Yet another golden eagle disappears on a Scottish grouse moor

They can hide the bodies. They can hide the tags. But they can’t hide the pattern” (Dr Hugh Webster)

RSPB Press release:


Conservationists are concerned about the safety of a young pair of eagles after news emerged that another satellite-tagged golden eagle has disappeared in the northern Monadhliath Mountains of Inverness-shire.

Data from the two-year old male’s transmitter showed that he had been living in an upland area, mainly managed for driven grouse shooting, north of Tomatin, since early last year. He had stayed almost exclusively in this area until mid December, when his tag, that had been functioning as expected, inexplicably stopped transmitting.

A follow-up investigation by Police Scotland has not yielded further clues as to the bird’s fate, and no further data has been received from the satellite tag.

The young bird, fitted with a tag sponsored by SSE, before it fledged from a nest in the Cairngorms National Park, was paired to a 2 year-old female, coincidentally also fitted with a transmitter. Data from her tag shows that she left the same area for several days following the male’s sudden disappearance, possibly searching for her missing mate, before returning to the territory. She has subsequently been joined there by another young male, also reinforcing the case that the two year old bird has disappeared.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Species and Land Management said: “A report published by the Scottish Government last May, prompted by the regular disappearance of satellite-tagged eagles in this same area, provided unequivocal evidence that the sudden disappearance of these birds is highly suspicious. This is now the twelfth tagged eagle to go missing in this “black hole” in just seven years and is entirely consistent with the systematic and ongoing illegal persecution of eagles in this area.”

The missing bird and its mate were occupying a traditional golden eagle territory, but one where the nest has not been successful for decades despite good habitat and prey. In 2016, the area was occupied by a lone adult male, but he too disappeared.

Duncan Orr-Ewing continued: “Despite very recent and high level public warnings from Scottish Government, it appears that criminals intent on killing golden eagles continue to target these magnificent birds, especially in areas managed for driven grouse shooting. Patience with self-regulation is at an end and meaningful deterrents are now urgently required. We support the introduction of new measures to license driven grouse shooting, including powers for the public authorities to remove such licences, where there is good evidence of criminal behaviour”.

In parts of the Monadhliaths, such as the area from where this bird fledged, golden eagles are doing well, but the efforts by some landowners, farmers and gamekeepers to protect these magnificent birds are constantly being undermined by persecution when eagles move out of these safe areas. There can be little doubt that current legislation and enforcement have proven to be insufficient deterrents to those criminals, invariably linked to the management of driven grouse shooting, who are intent on killing protected birds of prey.”

Anyone who can provide information about the disappearance of this bird, or other raptor persecution incidents, is asked to contact Police Scotland on 101, or to phone the confidential RSPB Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.


The location information provided by the press release is a bit vague: ‘an upland area, mainly managed for driven grouse shooting, north of Tomatin‘. Hmm. According to Andy Wightman’s brilliant Who Owns Scotland website, this might be Moy Estate. Moy is an upland area, it is mainly managed for driven grouse shooting, and it is north of Tomatin. It’s also an estate where in 2010 a police search uncovered the leg rings of four young golden eagles being kept in a jar at a gamekeeper’s home. The gamekeeper apparently couldn’t provide an explanation for how he came to have them in his possession. Yes, this eagle might have disappeared from Moy Estate but it’s impossible to be certain without more detailed information.

[Estate boundary derived from Who Owns Scotland]

What is certain, is that this is yet another highly suspicious disappearance of a satellite-tagged golden eagle on or close to a Scottish grouse moor. What number is this one, 42? No, that was Fred. Number 43, perhaps? It’s hard to keep up.

And this latest eagle, according to Duncan Orr-Ewing (RSPB Scotland) is the 12th tagged eagle to vanish in this area in just seven years. That is scandalous.

The area in question is part of Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing’s constituency. There’s one hell of a record of illegal raptor persecution on his patch. You’d think, being a senior member of the governing SNP (Cab Sec for the Rural Economy & Connectivity) and with all this crime going on on his own doorstep in the Monadhliaths, he’d be jumping up and down, beetroot-faced with rage, determined to bring this to a halt. But so far, in all the years we’ve been writing about these crimes, we’ve heard nothing from him but praise and adulation for the grouse-shooting industry.

