The eagle’s satellite tag found in the river: poetic injustice

Further to last Friday’s shocking news that a missing golden eagle’s satellite tag had been found in a river in Strathbraan, with aerial and harness cut and the tag wrapped in lead sheeting, presumably in an attempt to block the tag’s signal and conceal any evidence of criminal behaviour (see here), there’s an interesting background story to this particular eagle.

Cast your minds back three and half years to this blog (here) written in March 2017.

Here are the, ahem, ‘highlights’:

This photograph has been repeatedly posted on Facebook and other social media platforms as an example of ‘bad practice’ at a raptor tagging event. It shows a group of people at an eagle nest site in Perthshire in 2014. According to Bert Burnett of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, who has posted this image several times, these people, including Duncan Orr-Ewing of RSPB Scotland, are “having a picnic underneath an eagle nest” for several hours and thus by implication are causing unnecessary disturbance at the site and causing the adult birds to desert.

What’s actually happening here is a group of people, including four licensed experts and their invited guests, have climbed to an eagle nest site and while the climbers have gone to retrieve the eaglet from the nest so its satellite tag can be fitted in safety on the ground, Duncan is eating a sandwich. That’s it. It’s a few sandwiches short of a picnic, or is that just Bert?

Another photograph that Bert has circulated was also taken at this site on the same day. It shows Duncan quite rightly checking the fit of the young eagle’s sat tag harness before the bird is put back in its nest.

This photograph elicited all sorts of comments on social media, with suggestions that sat tagging golden eagles is harmful to the birds, that it’s detrimental to their survival and one person even claiming that “they [the raptor fieldworkers] are a far greater threat to birds than any shooting interests“.

He posted another photograph (which we won’t post here for legal reasons) that shows a woman and her son on the nest ledge after the eagle had been returned to its nest. Bert said this about it: “What happens to birds after tagging is very questionable. Allowing your families and friends to climb up intae the nest just for photo shoots is totally out of order and shows no concern for the birds future welfare“. On a later post he also claimed the woman had been “hoisted in to the nest“. What the photo actually shows is a Schedule 1 licence holder and her son who have just climbed to the nest to return the eagle after tagging. It’s probably hard for Bert to comprehend that a woman might actually be a Schedule 1 licence holder and that she’d be capable of climbing to the nest without being “hoisted in” (surely her breasts would get in the way?) but when your mindset is firmly stuck in the 18th century then it’s probably no surprise at all.

As for Bert’s comment, “What happens to birds after tagging is very questionable“, well, it’s not questionable in this case. This eagle was satellite tagged in Perthshire in 2014. The bird fledged successfully and its movements were tracked until 2016 when its tag signal suddenly stopped transmitting and the eagle ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Perthshire. We’d respectfully suggest that this eagle’s disappearance (probable death) was not caused by Duncan eating a sandwich at its natal site two years earlier nor by it being put back in to the nest by a woman, but was more than likely caused by illegal poisoning, illegal trapping or illegal shooting on or near a grouse moor in the Highlands.


Little did we or Bert Burnett, then a Director of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, imagine that this eagle would hit the headlines three and a half years later when its tag was found cut and wrapped in lead sheeting having been dumped in the river in one of Scotland’s most notorious raptor-killing hotspots – the grouse moors of Strathbraan, where eight satellite-tagged eagles have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in recent years.

This background information clearly exposes the desperate lies and false accusations used by some in the grouse shooting industry to deflect attention from the bleedin’ obvious and instead used to undermine the integrity and professionalism of those conservationists working hard to protect this species in the face of relentless persecution.

These fabrications were made in the build up to the publication of the Government-commissioned Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review, which was published in May 2017. It’s findings were damning.

Unbelievably, the lies from the grouse shooting industry continue. Over the last few days there have been a number of so-called ‘explanations’ from within the grouse shooting industry for what might have happened to this eagle and how it’s satellite tag ended up in the river wrapped in lead sheeting. They seek to have the public believe that this is ‘a set up’ – that conservationists (and some of them named, libellously, as perverting the course of justice) found the dead eagle several years ago after it died of natural causes and they apparently decided to ‘plant’ the tag in the river to make it look suspicious.

