SNH wilfully blind to threat of persecution of golden eagles in south Scotland

The project to translocate golden eagles from the Scottish Highlands to south Scotland has finally got underway this year, with news out today that three eagles have been successfully released this year.

There’s an article about it on BBC Scotland (here) including some video footage.

Unbelievably, Professor Des Thompson, Principal Advisor for Biodiversity and Science at SNH, is quoted in both in the video and in the article as follows:

This is the icon of wild Scotland. We are on the threshold of giving something very exciting back to the south of Scotland. Scotland has just over 500 pairs, just two to four breeding pairs in the south of Scotland where they are really struggling.

Young golden eagles are heavily persecuted. A third of them have been killed either through shooting or poisoning.

Down here in the south of Scotland we’ve been able to reassure ourselves persecution is not an issue. It’s just a small fragmented population that needs this helping hand from us. We have been overwhelmed by the support we are getting from landowners and we are reassured these birds are going to be welcome“.

Did he actually just say that? “We’ve been able to reassure ourselves persecution is not an issue“. What, you mean in the same way that SNH reassured itself that the scientific justification for the Strahbraan raven cull was sound?

You couldn’t make this up. Has he switched jobs and is now representing Scottish Land & Estates? He might as well be as this is exactly the line they were trying to spin several years ago (see here).

The south of Scotland is well known for the illegal persecution of raptors, including golden eagles. Only this year a young satellite-tagged golden eagle (Fred) ‘disappeared’ in the Pentland Hills in highly suspicious circumstances (here) in an area where previously a merlin nest had been shot out and breeding ravens had also ‘disappeared’.

[Golden eagle Fred, by Ruth Tingay]

Then there’s Raeshaw Estate, currently operating under a General Licence restriction and an Individual Licence restriction, due to evidence of alleged ongoing raptor persecution (here); there’s a forthcoming prosecution of a gamekeeper in the Borders for a long list of alleged wildlife crime (here); there’s the land managed for driven grouse shooting in South Lanarkshire (close to the golden eagle translocation area) where over 50 confirmed reported incidents of dead raptors and poisoned baits have been recorded since 2003, including a shot golden eagle in 2012 (it didn’t survive, here), the reported shooting of a short-eared owl in 2017 (here), the reported shooting of a hen harrier in 2017 (here), and the reported shooting of a buzzard in 2018 (here); and then there’s been at least four raptor poisonings in south Scotland this year alone (here).

But don’t worry, folks, despite all evidence to the contrary, Professor Thompson is “reassured” that raptor persecution won’t be an issue for these young golden eagles.

Here’s a map from the 2008 Golden Eagle Conservation Framework showing the conservation status of golden eagles in Scotland (red = unfavourable conservation status), overlaid with ten years of raptor persecution data (all species, 2005-2015) gleaned from ‘official’ persecution maps. It doesn’t include data from the last three years. Does it look to you like raptor persecution isn’t an issue in southern Scotland?

We’ve blogged about the South Scotland Golden Eagle Project several times over the years (e.g. here, here, here) and we still have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand the south Scotland golden eagle population is in dire straits, and has been for some time, and urgently needs a boost. Translocating eagles from other parts of the Scottish range seems a decent strategy.

However, fundamental to translocation and reintroduction projects is the need to identify and resolve the underlying cause(s) of the species’ decline in that area. The authorities have not come anywhere near to resolving this issue, either in south Scotland or beyond. The chances remain high that these young eagles will be killed. Having said that, they’re just as likely to be illegally killed further north in Scotland so in that sense, moving them a few hundred km south probably won’t make much difference to their chance of being illegally killed.

At least these three young eagles have been satellite-tagged so their movements can be followed. The question is, if/when each eagle goes off the radar in suspicious circumstances, who will decide whether this news is suppressed or publicised?

We’ll be taking a close interest.

52 thoughts on “SNH wilfully blind to threat of persecution of golden eagles in south Scotland”

  1. I have read about this and watched the video on the BBC this evening. Firstly the three birds were being released in a “secret location in the Scottish Borders” and then thsi location was revealed as being in Moffat.

    How long before the corpses or satellite transmitters are found.

    What a load of misguided tossers.

