply an everyday task for keepers on driven grouse moors & some other driven game shoots.

    Keep up the pressure !

    1. There would seem to be a very not hidden agenda here. Are we trying to help and preserve the Golden Eagle? (I truly hope so) or arr we trying to persecute Game Shooters carrying out a perfectly legal activity on Grouse moors (I hope not). Illegal killing of raptors is exactly that – illegal and nobody would condone it. Those doing it should be exposed and prosecuted. But a blatent attempt to persecute all involed in country sports is beyond the pail and does your organisation no good whatsoever. If anything it devalues your message.

      1. Dear Rev, It should be clear that this site is not persecuting the shooters but the estates where criminal activity continues with alarming frequency and is creating an unnatural overstocking of birds for the sake of more gun fodder. All too frequently the gun fodder is just that and discarded in the same way a shattered clay pigeon is. Although it is put to sinister use, laced with snares to capture carrion feeders with total disregard to animal welfare.

        The criminals and some others cannot see beyond their noses that raptors and other predators are part of our God given land. If numbers could be relied upon from the shooting industry, I am sure that loss of gun fodder to predators would be a tiny proportion of those killed for the sake of killing.

        Or are we talking of mans dominion over all wild animals? I hope not.

        I do not object to shooting for the pot but the mass slaughter of driven game is abominable. It is certainly not a sport and there is certainly not any element of hunting in sitting in a hide waiting for the birds to be driven to you.

        If I could stop all driven game shooting and confine it to history where it belongs, I would. It started, thousands of years ago to fulfil a survival need. There is now no need, for modern society to engage in mass killing involving little skill and not a lot of sense.

        There are so many other points against the grouse moors and pheasant shoots that could highlight the gross disregard of nature. What it boils down to is “profit/money” the source of evil.

        I gather from the line of your argument that you may be a game shooter and if you pay for the killing of game, you are part of the problem.


        1. I gather from the divine references that Doug believes the Rev IR Drotcart to be a religious person, rather than a well known Morgan racer from the 1970’s. One suspects he may be taking the piss,and perhaps is a well-known troll from the shooting world making mischief. I was also mildly amused by another (?) well-known shooting troll under this same topic having a pop at me, with the usual insults verging on libel. I see he hasn’t given up his favourite tactic of inventing whatever story suits his “argument,” and it gave me considerable pleasure to see RPUK shoot them down far better than I’ve ever managed!

  4. Great news! Thanks to all involved in the project. The map comparisons make it extremely difficult that driven grouse moors are up to their necks in it.

    1. There is no doubt that some badly-sited wind farms are disastrous for birds, and especially raptors; there are many examples from around the world.

      However, much depends on a number of local, site-specific variables such as topography, altitude, wind speed, wind farm size, turbine size etc, so just because one wind farm site has caused problems it doesn’t necessarily mean that all wind farms are going to cause damage.

      The recent Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review thoroughly addressed the threat of wind farms in Scotland to satellite-tagged golden eagles and the findings were clear: ‘Wind farms are not associated with any recorded golden eagle deaths’.

      We blogged about this here: https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2017/06/05/scottish-gamekeepers-associations-response-to-eagle-satellite-tag-review/

      1. I think that one of the reasons early wind turbines were disastrous for larger birds in particular was that instead of having a closed tube (column) supporting the vanes they were more like pylons with struts that birds liked perching on – obviously that had serious negative consequences! Also the placing of the turbines meant there weren’t large gaps between them through which birds could fly without being clobbered by a spinning vane. Very simple points that are obvious in retrospect, hopefully avoidable bird killing flaws have all been designed out now…hopefully.

      2. The wind farm do not report deaths of birds and have no legal obligation to.But it is well known that they do kill birds including raptors and there is a video of an eagle being killed ,filmed by a raptor enthusiast . With the wind farms not having to report deaths nobody knows how many birds or raptors are been killed.

          1. Scant attention was made of the fact that people were employed to clear up the sites.Also it was mentioned in the report that it was had to envisage what could stop the tracker working,it would be difficult for any tracker to work once been stuck by a blade.But wind farms are not the only danger to raptors ,pylons and cables kill a massive amount of birds including raptors,bird strikes on such structures can be scattered for many miles depending on location and weather conditions,where as in your report you have found it hard to see how they could travel beyond , i think it was a kilometer.