Fortunately, the public, the police and Government Ministers are not fooled.

All eyes on the Scottish Government’s imminent response to the Werritty review on grouse moor licensing.

Missing eagle’s satellite tag found cut & wrapped in lead, dumped in river at Strathbraan

Well, well, well.

Press release from RSPB Scotland (25th September 2020)

Shocking discovery reveals lengths raptor killers will go to to conceal crimes

Recovered satellite tag provides answers to what happens when birds of prey ‘disappear’ on Scotland’s grouse moors

A satellite tag removed from a ‘disappeared’ golden eagle has been recovered from a Highland river.

The discovery sheds new light on the activities that criminals will go to in a bid to cover up the illegal killing of protected birds of prey.

[The eagle satellite tag #129014, wrapped in lead casing, found at the side of the River Braan. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

In 2016 the bird’s tag stopped transmitting suddenly on a grouse moor in Perthshire and despite searches by Police and RSPB Scotland, it was never traced.

Now the tag has been found – wrapped in heavy lead sheeting and disposed of at a popular beauty spot just a few miles from the last known location of the bird.

The recovered tag is further evidence in just how far criminals who routinely kill birds of prey are going to in a bid to cover their tracks and to present driven grouse shooting as a clean industry.

The object was spotted by a walker and his son on the banks of the River Braan near Dunkeld in Perthshire on 21st May.

On closer examination, they found the tag wrapped in a piece of lead sheeting. The tag bore a label bearing contact details and a serial number, subsequently allowing the police and RSPB to jointly attend recover and identify the object.

Police Scotland have since held the tag for several months to conduct forensic analysis, which is ongoing.

After fledging from its nest, this young eagle had remained on its parents’ territory until November 2014. Over the following 18 months, it explored Scotland’s uplands before it moved into Strathbraan. Within a few days of arriving here, on 1st May 2016 his tag, that had been functioning exactly as would have expected, suddenly and inexplicably stopped. It was suspected that the bird had been killed, and the tag destroyed.

[The young golden eagle fitted with the satellite tag #129014 in 2014. Photo Scottish Raptor Study Group]

As with all such cases, this suspicious disappearance was reported to the police. A search of the land around the bird’s last known location on a remote hill took place and the disappearance was discussed with local land managers. No evidence of what had happened to the bird was uncovered.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said: “As is the case in virtually every raptor persecution investigation, nobody seemed to know anything and, as is the case with every suspicious satellite tagged raptor disappearance on a grouse moor, spurious alternative theories as to what may have happened to the bird and tag were suggested. However, now we know the truth.

This young eagle was killed illegally. The tag was clearly removed from the bird, its antenna was cut off, and the tag was then wrapped in a piece of lead sheeting, presumably because the perpetrator thought this would stop it transmitting. The package was then cast into the river, never to be seen again. Or so they thought.

This discovery gives unequivocal proof not only of what is happening to these birds, but also the lengths to which the criminals involved in the killing of our raptors will go to dispose of evidence and evade justice. It is not unreasonable to conclude that the vast majority of other birds of prey and their tags that have disappeared on Scotland’s grouse moors have suffered similar fates.”

Satellite-tags are used by biological researchers throughout the world to track the movements of animals and birds, from vultures to elephants, and have a proven high reliability. In the UK, their use on birds is strictly regulated by the British Trust for Ornithology and the Government’s statutory nature conservation agencies, with individual projects and taggers requiring demonstrable training and experience and only then under specific licences.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, a member of the Central Scotland Raptor Study Group and RSPB Scotland’s Head of Species and Land Management, said: “The number of satellite tags fitted to raptors, functioning exactly as expected, only to have stopped suddenly on a grouse moor, is an issue of increasing public concern, as evidenced by the Scottish Government commissioning of a review of the fates of satellite-tagged golden eagles, published three years ago.”

It has long been suspected that tags are routinely destroyed by wildlife criminals in a deliberate attempt to conceal evidence. There is no other reasonable explanation as to why this tag has ended up in the river where it was found, wrapped in metal, and with the harness and antenna cut. For me this incident is doubly distressing as it is a bird that I tagged with a colleague in 2014, and it originates from a nest site in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park where there has been a long history of local community protection from egg collectors.