  2. Im sure time will reveal the truth. I hope that the 3 young will still be with us next year. The persons who might kill them are well aware of the backlash which would follow any acts against the eagles. It may be that is still not enough to deter. They know that they are most unlikely to be prosecuted.
    In the meantime we have to give the relocation the benefit of the doubt. The birds will roam widely after they leave the release area.
    Surely the BBC and the rest of the Scottish media would not repeat their dreadful behaviour when a bird vanished on the Invercauld estate.

    1. Sorry Alex, but they have been given the “benefit of the doubt” on numerous occasions since all raptor persecution of any description was outlawed .. only to be lied to time after time. This is an exercise in window dressing so the uninformed public can be made to believe that, by timely press releases, that the SNH is safeguarding the birds while really siding with the hugely wealthy driven grouse moor owners, having been told how an airborn raptor can destroy a days shooting. Grouse are extremely reluctant to break cover while under what they know and can see to be an ariel threat. If they are not in the air these grouse cannot be shot by these fearless warriors hidden behind the butts.
      The real issue here is that if the public can be convinced that a threat to raptors either no longer exists or is decreasing then they will settle for no legislation or some that is toothless and cannot be policed. This ensures that the merry-go-round will begin again as it has so many times in the past following a whole slew similar initiatives by them designed to reach the same end and demoralise those who wish to see these birds saved.
      Push for legislation and keep exposing them. There is no other way to protect our birds of prey.
      Personally I’d keep pushing for a ban on DGM’s and help save the red grouse from such mindless cruelty too not to mention the suffering they go through from various diseases effectively introduced and maintained by the ridiculous densities now required on these moors. This would also allow for a more natural Upland to emerge where biodiversity and the public in general would be the big winners.

      1. I’m not supporting SNH. Far from it. However the birds have been released, no matter what anyone thinks. If those who would kill raptors act as they have done previously, at least one bird will die somewhere in Englad or Scotland in the next year and vanish without trace. At that point the PR nachine will come into action, followed by almost silence by the BBC and the majority of the media, particularly if it happens in Scotland. I hope that all the birds go on to breed but is that really likely? The killers seem to feel that with the majority of the media and many politicians on their side and a get out of jail free card they can ignore the minority voices.

      2. Do the scientists of SNH really believe that a raptor flying across a grouse moor “spoils a day’s shoot”? Over the past forty years I have studiously observed what happens, and when I hear people believing this oft-repeated received wisdom, I wonder if they have ever actually witnessed a driven grouse shoot? The myth of the crouching grouse has been invented by the shooting people to provide further justification (to themselves mainly) for killing hen harriers. It’s time to convince the wider public (especially conservationists, and SNH it seems), that this is a myth. However proving it might not be easy without some serious investigation by independent scientists. On many an occasion while watching grouse shooting, I have witnessed a harrier, or harriers, flying across the moor and only an occasional grouse taking flight. It is impossible of course, to see how many crouched in fear. The acid test is when the beaters follow soon afterwards, and lots of grouse are disturbed from the ground where a harrier had recently passed. How do they figure out that the grouse, allegedly hiding from the preceding harrier, are not going to be flushed by a bunch of noisy beaters crossing in a line? Interestingly another ridiculous school of thought is that a harrier frightens all the grouse away onto a neighbouring moor. It doesn’t seem to occur to that particular brand of philosopher that the opposite is equally likely to happen.

  3. RPUK spot on.

    I read Des Thompson’s comments on another site a little while ago and immediately thought exactly the same as you. He clearly contradicts himself in his own statement to start with. Secondly SNH are clearly not fit for purpose with idiots like this on board. Can someone come up with a way to put SNH and NE out of their misery?

    Ordinary folk in Scotland deserves better and so do we south of the border

  4. I must admit my jaw dropped in disbelief when I saw and heard what Prof Thompson had to say. I’ve known Des for over forty years and can’t understand why he would deliver such a response. It was as if he was reading a script under instruction from his boss, not at all what I would have expected of him. It makes me worried as to whether, as Principal Advisor for Biodiversity and Science, he played a part in the issue of the licence to cull 300 Ravens in Perthshire. Where on Earth is SNH heading, and why?