What we can also be certain of is the reaction from the grouse-shooting industry. There’ll be denials, there’ll be claims this disappearance isn’t suspicious, there’ll be attacks on the RSPB for daring to publicise it, there’ll be accusations of a set-up, there’ll be a refusal to believe these tags have a 98% reliability record, there’ll be imaginary windfarms, there’ll be real windfarms, there’ll be irrelevant data from satellite-tagged Olive Ridley Turtles in Bangladesh, there’ll be claims he was blown out to sea on a gust of wind, there’ll be claims he flew in to a fence, broke his legs and rolled himself off a hill to fly through the night before crashing in a forest, there’ll be calls for Chris Packham to be sacked from the BBC, there’ll be claims the eagle fell in to a burn and was washed away downstream. There’ll be every possible explanation under the sun, except, of course, for the glaringly obvious.

Why is it, satellite-tagged golden eagles on or close to grouse moors in Scotland are 25 times more likely to ‘disappear’ than anywhere else in the word where this species has been tagged?

We keep coming back to a recent quote from Dr Hugh Webster, because it says everything:

They can hide the bodies. They can hide the tags. But they can’t hide the pattern“.

The grouse shooting industry is making fools of the Scottish Government. Again and again and again. But for how much longer?


Response from Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association here (we’ll be blogging about this later – see below)

Response from Scottish Land & Estates here (we’ll be blogging about this later – see below)

Article in Scotsman here

Article in the Herald here

Article on BBC website here

Article in Press & Journal here

Article on STV here, including a quote from Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, as follows:

This golden eagle has disappeared in an area which has long been associated with the illegal persecution of birds of prey.

We may never discover exactly what has happened in the case of this latest disappearance.

But we do know the illegal killing of Scotland’s magnificent birds of prey continues – primarily in areas which are intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.

No-one should be in any doubt about my determination to act decisively to uphold the law and protect Scotland’s magnificent birds of prey.

I look forward to receiving the Werritty Report into how we can ensure grouse shooting is sustainable and complies with the law, which is due to be published early next year“.

Article in Scottish Daily Mail here

New blog post: Responses to missing satellite-tagged golden eagle nr Tomatin (here)

43 thoughts on “Yet another golden eagle disappears on a Scottish grouse moor”

  1. The people responsible for yet another bird of prey disappearing are brainless. We’ll all go to work tomorrow or talk to friends and we’ll be telling people about another missing bird of prey which has almost certainly been killed by a criminal, everything points to that being the case as it always does.

    From tomorrow more people will become aware of what is happening, mainly on or near driven grouse shooting estates.

    From tomorrow more people will become anti-shooting and from tomorrow we’ll become one step closer to this crime dependant hobby coming to an end.

    These people disgust me and they disgust everybody I speak to. Their arrogance and total disregard for the law and public opinion will be what puts and end to driven grouse shooting, that day can not come soon enough.

    1. Totally agree the sooner the better man has got it in his head too destroy everything that’s good, there needs to be better deterrents so that it doesn’t keep happening I I I have never seen a Golden Eagle out in its natural habitat

  2. These raptor-killers are a sad, despicable lot. We all know that satellite tags don’t fail (as accepted by the Scottish Government’s report last year) So we know that this is, almost certainly, yet another criminal act. Or do thay hope to draw attention away from what happened recently in the Pentlands – thinking this will be a clever ploy?
    We all know that they’re killing birds of prey. And all they do, with each act of stupid destruction, is draw more and more attention to themselves…and hasten their own, inevitable end.
    There is now no possibility of maintaining any kind of ‘sustainable’ grouse shooting in Scotland. Those involved in its mis-management will never be able to be trusted. We have to ban it. Even I am convinced of that now by these recent actions.
    Time to go.

    1. Even the possibility of walked shooting, still employs criminal gamekeepers. So, yes a total ban on this environmentally destructive game for the rich and stupid.
      The sooner the better.

  3. As you’ve pointed out, what we will receive now will be excuses and denials.

    I look forward to hearing the stories questioning the reliability of the tags, the information from Natural England which was totally incorrect and intentionally misleading suggesting that tags might suddenly stop functioning if a bird dies naturally in the wrong position will be top of the list I am sure. Alongside assumptions about the frequency of transmissions and how far the birds might have travelled since the signal was lost.

    I guess that it’s a bit of a problem for the ‘PR guru’s’ when you can’t be sure which tags are being used and how their nonsense can be debunked.

    Is it some mistake that all those black dots appear to be clustered on or close to the Moy Estate? Surely it couldn’t possibly be that another Eagle has gone missing in what appears to be a notorious raptor persecution blackspot?