More disappearances of tagged birds this year, as well as shooting and poisoning cases, destroy any pretence that the grouse shooting industry is able to self-regulate, even during a national pandemic. It is abundantly clear that the only way to stop this culturally ingrained and organised criminality against Scotland’s protected raptors is through robust, and immediate, regulation. We call upon the Scottish Government to prioritise this as their response to the Werritty Review.


RSPB Scotland has also produced a video:

This tag is not one of the ones that RPUK and Chris Packham have fitted as part of our golden eagle tagging project, but the area where this eagle ‘disappeared’ and where the tag was subsequently found in the river is an area where three of our satellite tagged golden eagles have ‘disappeared’ (Adam, Charlie and Tom), probably suffering the same fate as this one. It’s actually an area where at least eight satellite-tagged eagles have ‘vanished’ in recent years, and was identified as a raptor persecution hotspot by the 2017 golden eagle satellite tag review. Strathbraan is circled in orange below:

We’ll be saying a lot more about this later today.

The Scottish Government has been dragging its feet on raptor persecution for years and years and years. We are expecting a response to the Werritty Review (on grouse moor reform) ‘this autumn’ and in light of this evidence, the latest in a long long line of evidence, we expect a meaningful response. If you’d like the First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon) and her Environment Cabinet Secretary (Roseanna Cunningham) to know how much you expect from them, please send POLITE but strongly-worded emails to:


UPDATE 25th September 2020 10.30hrs: RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations Ian Thomson has written a blog about this incident and he puts the discovery of this tag in to a wider context – read here.

UPDATE 30th September 2020: The eagle’s satellite tag found in the river: poetic injustice (here)

Channel 4 bats away shooting industry hysteria

On Monday evening Channel 4 News included an explosive piece about grouse shooting in the North York Moors National Park and its association with the illegal killing of birds of prey.

Fronted by veteran war correspondent Alex Thomson, it was a follow-up to an item that was broadcast back in May where Alex had again focused on the illegal killing of birds of prey on grouse moors in the North York Moors National Park as well as in the Nidderdale AONB (see here).

Monday’s piece was car-crash viewing if you were a member or supporter of the grouse shooting industry, in what was an extraordinary display of arrogance, denial and entitlement from a number of individuals involved with a grouse shoot. All those previous media campaigns, carefully-crafted to showcase this industry to the general public in the best possible light, shot down in tatters during a prime time viewing slot before our very eyes. If you missed it, this six minute film is well worth your time.

Predictably, since the programme aired some members of the shooting industry (which, remember, professes a ‘zero tolerance‘ for raptor persecution) have been in an absolute rage on social media, angrily shouting about how unfair it all was, how dare a high profile journalist question anybody involved in this noble ‘sport’ for their views on illegal raptor persecution, spitting blood that there wasn’t an alternative opinion given (conveniently forgetting that the Moorland Association was given the opportunity to comment, but didn’t).

They were also probably furious that several members of the local community were filmed, dispelling quite a few myths and debunking the propaganda often painted of a moorland community in harmony – a rural idyll where local residents are deliriously enthralled by the activities of the local grouse moor managers and thankful for the boost that grouse shooting brings to the local economy, without which the local community would apparently collapse. Nah, these Goathland residents weren’t having any of it. Kudos to them for standing their ground.

Don’t be surprised to see the launch of a campaign /petition calling for Alex Thomson’s dismissal from Channel 4  –  this thuggish industry has a well-deserved reputation for trying to shoot the messenger, usually by generating a nasty little smear campaign to undermine the integrity of those who dare to speak out against the industry’s criminality and environmental destruction.

Meanwhile, several individuals have already been making complaints about the programme directly to Channel 4. Channel 4 is having none of it. Here’s the standard response that has been sent back:

Brilliant! If you’d like to send Channel 4 a message of support for (a) broadcasting the footage during its main evening news schedule and (b) having the balls to stand up to the resulting howling hysteria of the grouse shooting industry, you can use this form (here) to show your support and appreciation.

Ban the shooting of badgers: new petition from Wild Justice

Wild Justice has just launched a new petition calling for a ban on the shooting of badgers.