    1. As Principal Advisor for Biodiversity and Science at SNH, he surely was involved in accepting the design of the Raven cull, even if not designing it. SNH is unlikely to start acting as we have a right to expect in the immediate future I would have thought, bearing in mind what they have said since the report was revealed.

    2. Yes it’s always extremely disorientating and disappointing when you see someone like that suddenly go in a totally different direction. Auslan Cramb is another one. Way back in 1996 he wrote what I thought was the seminal ‘Who Owns Scotland Now?’ That was a really excellent description of the state of the hills and their general mismanagement by the huntin, fishin, shootin set which went on to be published in an updated edition (that included the findings of the original Langholm study) in 2000. A compelling book that you know if everyone in the country read it would change the direction of rural policy. Now he’s far more likely to be writing crap features in the Telegraph about sea eagles eating more lamb than fish. What happened Auslan?

  5. At least these sacrificial victims will add to the data on persecution when they are killed.
    If this was a reintroduction it would not get a licence as the reasons for disappearance have not been removed i.e. persecution.
    What possible justification is there for this when the population is way under carrying capacity on the grouse moors ?
    A waste of eagles but their deaths will not be in vain.
    Reintroduction into Wales would stand a much better chance of success as persecution is much less than in the grouse shooting heyday and a small population would be possible even with the meagre prey present on Welsh mountains.
    Not something that should be attempted however until the Scottish population is safe from persecution.

    Keep up the pressure !

    1. Alot of windfarms and forestry too which doesn’t help – however no doubt that persecution is the biggest threat

  6. To be fair to Des Thompson you suspect he is playing a bit of a game with his quote. He knows full well the risks and he is throwing down a challenge to landowners. Cooperate and ensure that the birds are left alone (which would be a great outcome). Carry on as you are and the death of these birds, released in a blaze of publicity, will do considerable damage to intensive shooting. Decent timing too given the current review of licensing for grouse moors.

  7. I’d like to think this was part of a conservation driven long term conservation strategy from Des and SNH but I believe its been driven harder by the landowners, (Buccleuch?) and that worries me. The project seems to me to have two possible outcomes neither of which is attractive to me; several of these birds and following years’ birds will sadly perish, or they won’t perish and the politicians who don’t really want to do anything radical about raptor persecution (and wildlife depletion and environmental degradation) in Scotland will be able to find the excuse to do absolutely nothing. Either way ‘we’ and Scotland’s wildlife loses, again.

    Perhaps ‘we’ should be enquiring about the assessment of the project against IUCN guidelines?

    1. It will be interesting to see what effect, if any, these introduced birds have on the local hen harrier population. That might provide an answer as to why Buccleuch etc are so keen on the project.

  8. These birds will have to run the gauntlet in the a Scottish Borders.

    Des Thompson will have to eat his words as birds disappear or deny the tag data as has been done by SNH up till now.

    A worthy project in theory but will highlight what happens when politics takes over from science and conservation.

  9. I struggle to see the difference between this project and the Hen Harrier reintroduction project in the south of England (other than the motivation of its advocates).

    I also wonder why the birds haven’t reintroduced themselves if there’s enough suitable habitat and food.

  10. I read the report commissioned for this project, as I’m sure you have at RPUK.

    Two points stood out for me:

    One, the comment made about each of the proposed reintroduction sites included references to concerns over potential persecution issues.

    Second, in the history of golden eagles in Southern Scotland, it was noted the population started to naturally recolonise and breed there during and just after the Second World War. Coincidence that able bodied men were otherwise occupied, and that Britain had bigger concerns than shooting game? I think not…

    This was the SNH commissioned report, and to me, clearly indicates that if the reason for the eagles absence is tackled adequately, a reintroduction would not be necessary. How was this conclusion missed by better minds than mine?

    1. I guess the answer to your question is that both projects are based on the belief that persecution will continue otherwise they wouldn’t be necessary. I find it immoral in so many ways and this acceptance of crime is one of them. They even have a fancy name for it, conflict resolution. The only sane thing about it is as RPUK says, roaming juveniles will get killed anyway. They are just moving the source, the sinks remain the same.
      A ban is the only solution.

