Last week we blogged about a motion being put forward to Edinburgh City Council’s Transport & Environment Committee by Scottish Greens Councillor Chas Booth, calling for action after the highly suspicious disappearance of golden eagle Fred in the Pentland Hills (see here).
To recap, here is the text of that motion:
1 March 2018
Green Motion – Suspicious disappearance of ‘Fred’ the Golden Eagle in Pentland Hills
- Notes with grave concern reports of the suspicious disappearance of ‘Fred’ the Golden Eagle, who hatched from a nest in the Scottish Borders to the only breeding pair of Golden Eagles in the region, and who, according to his satellite tag, was in woodland near Currie in January 2018, within the Edinburgh Council boundary;
- Notes that Fred’s satellite tracker is reported to have suddenly and inexplicably stopped transmitting on 21 January 2018, and then to have mysteriously started transmitting again on 24 January 2018, with a GPS location some 15 miles offshore of St Andrews, Fife.
- Further notes that RSPB Scotland and Raptor Persecution UK regard Fred’s disappearance as highly suspicious and believe it is likely that he has been illegally killed;
- Notes that the Golden Eagle is a magnificent and majestic bird and one of the largest birds of prey in the British Isles, notes that it is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, but notes that nonetheless it has been illegally killed and persecuted in the past;
- Notes that a Scottish Government-commissioned study in 2017 found that 41 of 131 satellite-tagged Golden Eagles had disappeared in suspicious circumstances, most of them at or near to managed grouse moors;
- Notes that the Scottish Government have established a working group with a view to establishing a licensing regime for game-shooting estates;
- Agrees that the suspicious disappearance of Fred is deeply regrettable, and urges anyone with any knowledge of this incident, or any other incidents of possible wildlife crime, to contact Police Scotland on 101 or alternatively call the RSPB’s new confidential raptor crime hotline on 0300 999 0101;
- Agrees that the Council Leader will write to the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment expressing the council’s grave concern at this incident, asking her to outline a timetable for the introduction of the licensing of game-shooting estates; offering the council’s cooperation with any such licensing regime, and offering the council’s support for consideration of stiffer penalties for wildlife crime;
- Agrees to refer the matter to the Pentland Hills Regional Park Joint Committee, to ask them to consider writing to landowners in the region highlighting this incident and encouraging them to report any suspicious activity to Police Scotland or the RSPB.
Moved by Cllr Chas Booth
In response to this motion, the Director of the Scottish Moorland Group (a sub-group of Scottish Land & Estates) Tim (Kim) Baynes has written to the Committee to offer some ‘advice’, as follows:
As we’ve come to expect from Tim (Kim), it reeks of desperation and is light on facts. Let’s just examine some of his ‘advice’.
Tim (Kim) is “concerned” by the use of the word ‘suspicious’ and ‘highly suspicious’. Eh? How else would you define the sudden and inexplicable loss of GPS location data when Fred was in an area managed for driven grouse shooting, an activity that has a long and proven association with the illegal persecution of eagles and other raptor species, and then the weird re-awakening of the tag some 10-15 miles offshore in the North Sea?!
Does Tim (Kim) think this is normal? How many of the 141 satellite-tagged golden eagles (2004-2016) behaved in this way? Shall we have a look?
According to over half a million recorded locations, as analysed for the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review, it would seem that none of them followed this pattern of behaviour, as this map from the Review clearly shows:
[The half a million + locations are summarised here in 4km sq, with red dots showing low density and green dots showing high density. The black stars indicate the last known fixes of all satellite-tagged eagles as of 15 January 2016, including those still transmitting].
To suggest that the behaviour of Fred’s tag is anything other than suspicious is plainly absurd. Indeed, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham agrees with us. Quoted during her interview about Fred with Chris Packham a few weeks ago she said:
“As far as we’re currently aware it’s [Fred’s disappearance] unexplained circumstances but they do come under the category of suspicious“.
Tim (Kim) also states, “There is no evidence that Fred has been killed and the full circumstances do not substantiate that theory“.
On the contrary, Tim (Kim) is not privy to the full circumstances of Fred’s suspicious disappearance and he has no idea what evidence has been provided to Police Scotland’s investigation. Indeed, we have commented previously that since Fred’s disappearance, we have been able to access further information from his tag and this information only serves to corroborate our earlier suspicion that Fred was the victim of illegal persecution. Unfortunately at this stage of the police investigation we’re unable to publish that new information but we fully intend to do so in due course and it will leave little (no) doubt about the highly suspicious circumstances of Fred’s disappearance.
Tim (Kim) claims, “It is a leap of logic to assume that because eagles have been killed elsewhere in the past that Fred has been killed“. Well, it might be a leap of logic if the circumstances of Fred’s disappearance didn’t match so closely with the circumstances of all those other disappearing eagles, but unfortunately for Tim (Kim), Fred’s disappearance bears all the hallmarks of suspected illegal persecution. i.e. his tag suddenly and inexplicably stopped, with no identified technical malfunction, and he disappeared in an area managed for driven grouse shooting. And again, the Cabinet Secretary, not known for being illogical, agrees:
“About a third of the disappeared eagles [whose data were analysed in the Sat Tag Review] were disappearing in the sort of circumstances we’re talking about with Fred: unexplained, suspicious, and sadly there were clear clusters and those clusters tended to be around driven grouse shoots”
“It’s [Fred’s disappearance] an unfortunate addition to the statistics that we already have of the numbers of unexplained disappearances of tagged eagles“.
Tim (Kim) continues, “It is important to clarify that the Pentlands has very little grouse moor management due to comprehensive public access and no tagged Golden Eagles have previously disappeared in the Pentlands“.
So what if there is “very little” grouse moor management there? The point is, there is some driven grouse moor management there, which according to local sources has intensified in the last year, and that grouse moor just happens to be in very close proximity to Fred’s last known GPS location in the Pentlands. That’s not an attempt on our part to apportion blame, but is simply pointing out an indisputable fact.
Tim (Kim) is correct to say that “no tagged golden eagles have previously disappeared in the Pentlands” but that shouldn’t be misconstrued as an indication that tagged eagles have previously been left unmolested there. You only have to look at the red map above to see that no tagged golden eagles have previously been recorded in the Pentlands! Fred was the first to visit and he disappeared within a couple of days of being there.
One final point. Tim (Kim) implies that we, as a “private organisation” have somehow caused “potential problems” with the police investigation in to Fred’s suspicious disappearance. We’re not sure what he’s getting at here but if he has any evidence of this he should be explicit. Put up or shut up, Tim (Kim).
As far as we’re aware, Police Scotland has appreciated the assistance and information we’ve been able to provide to help with the ongoing police investigation, just as we appreciate the effort and diligence of the Police Wildlife Crime Officer leading this case.
UPDATE 11.45hrs: Today’s planned Edinburgh City Council Transport & Environment Committee meeting has been postponed due to the bad weather. We’ll report as soon as we find out the re-scheduled date.