[Photo by Chris Packham]

Wild Justice is taking a legal challenge against what it believes is the inhumane shooting of badgers that has been licensed as part of DEFRA’s grotesque badger cull. Permission for judicial review was recently refused but Wild Justice is appealing that decision and has been allocated a court date in October.

This petition, if widely supported, will add additional pressure on the Westminster Government to rethink its approach to tackling bovine tuberculosis.
The petition can be viewed and signed HERE
At 10,00 signatures the Government has to respond with a statement. At 100,000 signatures the issue will be considered for a debate in Westminster Hall.
The petition has only been live for about an hour and already it’s attracting a lot of support.
If you can help it on its way, please SIGN IT and SHARE IT.
Thank you

Langholm Moor Community Buyout secures more funding

Press release from the Langholm Initiative (24th September 2020)

£300,000 game-changer for southern Scotland’s biggest community buyout as deadline looms

A “game-changing” £300,000 has boosted a small community’s attempt to secure southern Scotland’s biggest community land buyout – bringing its funding total to £3.1 million – as a 31 October deadline looms.

The Langholm Moor Community Buyout – led by the award-winning Langholm Initiative charity – aims to buy 10,500 acres of moorland, jointly valued at £6.4 million, from Buccleuch Estates to create the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve.

The charity and Buccleuch Estates also have an agreement for a smaller option, with the community purchasing around 5,200 acres of land, including six properties, jointly valued at £4.2 million. Discussions are ongoing. 

[Langholm Moor. Photo by Tom Hutton]

With the community facing a race against time to raise the money for either deal, the Garfield Weston Foundation – a family-founded grant-making Trust that supports charities across the UK – has pledged £300,000 towards the buyout.

This generous support from the Garfield Weston Foundation could well be a game-changer for the Langholm Moor Community Buyout. All the signs are that momentum is now building towards a successful outcome,” said Margaret Pool, Chair of the Langholm Initiative.

Just months ago we had a daunting mountain to climb, but the summit is now in sight. It’s still going to be hard work to get there, and the clock’s ticking. We’re asking people to help achieve something special by supporting our crowdfunder, and for major funders to get in touch.”

The purchase – whether for 10,500 or 5,200 acres – would be South Scotland’s biggest community buyout in land value and area so far, and would lead to the creation of a vast nature reserve. Peatlands and ancient woods would be restored, native woodlands established, and a haven provided for the area’s remarkable wildlife – including hen harriers, the UK’s most persecuted bird of prey.

Philippa Charles, Director of the Garfield Weston Foundation, said: “Our Trustees are delighted to pledge support as they recognise the important environmental value of this land, and they were also impressed with the ‘never give up’ attitude of the community and those involved in the project. We hope others are inspired to help at this crucial final stage.”

After the Scottish Land Fund awarded the project £1 million in June – hugely welcome but a third of the amount requested, and with the condition the purchase be completed by 31 October – the buyout appeared at serious risk. The community was left with weeks to raise the remaining millions.

Although the Land Fund has now changed its condition from a purchase being fully completed to all necessary funds for a purchase being raised, the Fund’s 31 October deadline remains.

But the buyout has continued to receive wide support due to its vision of tackling climate change, restoring nature, and supporting community regeneration by bringing jobs and visitors to the area.

In August, the Dunblane-based Carman Family Foundation pledged £500,000, and in early September, the South of Scotland Enterprise Agency announced up to £1 million financial support.

The public crowdfunding appeal at has now passed the £130,000 mark, with donations made by some 2,500 people from around the world. Another £80,000 of direct public donations has been made, and the John Muir Trust has donated £100,000.

The buyout is supported by leading charities including the John Muir Trust, Borders Forest Trust, Rewilding Britain, RSPB Scotland, Trees for Life, and The Woodland Trust.

Buccleuch Estates announced its decision to sell some 25,000 acres of its Borders Estate last year. The landowner has not set a hard deadline for the buyout, and is working with the community to achieve a positive outcome.

The Langholm Initiative was formed in 1994, as one of south Scotland’s earliest development trusts. It facilitates projects that make a lasting difference to the local area and local people.