  11. I posted recently about the comments recently on BBC Out of Doors podcast, where they noticed a change in emphasis from the new SNH CEO in terms of a strategy foreconomic growth rather than conservation.

    1. He was interviewed on BBC Scotland’s ‘Landmark’ (I think) recently, and made a somewhat similar comment. This ties in with the Scottish Government’s priority, and their hypocritical approach in supporting biodiversity and our natural heritage with fine words, meanwhile squeezing local authorities and other bodies of sufficient financial resources to make a real difference. ‘Reintroducing’ three Golden Eagles for the Duke of Buccleuch, (knowing their likely fate when they disperse), is either a cheap way of achieving publicity for SNH, or alternatively construed as sending the eagles to near certain death, just to prove a point. Are the Scottish Government and SNH really that scared of the landed gentry, and the millionaires who like to shoot grouse on their land? Time for an end to this Victorian nonsense.

  12. Excellent report by RPS/UK. What a blaten misinterpretation of the true situation by Professor Thompson.

    What was omitted was very telling. The press release went on to say “Their range could take them from the hills of southern Scotland to the Lake District or even as far as Wales”. (The latter something of a fantasy considering they have issues crossing Scotland’s central belt!).
    But no mention of the very real likely hood of them ranging to the Pennines, with all their intensively managed grouse moors! A much more attractive prospect for a golden eagle than the heavily overgrazed LakeDistrict!

  13. Just SNH trying to regain some credibility post Raven Cull fiasco. Hugely cynical and outrageously cruel, in light of the known persecution in the region…..those poor birds cant last long, but nonetheless praying they do. !

  14. By way of a brief response, and declaring my position as the RSPB Scotland representative on the Board of the South of Scotland Golden Eagle project.

    I would gently remind contributors to this blog that efforts to improve the conservation prospects of raptors in Scotland have a number of strands. I fully agree that tackling raptor persecution is the main strand for protecting our native raptor species and helping them to recover their populations. However, there are also other legitimate strands of conservation effort, including reintroduction/reinforcement to bring back lost raptor species or to recover the range of some species; as well as efforts to “win hearts and minds” amongst some in the land management community that raptor persecution needs to stop, and that there are better ways to work in the future in collaboration with conservation agencies, like SNH, and conservation eNGOs like RSPB Scotland.

    The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project has been professionally developed using the full range of scientific and land management expertise. It is explicitly a broad partnership involving SNH, FCS, Scottish Land and Estates, Buccleuch Estates and RSPB Scotland. The SRSG are also providing an invaluable contribution, and have given their support. Recent national surveys of golden eagles in the South of Scotland have shown a small and stable population, in contrast to most other parts of Scotland where golden eagles are gradually increasing their populations. Our thorough background research for this project has shown that there is enough habitat and prey to support possibly as many as 16 breeding pairs of golden eagles in the south of Scotland (rather than 3-4 breeding pairs now), and we are attempting to address this issue through population reinforcement. As a project supported by HLF, the project also includes a substantial public outreach and awareness campaign to promote golden eagle conservation the area and to tackle the threats that they face, including illegal persecution. Previous reintroduction projects for other species, including my own specialism of red kite, have also had this facet, and I would argue these projects have delivered tangible benefits not only for the reintroduced species, but also more widely for raptor conservation. I would therefore encourage you to get behind the South of Scotland Golden Eagle project and support it.

    With regards SNH, we do not always agree with everything they do in relation to raptor conservation, however please do not disregard their previous contributions to promoting the recovery of Scotland’s raptor populations either. SNH have supported the reintroduction of both white-tailed eagles and red kites; they fund the work of the Scottish Raptor Study Groups and RSPB Scotland; they have helped develop the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme; they have promoted the development of both the Hen Harrier and Golden Eagle Conservation Frameworks; and have supported the work of RSPB Investigations team (to name a few). I do not think personal criticism of individuals, such as Des Thompson is helpful either. I have known Des personally for many years, and whilst he is probably most passionate about breeding wading birds, including his beloved greenshanks, he is certainly not “willfully blind” to the issues of raptor persecution and the impacts that these crimes have on raptor populations in Scotland.