  4. The pathetic denials and claims that tags fail will of course be regurgitated and hopefully they’ll be wearing ever thinner, but might it not be time to refresh peoples’ memories and bring to a whole new audience the catalogue of undeniable golden and sea eagle deaths that have occurred in not so many years? The four rings in a jar at Moy is in a way more chilling and telling than finding four bodies, it’s always the first thing that crosses my mind when I think of the eagles we’ve lost. Weren’t there THREE poisoned eagles at Skibo? There’s Fearnan, the shot goldie in the borders, the sea eagle nest cut down at Invermark (wasn’t another poisoned in that area?). There was a sat tag from an eagle (no body) found which looked as if the harness had been cut with a knife and the tag had been pictured with a knife or knife like instrument – but it still transmitted and therefore located. Sadly a good few and they put our suspicions about ‘disappearing’ sat tag signals into context. We know about these historical incidents, many of the people starting to realize something is going on won’t. Any possibility a casebook of these atrocious incidents can be thrown together quickly for the benefit of the press and interested public? If I had access to one I’d be more than happy to fire it out as best as I can. This is awful news, but at least with the sat tagging it’s not just knowing there are too many empty territories anymore, but now being able to point directly at a highly suspicious ‘disappearance’. Horrible loss yet again, but this is really going to backfire on them.

  5. What absolute crap!!!

    so much data you are not putting out there. is that because it goes against your agenda???

    1. The “agenda” as you term it is really quite simple – it is to end the illegal persecution of protected bird species. And really that is it. There are no doubt people with more radical views on “field” sports but in any argument or discussion there are on both sides what one may term more extreme views on the larger subject. The disappearance of so many protected species in the vicinity of grouse moors whilst not provable in a court of law as deliberate persecution is nevertheless so circumstantial that even the man on the Clapham omnibus is now aware that there is an obvious correlation between the two. This does not bode well for any individual or estate or organisation involved in shooting as have no doubt that in the first instance of a provable and unquestionable offence the full rigour of the law will be invoked to assuage public opinion. The groundswell of this public opinion is rapidly moving toward the same position it once held on dog fighting and bull baiting and much more recently with fox hunting and all of these pastimes have now been consigned to history. Unless the shooting industry can move forward and accept the presence of raptors (with the inevitable loss of a proportion of the “bag” along with other environmental innovations) then I see no long term future for it or those associated with it………………Pip

      PS – any missing data is probably in the hands of the police to mull over and therefore is sub judice – if indeed there is any missing that is of any relevance……………P

  6. Clearly, xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx, however the law will look the other way as always and if it did get to court the useless judicury we have would give them a smack on the wrist.

  7. Did you mean December? December? Why has this only now come out. Who are the police protecting?
    And I always thought that aiding and abetting was against the law. Oh yeah, the law, their law, the toffs law.
    For **** sake, somebody do something!!!

    Ant the powerful RSPB still call for licensing as if it will cure all. Cobblers.

    1. Another stupid pop at the RSPB. They are a charity: they are constrained by anti-lobbying laws passed by the execrable Tory government, passed deliberately to hamstring campaigning charities like the RSPB, RSPCA, Woodland Trust, etc. Instead of moronically trying to undermine the RSPB, get angry with the people who are responsible for failing to deal with the crimes: the UK government, the Scottish government, the judiciary and the police. Be grateful the RSPB maintains an investigations unit and actually provides the information the police fail to act on.

  8. Not so long ago SSPCA offered to assist with enforcement with wildlife crime.

    Despite sspca having a proven track record in detecting wildlife crime Roseanna Cunningham turned this offer down opting instead yo claim that the appointment of additional special constables would address the problem. Given the seriouness of wildlife crime this was a ludicrous proposal.

    Well as we see the body count rise against a backdrop of very little or no enforcement we can see what a wrong decision this was.

    Sspca may not have been the single answer but they certainly would have to improve what is a dire situation.

    And these are only the birds with tags how many are being killed that do not have sat tags.

    SNP are clearly not protecting Scotland s wildlife .

  9. Good point re. that prime arse Ewing , I would recommend any one who hasn’t seen it to you tube his display at the Moy games, of all places. Should be a tidal wave of letters and e mails heading his way. I believe he blocked some recent major land reform move as well, he is an embarrassment even in his own party.

    1. Yea found it , it was Alastair McIntosh ( very well respected land reformer ) who wrote that Ewing” flatly rejected the idea that the public should have access to land information”. He goes on to ask “what is it with him and landed power?

      1. Quite obvious really when you think about it – you don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Thing is, who’s pulling the strings?

