Satellite tagging golden eagles in Scotland: fact vs fiction

In September 2019 the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) lodged a petition at the Scottish Parliament calling for the ‘independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to raptors’.

You can read the petition here: SGA petition PE01750 Independent monitoring raptor satellite tags

It’s the latest in a long line of efforts to undermine and discredit the use of satellite tags, simply because the unintended consequences of tagging raptors like golden eagles, hen harriers, white-tailed eagles and red kites has exposed the previously hidden extent of illegal raptor persecution on many grouse moors and has led the Scottish Government to scrutinise grouse moor management practices by commissioning a review.

[The satellite tag fitted to this golden eagle led researchers to a grouse moor in the Angus Glens where the bird was found to have been illegally poisoned. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

Raptor persecution crimes attract huge media attention because it’s hard to believe that people are still poisoning golden eagles in Scotland in the 21st century. As a result of this ongoing publicity, the game-shooting industry has spent considerable time and effort trying to undermine the satellite-tagging of raptors, either by launching disgusting personal & abusive attacks targeted against named individuals involved in the projects, or by blaming disappearances on imaginary windfarms, faulty sat tags fitted to turtles in India & ‘bird activists‘ trying to smear gamekeepers, or by claiming that those involved have perverted the course of justice by fabricating evidence, or by claiming that raptor satellite-tagging should be banned because it’s ‘cruel’ and the tag data serve no purpose other than to try and entrap gamekeepers. There have also been two laughable attempts to discredit the authoritative golden eagle satellite tag review (here and here), thankfully dismissed by the Scottish Government. The industry knows how incriminating these sat tag data are and so is trying to do everything in its power to corrode public and political confidence in (a) the tag data and (b) the justification for fitting sat tags to raptors, hence this latest petition from the SGA.

[Young satellite-tagged golden eagles on a nest ledge in Scotland. Photo by Dan Kitwood]

The SGA’s petition is badly written, incoherent and completely misinformed. We actually dealt with a lot of the issues it raises in previous blogs (here, here and here) but as the SGA has chosen to ignore the evidence we welcome the opportunity to present the facts to the Scottish Parliament, should they decide to examine the petition further.

The petition was heard by the Petitions Committee on 10th October and it was agreed to pass it on to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee for consideration. You can read the transcript of the Petitions Committee’s deliberations here: Petitions_committee_10_Oct_SGA_sat_tags

If the ECCLR Committee does decide to progress the petition, we look forward to providing the evidence that dismantles the SGA’s fictional claims. As a bare minimum, evidence will be provided on the following:

Golden eagles in Scotland have been satellite-tagged as part of a long-term collaborative research effort involving multiple organisations (at least seven) who share data to further conservation aims. Some of this research has already been published, some is currently under-going peer-review and some of it is on-going. We’ve blogged about this research before (see here) and we’ll be blogging further about some of the specific projects in the near future. If you want to get an insight in to the science behind the golden eagle satellite tag review, this slide show by the report’s authors is well worth a look.

The scientists have created a formal research group (Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Group, GESTG) as a forum for data exchange, tagging coordination and general cooperation. The GESTG has agreed a central nexus on tag data coordination (there are now, literally, millions of tag records and it’s important they are held centrally to facilitate their use in future analyses).

Members of the GESTG have developed strong, positive relationships with many landowners who are working cooperatively on the ground to facilitate tagging efforts and protection of golden eagles.

Members of the GESTG have participated in the training of police officers across the UK to help them understand and interpret satellite tag data (e.g. this workshop organised by SNH and the National Wildlife Crime Unit was particularly beneficial to both the researchers and the police. A similar workshop was also run in England and again included input from the GESTG).

Members of the GESTG have developed an excellent relationship with the police National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) leading to the routine sharing of satellite tag data and regular detailed discussions on interpretation. This has led to a much-improved understanding for both parties and has helped build trust and confidence in what we consider to be a genuine partnership. In addition, NWCU staff have been provided with daily access to the data from several tagged golden eagles to help them learn about golden eagle ecology and behaviour, both of which are important facets of interpreting eagle tag data.

Oh, and as for those claims that satellite tag data have been withheld from the police (why would anyone want to do that?!), here’s a clear statement in response from Police Supt Nick Lyall (Head of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group):

We’re not the only ones to consider the SGA’s petition wholly inaccurate and misinformed. Last month Ian Thomson (Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland) wrote a damning blog to challenge some of the SGA’s myths (see here).

The bottom line is, contrary to the SGA’s lies, there is already plenty of cooperative partnership working between eagle satellite taggers and landowners and the police. We collaborate and share our data in order to improve conservation benefits for this iconic species across Scotland. What we don’t do is share data with those who would use the information to disturb and/or kill eagles.

We expect to be blogging further on this subject as the petition reaches the ECCLR Committee.

UPDATE 1st July 2022: Scottish Parliament sees sense & closes SGA’s petition seeking ‘Independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to raptors’ (here)

7 thoughts on “Satellite tagging golden eagles in Scotland: fact vs fiction”

  1. It would be great if the SGA could at least change its name to the Northern Gamekeepers Association, major embarrassment being Scottish and having it called the SGA, but suspect people in northern England would complain there then would be a suggestion of involvement with where they live. An organisation that stated publicly that sea eagles could be a threat to small children, but is quite happy with a massive over population of red deer that increases the numbers of fatal road accidents as well as harms farming, forestry and conservation projects. They are a dirty great blot on this country and any decent gamekeepers out there.

    1. We have our own set of blot making imbeciles in England Les they’re called the National Gamekeepers Organisation they are just as big a blot on the landscape as yours in Scotland.
      Many moons ago I used to deal with a moorland keeper who was not a member and I asked why not. His answer was quite illuminating- I don’t want to be associated with, and I quote “them persecuting bastards” Sadly when the shooting changed hands and a certain xxxxx xxxxx became the ” sporting agent” said keeper lost his job. Both the SGA and NGO sing from the same hymn sheet one bought and paid for by their employers the real rogues in our countryside. The NGO used to be part funded by that other splendid organisation the Moorland Association, enough said.

      1. I don’t even know what part of the country you are writing about but i would bet that his surname starts with X [Ed: letter deleted because it’s too easily identifiable and thus would be libellous in the context of what Paul wrote, it isn’t ‘X’!]

  2. The SGA may have had help to get their petition, lodged this September, to be already forwarded to The Environment committee. My petition, PE 1705, which I submitted in May 2018, although mentioned in the meeting notes, has still not yet been considered by the committee. I do hope that this ridiculous (in my opinion) petition is considered at the same time as mine. At least the members will have some serious matters they can consider, although one of the items in my petition (penalty increase so wildlife crime is serious) has already become government policy. Much more still needs to be done to ensure convictions for known offences are more likely in line with my recommendations. It is time for the annual wildlife crime report to be considered, so an ideal opportunity.

    1. Your petition deserves to get full attention and support Alex, it was beautifully researched and written, the SGA’s is complete garbage in comparison.

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