    1. Thanks for such a considered reply, Duncan.

      Your point about personal criticism of Des Thompson being unhelpful is accepted. The criticism was written in the heat of the moment and has now been removed. I will also write to Des to apologise.

      However, whilst I agree with much of what you’ve written about this project, especially the high level of scientific research that has been undertaken to ensure adequate resources are available for these eagles, that wasn’t the main point being made in the blog.

      I fundamentally disagree with you that Des isn’t being wilfully blind. His statement that illegal persecution “isn’t an issue” for golden eagles in south Scotland, despite all the evidence to the contrary, is blatant wilful blindness. That the statement came from Des is even more jaw-dropping, given his previous experience and involvement with the SNH-commissioned reports and subsequent peer-reviewed papers on golden eagle persecution in Scotland.

      How can Des/SNH be “reassured” that persecution isn’t an issue in this region, given the current list of recorded crimes? That’s not a rhetorical question and I’ll be asking Des to explain. He’s surely not basing that “reassurance” on the word of a few landowners telling him they want to see golden eagles? We all know there are some great landowners in south Scotland who already do host golden eagles and are proud to do so. It’s not them we should be concerned about – it’s the others who continue to exhibit an almost zero tolerance policy towards raptors in this region that are the concern.

      I suspect most readers of this blog (with perhaps a few exceptions) will want this project to succeed. We all want to see golden eagles reach their full capacity, of course, and the associated education/outreach work is very welcome indeed. But that doesn’t mean that questions shouldn’t be asked about this project and it certainly doesn’t mean that one of the project partners can appear on television denying that illegal persecution is an issue, when it clearly is.

      1. Duncan made good points, but there’s no excuse for keeping on the good side of landowners by MISREPRESENTING the situation to the public. Des Thompson is a public servant not a PR employee of Scottish Land and Estates. It’s as simple as that.

    2. ‘the project also includes a substantial public outreach and awareness campaign to tackle the threats that they face, including illegal persecution.’
      Sorry if i am entirely unconvinced.

      Introducing Red Kites in high persecution hot spots is to me immoral and against IUCN guidelines but at least it could be defended on the grounds that they have so many chicks. To send Golden Eagle juveniles to be slaughtered is not the same thing at all. The only mad justification for that is that, as RPUK mention, roaming juveniles are just as likely to be killed where-ever they roam. Mad in the sense that we have normalized this kind of criminal behaviour and even work schemes like this around it.
      As for the SNH, it is obvious that they do some good work and there must still be some great people there but i am yet to be convinced that Cantlay is not a complete idiot.
      I also feel that Duncan and Des Thompson have failed to address any of the main issues that RPUK have highlighted.

      The little i do know about Golden Eagles makes me think that if two juveniles can get through the first 5 years or so and pair up on in an area that doesn’t kill them they will have a good chance of succeeding because Golden eagle territories are quite small. That is a lot of buts and then what happens to their chicks when they start roaming? The same running the gauntlet of the guns starts all over again.

      Licence first and then introduce. This way round is just mad.

    3. Only time will tell if what I assume is the outcome talks of between SNH and landowners representatives to provide SNH with such a positive view regarding persecution in Southern Scotland are reflected in the outcome for the young birds. As these birds will likely cover a large area before breeding, they will be flying over some of the most dangerous areas of the u.k. for raptors. It is possible that the young eagles might not have survived to fledge in the donor nests, so their fate may well be better in Southern Scotland, even if some do die due to persecution. If they do, it will reflect badly on the already poor reputation of SNH, and that may not be a bad thing either in bringing them to heel. It is unfortunate, but each new death of a satellite tagged bird brings closer the day when estates do finally live up to the PR nonsense they and their backers in the media come up with after each tragedy. I personally wish the birds well but have little faith that they will all survive persecution, but that is likely the view of even those committed to the project.