 To find out more and to support the crowdfunding appeal, visit


Large police operation investigating raptor persecution near proposed release site for hen harriers

Press release from Wiltshire Police (23 September 2020)

One arrest made after operation into bird of prey persecution in Wiltshire

A teenager has been arrested today following two warrants executed in East Wiltshire.

Led by the Wiltshire Rural Crime Team but supported by local officers, officers from Hampshire Constabulary, South West Forensics, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the National Wildlife Crime Unit, Natural England and the Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service, warrants were executed at locations in the Pewsey and Beckhampton areas.

A 19-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of raptor persecution under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Firearms were seized as part of ongoing enquiries, and the carcasses of a number of birds of prey, including red kites and buzzards, were located at the location in Beckhampton.

PC Marc Jackson, Wiltshire Police Rural Crime Team, said: “Following an extensive search of both locations, we have recovered the remains of a number of birds of prey, including red kites and buzzards.

The recovery of these remains presented a number of complex challenges and we are grateful for the support from other agencies.

Our enquiries continue into how these birds were killed and disposed of. If anybody has any information that they think could support our investigation, please contact us on 101.”

Inspector Liz Coles, Tactical Lead for Rural Crime in Wiltshire, said: “Today’s warrant shows that we take all aspects of rural crime seriously and we will proactively work with partners to protect wildlife and our rural communities.

“Last week saw the introduction of the new dedicated rural crime officers to the team, and this is a prime example of how they will help us moving forward.

“We continue to develop more intelligence-led policing in relation to prevention, detecting criminal activity and proactive operations“.

Wiltshire Police are part of the national initiative called Operation Owl. The initiative sets out to raise awareness of raptor persecution, encouraging the public to be vigilant for signs of this criminal activity, and to report suspicious activity to the police.


Well now this doesn’t look good for Natural England’s ridiculous project to ‘reintroduce’ hen harriers to southern England, does it? And after all that work they’ve done trying to convince potential donor countries that raptor persecution is no longer an issue in southern England (e.g. see here and here).

[RPUK map showing proximity of Natural England’s ludicrous hen harrier reintroduction site to the area where a large police investigation in to raptor persecution is underway]

UPDATE 7th May 2022: Wiltshire gamekeeper due in court to face multiple raptor persecution charges (here)

UPDATE 12th May 2022: Wiltshire gamekeeper facing multiple charges of raptor persecution is named (here)

UPDATE 20th May 2022: Court case delayed against Wiltshire gamekeeper Archie Watson (here)

UPDATE 2nd June 2022: Gamekeeper Archie Watson convicted of raptor persecution & firearms offences on Wiltshire pheasant shoot (here)

Proposed golden eagle reintroduction in Wales: interesting commentary from last night’s event

Further to yesterday’s blog (see here) about the proposed reintroduction of golden eagles to Wales and the two very different approaches being taken by two ‘competing’ organisations (see here), one of our blog readers attended last night’s public consultation event being hosted by Dr Paul O’Donoghue of Wilder Britain.

Many thanks to that blog reader who has provided us with a set of questions he asked and the short but extraordinary answers he says were provided by Paul O’Donoghue, as follows:

Question: On a scale of 1-10 how confident are you that this will take place next year?

Answer: Nine

Question: Why not follow IUCN guidelines and get birds from the nearest population?

Answer: Golden eagles in Scotland are not breeding enough to take any away, the numbers are in decline. IUCN guidelines say that you shouldn’t impede donor populations.

Question: Who are you working with in Norway? Have you entered in to dialogue with DEFRA for an import and export licence?

Answer: No dialogue with DEFRA yet. Vets lined up ready for disease risk assessment. We have a very good environmental lawyer working with us by the name of Susan Shaw.

Question: When did you last talk to Lorcan O’Toole? [Golden Eagle Trust, Ireland]

Answer: End of last year.

Question: Are you still confident in an 80% survival rate, when Ireland only works on around 30%?

Answer: Ireland’s success rate is a lot higher than 30%, I am confident at 80%, I wouldn’t be surprised if they all survived.

Question: Have you completed a Habitats Regulations Assessment?

Answer: Yes.

Question: What assessment are you conducting in respect of ecological damage to protected species?