            1. Norman,

              You say, “Scant attention was made of the fact that people were employed to clear up the sites”.

              Can you please point us to the source of this so-called “fact”?

              If you’d bothered to properly read the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review, particularly Chapter 8 (pages 71-80), you’ll see that a great deal of attention was given to the analysis of potential wind farm casualties and the scientists concluded:

              “We found no evidence that wind farms or activities associated with their operation could have been an interventionist source behind the many tagged eagles whose tags suddenly stopped functioning, and whose bodies were not subsequently found”.

          2. It appears that you don,t want any facts that interfere with your agenda ,you have a scapegoat and your not interested in finding the reason or reasons why raptors are “disappearing ” no effort on your part to investigate any facts that take you off your chosen path,with that attitude you will never find the source /s of the disappearing raptors.I am very familiar with the facts but you choose to ignore them,but once “the facts ” are made public your group and others will be shown to be biased bigots,who hid the truth for your own agenda.How could anyone come to a conclusion that wind farms were not a factor there is no data if there was it will be burnt by now,It seems to be a case of the blind leading the blind.Your organization is not fit for purpose as long as this attitude persists.It,s the raptors I feel sorry for,in the end they are the losers,let down by the people who should be championing them.

  5. Yes this surely will have a preventative effect on killing in most areas. When an eagle has disappeared in the past, presumably the signal would still continue after “disappearance” – there would be nothing to alter the tag signal, i.e., it would continue to signal at the usual time interval until the tag was destroyed. Might it be possible to engineer a tag that would signal constantly or at much closer intervals on removal, prior to destruction. This could potentially provide more conclusive information on location, if not solid evidence. Information appreciated !!

  6. This is very encouraging. With so many right minded people coming together, pooling their expertise and with financial backing it is uplifting and gives hope that the tide might be about to turn! It is worth taking a look at the blog by Stuey Benn of the RSPB above. The evidence is already compelling on those maps. Reference wind turbines – I did not realise they were all placed in such random clusters on grouse moors! Well done to all involved. Raptor Persecution, please keep up your excellent work.

  7. I think many people have underestimated the difficulty involved in bringing this all together , having attempted much simpler collaborations I take my hat off to you dealing with stake holders ,organising finance etc, etc, etc,a mammoth task ,well done.

  8. Excellent news. A big thank you to all involved. Keep applying the pressure. Theres no let up in raptor persecution across wide swathes of the intensively, industrial lmanaged driven grouse moors.

  9. I think, although I would greatly like to see it, that tagging eagles will not reduce persecution rates. I think moor owners are either under a lot of pressure for the potential to shoot big bags of birds, or believe that to keep the sites commercially viable in the face of stiff competition, they need to offer potentially big bags of birds.
    Inevitably if you have large quantities of food lying around in the form of large quantities of baby birds, “vultures” will descend upon it.

    I wonder if it’s possible to get a correlation between the intensiveness of management regimes and the number of lost tags. Ultimately this tagging initiative is great because where else is the evidence of the scale of persecution going to come from.

  10. Great to hear this. I once had a summer job as a ghillie in the Angus glens, and I can pretty much pinpoint where I was working from your map – as I anticipated. The landowners pocket needs to be felt.

  11. Is the Scottish Govt. involved at all? They might give more weight to the evidence collected if they are. Personally I suspect the killings will continue, as these people think (with some justification) that they are above the Law

  12. The wind farm excuse is a total load of bullshit .you only have to visit the white tailed eagles in holland not 20 miles outside amsterdam right by a huge windfarm are white tail eagles nesting breeding not one in many years has ever hit a wind turbine look it up on google there are photos of eagles flying near turbines but thats all .this is a brilliant project .maybe photographers like me will be able to photograph golden eagles in scotland with relative ease .brilliant news

  13. I’m a little confused … Are Golden Eagles not protected in the whole of Scotland (indeed, the whole of the UK and Europe)? What does an are “designated / protected for golden eagle conservation purposes” mean?

    Is it a bit like double yellow lines and double red lines? Double yellow means no parking or stopping. Double red means no parking or stopping … and we really mean it this time.