      1. The Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland (NCCS) amalgamated with the Countryside Commission for Scotland (CCS) in 1991, forming Scottish Natural Heritage. This led to some dilution of the former function of NCCS, and although budgets were more or less conserved for a while, subsequent austerity measures started a process of decline. Around the same time government priorities had changed significantly, and over the past two decades those who knew the dedication of staff in the earlier days have witnessed a gradual drift away from nature conservation, with a steady increase in bureaucracy. The Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011, or WANE Act, introduced legislation affecting the way land and the environment is managed. Following this a further merger took place, of the Deer Commission into SNH, leading to a culture of (principally deer) culling entering the agenda of SNH. I was one of very few professional ecologists who feared for the future of this dangerous melting pot introduced by the WANE Act, in itself a virtual gamekeeper’s charter. It was welcomed by the RSPB. We now have a concordat between SNH and Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS), muddying the conservation waters even further. Where others look forward to this ‘joined up’ working, I fear for the future. What next, the GWCT and BACS joining in to form a real unholy alliance? Fortunately they are not government departments (yet).

    4. Duncan, our wildlife is too important to be tip toeing around someone who is engaging with such wilful ignorance. It is a fact that illegal persecution of golden eagles is an issue in Southern Scotland, so to otherwise is just an insult to both the people of Scotland and the raptors being illegally slaughtered.

  15. Who could possibly believe that the Sc. Gov. are fully supportive of stopping wildlife persecution.

    From –
    Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, said:“The Scottish Government is committed to maximising tourism growth and to supporting field sports.

    [Committed to supporting field sports ???] No doubt, if questioned, the Sc. Gov. would trot out some nonsense in an attempt to justify the status quo.

    It is clear that in many places raptors and other natural predators are not to be tolerated. How is it therefore possible to be committed to supporting field sports when the management of such sports is the very reason that there is illegal trapping, shooting and poisoning.

    The gov. are clearly failing to bring the criminals to book. If they are trying (which I do not believe) then they are incompetent. If they are not trying then xxxx xxx xxxxxxx. (Fill in the blanks as you see fit).

    1. The government report in 2016 showed a 20% decline in field sports in America. Is the Scottish Government seeing this same decline in Scotland and that’s why Fergus Ewing is worried. ‘Wildlife Tourism’ on the other hand is booming especially where the wildlife is not shot!

      1. Sorry for the plug – but this petition could go a long way to showing that driven grouse shooting is killing rather than creating rural jobs – and the current ‘poor’ grouse shooting season where the businesses that are there have lost a lot of income shows that a business model built upon the whims of a tiny minority and whether or nor grouse chicks do well isn’t a rational one and shouldn’t be getting propped up by public subsidy and sycophantic political support – please sign, share, promote. And if anybody gets into a discussion on social media with a grouse shooter who says that losing DGS will kill jobs and communities tell them they can sign this petition if they want to prove that officially, see what happens! –

  16. I fear the introduced birds may not survive long.

    Is there some justification for their introduction on the basis that the few resident pairs may lack genetic dirersity, or do GEs naturally roam far and then settle?

    1. I find it inconceivable that out of these three birds two will survive and breed in the lowlands. They would have to introduce ‘shed loads’ to compensate for the losses by persecution, natural mortality and the odds that they settle not only in the lowlands but in an area that doesn’t kill them.
      The only explanation i can see is that this is just a massive PR exercise but i doubt that SNH and the RSPB are that devious. If it were a PR exercise perhaps it is just as good as satellite tagging Golden Eagles in their natal territory but let’s be honest and scientific about the persecution and stop the spin.

      1. New individuals might pair with offspring from the established pairs: that was my thought. If they last that long.

  17. “Persecution is not a problem in South Scotland ”

    This simply is not true. This whole project started from the the poisoning of a female golden eagle near Peebles.

    Then there was a second shot eagle near Leadhills

    Then there was Fred.

    3 dead eagles that we can prove. This is surely the tip of the ice berg.

    It is wrong for Drs Thompson/SNH or anyone else to deny that persecution does not exist or is not a major problem in South Scotland the facts speak for themselves.

    Unfortunately SNH are paying the price for their failings and poor decisions that have effected public opinion.

    1. So the MA is at it again. They rightly refer to the ‘false environment’, mentioned by Sue Hayman, as having existed for thousands of years, but make no mention of the fact that this habitat has only been relatively recently appropriated by the DGS lobby, with the ensuing mass destruction of various native wildlife species.