  10. I don’t really like the joke in the SGA statement! “if it transpires there is evidence that that harm was the responsibility of an SGA member, they will be subject to our very strict wildlife crime disciplinary code.” Have they ever invoked their “very strict wildlife crime disciplinary code”.

    Does this code include medals for the outstanding achievements in reducing raptor numbers?

  11. I have just read the SGA response….. I love the concept of a mechanical sat tracker…..
    Bert says…
    “Electric, tis magic.. Black magic…. And we’ze no’s them spells can go wrong.”

  12. The government has concluded that Russia was likely to blame for the nerve agent poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter on the basis of circumstantial evidence, and the arrogant and unconvincing denials of the Russian government. I do not necessarily disagree with the reasoning and conclusions.

    However, contrarily the government refuses to acknowledge the very strong circumstantial evidence that the driven grouse shooting industry is responsible for the systematic illegal persecution of highly protected raptors, and the very unconvincing responses of the grouse shooting industry, Of course it is not just very strong circumstantial evidence here. Grouse shooting employees have been caught perpetrating these crimes, and many poisoned, trapped and shot raptors have been found. The very strong circumstantial evidence is that this is not just a few bad apples, a few individuals, because it occurs across so many estates, and the raptors are often killed so quickly after being satellite tagged. This strongly hints that it is very organized, and a great deal of effort and resources are spent on looking out for and locating these raptors. Any experienced birder knows very well that the chances of these raptors just flying less than 50 metres (about the maximum effective range of a shotgun) randomly past a keeper is very slim.

    This is the thing, when it wants to the government knows how to use inference and circumstantial evidence. How else does the government know there is widespread dealing in illegal drugs? The government, the police etc, do not just look at successful convictions to know the extent of this crime or many type of other crimes and problems. They build up a big picture of the problem, with circumstantial evidence and inference. This is standard practise across a whole number of society wide problems.

    Yet oddly, unless shoot managers are directly caught and prosecuted persecuting protected raptors, the government continues with the contrivance that it is not happening, and that there might be some mysterious other factor involved, The contrivance that lowly employees decide to risk their whole careers and their liberty taking huge risks and spending huge amounts of their personal time committing crimes that supposedly their employers and shooters are completely unaware of. Do the authorities, the government think that conservationists, birders and naturalists are stupid and that they can pull the wool over their eyes with such pathetic contrivances?

  13. Why is it, I wonder, that I am frequently seeing parallels between Russian government denial of criminal activity and the ‘not us, guv’ attitude of those denying or excusing criminal activities against our native wildlife? We need a robust response from the agencies tasked with environmental protection, not platitudes and ‘fence sitting’.

  14. Anyone killing Eagles deserves to be xxxxx xxxxxxx, I a very very sad about all this, I think this sort of punishment is the only thing these flaming morons will understand. the time has come to fight back, every case like this is another nail in the coffin, but it just shows it will have been going on for donkeys years, only now with modern tracking methods is it being revealed as to what is really happening, and the tagged Eagles are in the minority, think of how many other non tagged Eagles are or have died by the Morons. Id really like to xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx, fucking sick of it all…

  15. It’s not illegal persecution by DGS gamekeepers causing all these raptors to vanish, it’s wind farms, it’s other raptors, it’s other predators, it’s lack of food, It’s the grouse fighting back, It’s black holes sucking them out of the space-time continuum.

    I wonder how many excuses the industry can come up with before there is an industry wide admittance as to the real problem is made?

  16. I would very much like to broadcast your map of Moy Estate and the boundary of Fergus Ewing’s constituency.
    a) would you permit this?
    b) How could I do it (download etc.)
    The (Scottish) Independent had a small article on the downfall of the ‘twelfth’ eagle (their emphasis) and finished with a quote from Scottish Liars and Exterminators: Yet again the RSPB are playing judge and jury. (March 14th)
    Your map would blow that one back in their faces and those of the media who pander to them.
    John Keith

    1. Oh bravo, Richard!

      You’ve managed to unearth a four-year old newspaper article about raptors being killed at wind farms, and posted it on a blog about yet another golden eagle that has disappeared in suspicious circumstances on a Scottish grouse moor.

      Presumably your intention for posting this link, without context, is to provide a distraction to explain this latest eagle’s vanishing act.

      If only you’d done a bit more research. If you had, you would have found this article written in response:

      Honestly, you’re pathetic. But do carry on denying what everyone else can see, because each time you do, it brings your industry’s reputation in to further disrepute. Even your beloved Fergus has finally seen through your guff!

      Tick tock

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