  14. We know where the problems are, there are distinct clusters of stars on the map. We need to target these areas with volunteer campers, more of the keeper cams and be present in the communities so that the locals know there is an alternative to the bullying and intimidation.

  15. Will the philanthropists funding this project be publicised? I only recently heard about the owner/director of a certain cosmetic/bath bomb shop is one of the brains/wallets behind the osprey project in Poole harbour.
    I have wondered about the funding for satellite tagging. How much does a tag cost? As these projects have been generated by various charities/organisations, are the numbers limited by funds or by practical constraints?
    If money was the issue, and many more birds, HH, Eagles, etc etc could be tagged if it helped, an ‘adoption’ scheme could be generated like you see at zoos, wildlife parks and other organisations. Say how much a tag costs, perhaps include the cost of the whole setup, and offer this a an ‘adoption, to the donor who will receive info. on his/her bird every step of the way, generated by the tag.
    Of course if it was a couple of hundred pound for an ‘adoption’, and the tag/bird, disappeared days after it was tagged, you wouldn’t want the donor knocking at the door asking for their money back! so a disclaimer of some sort?
    (Maybe this has been done and I’m way behind….I have not been reading these blogs, or any others for long…every day now tho!)

    1. You’d have to be a bit circumspect about who you are offering to share sensitive data with, for all sorts of reasons. And if a donor doesn’t understand or accept that, then maybe they’re not suitable for the role.

        1. Maybe, just maybe, it’s possible to believe that raptors are persecuted by the shooting industry AND AT THE SAME TIME, believe that wind farms are an abomination supported by only by the gullible and the venal.

        2. ‘Until the pro-raptor side can shut down the prejudice and stigma against windfarms and present a unified face on that issue’

          That would appear to be the editorial line of this site.

          [Ed: I don’t know how many times I have to say this – this is OFF TOPIC. Any further posts on wind farms will not be published unless relevant to the blog posting]

  16. An interesting correlation with my own findings.
    During a sea kayaking trip along the west coast of Harris, I did not find, see or hear any eagles golden or white tailed. Whereas on the east coast of North Uist both species showed frequently, some days I saw 4 or 5 birds. Not as many golden as white tailed though.

    The west coast of Harris seemed to be the sort of place to find these big raptors but there were none and no smaller species either. But I did spot a monster 4×4 driven by a tweedy person????


  17. Obviously Golden Eagles tend to go missing over grouse moors- that’s where they live.
    They are hardly likely to go missing over Edinburgh, are they?!

  18. Is this wise in light of the suspicion that sat /tags are harming the health of raptors,with birds been found dead with lesions on them and suspected non-breeding of raptors fitted with tracking satellites ?

      1. I have read this and only a small proportion was tested,concerns were raised by the Veterinary Record,The Zoological Society Of London,Natural England and some American Societies that raptors over 3 to 5 years and older were prone to lesions due to battery deterioration and to infection from harnesses,it is difficult to reason why you have ignored these facts from professional bodies.

        1. Norman,

          The study to which you refer is dealt with in some detail in the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review. I suggest you go back and read Chapter 7 (pages 59-65) and remind yourself of the finer details which you appear to have ignored. Pay attention particularly to:

          “It is apparent from scrutiny of Peniche et al. (2011), though not stated or examined by Peniche et al. (2011) that the identified problem of poor fitting of harnesses occurred in one red kite release site area (North Yorkshire), and was likely to be attributable to one person improperly fitting harnesses. Moreover, the harness attachment illustrated by Peniche et al. (2011: Figure 1) has not been used on GPS/GSM/VHF tagged golden eagles and whitetailed eagles in Scotland, for example. Such differences can be influential in designing ‘best practice’ (e.g. Kenward 2001)”.

          1. [Ed: comment deleted. Norman, if you expect us to publish an allegation like that, without you having first provided the evidence, you’re sadly mistaken. And by the way, reading something written by a well-known social media troll who doesn’t have an ounce of credibility doesn’t equate to it being ‘evidence’].

            1. I knew it revert to abuse,your the one who is a troll not me friend,the evidence is there for all to see.A well known Troll don,t make me laugh as I said before and have been proven right by your actions.

            2. It appears to be true the truth hurts.My allegation is a fact whether you acknowledge it as such is up to you,but you can,t disprove the truth.

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