      They also refer to the voluntary agreement with Natural England whereby moorland managers have signed up to develop long-term management plans – with blanket bog management at its heart. There’s not a single reference to burning, or that the objective was to get the Government off the hook in relation to its EU responsibilities to prevent the destruction of blanket bog by burning.

      They state that ‘The reasons for past degradation are numerous …..’ a neat way of avoiding any mention of the massive role which management for DGS played in this destruction.

      Clever stuff!

  18. I believe the original post about the South of Scotland Golden Eagle release scheme was too personal and emotional and unfortunately set the tone for many of the comments that ensued. The gist of some of the comments, referencing wider ‘Rural Conflicts’, could appear to be unfairly dragging this embryonic project into a much wider orbit & collision course.
    As general manager of the Golden Eagle Trust (GET) wildlife charity, in the Republic of Ireland, I can understand the very real anxiety over releasing birds that will face the risk of persecution during dispersal. But the IUCN Reintroduction Guidelines do not say that you can only reintroduce or translocate donor stock in to release areas with zero persecution.
    To be blunt, in an Irish context, the ethics of releasing Norwegian White-tailed Sea Eagle donor stock (where there is almost no persecution) was more difficult to defend than the release of Scottish Golden Eagles and Welsh Red Kite donor stock, where there were attested levels of regionalised persecution. Sadly, I do not think that any Golden Eagle that fledged or was released in Scotland, in 2018, will be totally immune from persecution. It will largely depend on how far they disperse and in which direction they wander over the coming years, before they begin to settle.
    I have worked in ‘Non-Government’ wildlife conservation for over 25 years; but I probably learnt most about the ‘politics of conservation’ in the short six months I worked as a National Parks and Wildlife Service Conservation Ranger. In that statutory post, I was ultimately responsible to the direction of the then Minister, who reflected the direction of the elected Government. Like the UK and Scotland, the Irish populace have an opportunity, periodically, to elect representatives that reflect their views. It seems rather simplistic, but necessary, to state that there will always be a range of views as to how best rural areas are managed and that farmers and the shooting fraternity are legitimate stakeholders.
    As a passionate advocate of the goal of restoring Golden Eagles to as much of their former range across Britain and Ireland as possible (first espoused by the late Dr Jeff Watson in his 1997 Golden Eagle Poyser monograph); I ask myself how best to achieve this?
    Despite 30 years of steadfast initiatives, species protection, scientific surveys and analysis, high profile PR and now extremely beneficial social media activity; have we achieved our goals? I say No, we have not. So, will solely repeating these same practices and initiatives achieve our goals quickly? I remain to be convinced.
    I believe this project, with the support of all the key Scottish Golden Eagle activists that I have been dealing with over the last 18 years, deserves the support of all Golden Eagle enthusiasts.
    To expect that SNH can dictate Scottish Government policy is rather naïve. The issue of the efficacy and cultural tradition of hunting (not Sports Shooting) and several wider issues cannot suddenly be dumped at the door of this collaborative project. For the record, can I state that I have great respect for this project’s two full time staff on the ground, (namely Cat and John), due to their commitment and passion.
    Wildlife in Britain and Ireland is facing an increasing array of influential constraints. Should we meekly accept that the attitude of disinterested parties shape and dictate our actions and outlook, in the vain hope that someday they will join our ‘enlightened tent’? I suggest no.
    To suggest that the three released Golden Eagles face a greater risk of persecution in their release environment, compared to fledging in their natal environment, is mere speculation. Safe supplementary food dumps and full-time staff liaison with estates as a result of satellite tracking will be of some benefit.
    The GET supports the ethos of the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project. Unfortunately, all too often we have encountered numerous severe criticisms whenever an Irish Kite or Eagle is illegally persecuted. Ireland is not a persecution free zone. Maybe we should have waited a 100-years before we achieved a perfect release landscape! But in the South of Scotland context, the pertinent question remains; “What is in the best interests of the Golden Eagle in Scotland – the cumulative interest of hundreds of individuals birds at present and into the future?”.
    An active and vociferous wildlife attitude and focus, is not yet an overwhelming majority view or singular outlook in all parts of Rural or Urban Scotland. To split that wildlife opinion in two, at such a crucial juncture of this challenging project, is an ‘own goal’, in my view.
    This project challenges an engrained public opinion (or sectorial opinion, to be more accurate) that Eagles are ‘naturally confined’ to their traditional haunts in the Scottish Highlands (e.g. A damming London Times Editorial, regarding the proposed White-tailed Eagle Reintroduction into Norfolk, in 2008, springs to mind). Whilst, our broad church may disagree tactically, on how to achieve our shared goals (either through campaigning & political/legislative influence or by pro-active demonstration and grassroots engagement); I do not believe that we should be mis-directing so much energy on ourselves, beyond legitimate scrutiny and debate.
    Attitudes to Eagles and Kites, in Ireland, have altered completely, since the beginning of the Millennium. Yes, donor stock has been illegally persecuted during that process. In time, let the Philosophers answer whether the loss of an individual bird was worth the betterment of these native species as a whole? Likewise, in Scotland, “How best to extend or reoccupy the former Golden Eagle range?”, is a surprisingly complex question. Really energetic campaigning, monitoring, lobbying and legislative change have not been totally effective to date. Surely you need to at least consider if it merits a simultaneous and multi-faceted approach?

    1. “To split that wildlife opinion in two, at such a crucial juncture of this challenging project, is an ‘own goal’, in my view.”

      And to deny the reality that persecution has been a significant factor in their decline in Southern Scotland is what exactly, if not a massive own goal? If the project is built on such a fundamental falsehood, how can people have confidence in its motivations and objectives?

    2. Lorcan, there are many people in Scotland who support the aims of the project, are well aware of the dedication of all the SNH people actively involved in this and other projects. For some reason, the senior personnel at SNH do not seem to be prepared to make an honest assessment of this project and others, as you have done here. We are having to get used to statements which do not reflect the truth as we see it. It is becoming clear that the senior people at SNH have been taking the same falsespeak classes as those attended by senior people at NE. Whilst I and many others are prepared to give the project a chance, we recognise that It may well completely fail, and it is not unreasonable to point this out. It is also not unreasonable to say it should it not proceed until the dangers to the birds are reduced. Certainly more effort needs putting into removing the persecution. I personally wish the project well, but have no faith in SNH senior personnel to assist in persecution reduction.

  19. I think this project is misguided and will only serve as a smokescreen for the inability of golden eagles to establish naturally into their former haunts due to ongoing persecution.

  20. Lorcan, I support the South Scottish translocation.

    Lorcan, I first heard Des Thompson’s statement on the tv, not on this blog. I was aghast.

    If one of the eagles is found dead and after analysis it was discovered to have been poisoned, shot and then battered on the head by a blunt instrument, would SNH’s statement say they had ruled out foul play?


  21. Having been down south and away from computers in august I missed this cafuffle….1. Des Thompson is obviously well aware that persecution remains a serious threat to this project. He said what he said as a sop to the landowning/shooting lobby. That was wrong and undermines the fight against persecution of all protected species in South Scotland. 2. This entire project comes at the worst possible time in the fight against bop persecution [and incidentally the fight to get our countryside back into something resembling a healthy conservation status] Why?..because by putting the onus on the shooting estate owners and managers to look after the eagles [which we are all legally, if not morally, meant to be doing anyway!] you are handing them the perfect weapon with which to fight off the present attacks on such as driven grouse shooting – “look at us, we’re good conservationists, weve got a golden eagle nesting on our land”….It will of course be relatively easy, barring “accidents” for them to limit the number of eagles they will “tolerate”…………..This whole “game” [sic] since the first bird protection legislation came in has been about who says what lives or dies in our countryside – the people of Scotland through their parliamentary representatives and therefore their enacted laws…or, a small group of powerful landed interests with their traditional destructive hobbies. Guess who’s going to win this particular war?..Theyve just been handed the best possible reason to maintain the present appalling status quo [apart from “allowing” a few eagles to breed]. A massive own goal for bird conservation. In my lifetime Ive never seen a government willing to seriously stand up to the landowners over their obvious blatant criminal practices around game shooting – no matter how many killed birds are retrieved..and now theyve got the perfect excuse to do nothing.

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