Answer: That’s part of the Habitats Regulations Assessment.

Question: Golden eagles are not a Schedule 9 species. What licence do you need?

Answer: Will only need a licence to hold the birds in aviary before release.

Question: Why just release ten birds? Any plans to top up? Is it just a test population?

Answer: We might apply to top up if we feel the need. It’s not a trial though.

Question: Why is Snowdonia an ideal habitat? Even better than Scotland?

Answer: Scotland is less productive and barren. There is much more diverse habitat in Snowdonia, forests, mountains, moorlands, lowlands etc.

Question: You said feasibility studies were complete. Aren’t these consultation supposed to be part of those studies?

Answer: We have completed the ecological studies, these consultations are part of the social/economic study.

Question: Why do RSPB, BTO and North Wales Wildlife Trust appear to be distancing themselves from you?

Answer: That is up to them, we have asked them to be involved. We don’t need them anyway.

Question: Why favour golden eagle over white-tailed eagle?

Answer: White-tailed eagles are in conflict with farmers in Scotland and have much more impact on red listed species. If another organisation suggested white-tailed eagle we would strongly object.

Question: What is your estimated budget for this project?

Answer: That is something we are still working on.

Question: How much have you raised so far?

Answer: I can’t say but it is more than enough.

Question: Who are your main donors?

Answer: Not at liberty to say, they want to remain anonymous.

The answers Dr O’Donoghue is reported to have given about his fundraising activities are quite interesting. If he has already raised ‘more than enough’ funds for the project, presumably his ‘sponsor an eagle’ fundraiser on the Wild Britain website’s home page will be removed without further delay:

Although, if, as is reported, he’s ‘still working on’ what the project’s budget might be, how would he know whether he’d raised ‘more than enough’ funding already? It’s all very bizarre.

Our blog reader reported that ‘about twelve people’ attended last night’s public consultation, which doesn’t sound like very many. We’re told that one member of the audience pointed out the low attendance, possibly due to Covid, and suggested that O’Donoghue should consider putting on an online event so more people could attend. O’Donoghue is reported to have agreed with this suggestion and said he would look in to setting up a Zoom meeting.

We’re told that the audience included a few disgruntled farmers and some members of the public who were unhappy that the event wasn’t bi-lingual, with mutterings of ‘colonialism’. Somebody asked how many landowners had agreed to participate in the proposed reintroduction and the answer was ‘two on board at the moment’ but a conviction that more would soon join in and there’d be no shortage of potential release sites.

One member of the audience apparently called him a ‘crackpot’. O’Donoghue is said to have claimed there’d be no Great Bustards in the UK if it wasn’t for him.

A third public consultation event is due to take place in Caernarfon but the date has not yet been released. Hopefully the online event suggested by a participant at last night’s event will also take place.

Many thanks to the blog reader who provided the above information.

You have to feel for the other organisation that’s interested in restoring both eagle species to Wales. The Cardiff University-based Eagle Reintroduction Project Wales has, for the last three years, quietly undertaken scientifically-rigorous feasibility studies for the potential reintroduction of golden and white-tailed eagles to Wales. They’ve already published some of their findings in a peer-reviewed journal, with more to come, and they’ve been developing widespread partnerships, working towards putting forward a well-evidenced and widely endorsed case for a potential reintroduction if their scientific analyses support such a move.

If you’d like to help them please visit their crowdfunder (here), donate if you can or simply spread the word.

Raptor persecution highlighted in House of Lords

Natalie Bennett is a long-time supporter of the campaign for grouse moor reform and particularly against the illegal killing of birds of prey – she’s been a familiar spokesperson at many Hen Harrier Day events over the last few years.

Now Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle, she is using her position in the House of Lords to keep up the pressure.

Here’s a question she posed to DEFRA Minister The Rt Honourable Lord Zac Goldsmith on 16th September 2020 (text from Hansard):

Here is Zac’s response:

Zac said, “I would welcome access to the report that the noble Baroness mentions“.

Here you go, Zac, the report, documenting the 44 hen harriers that have either vanished in suspicious circumstances or have been confirmed illegally killed, most of them on or close to driven grouse moors, since 1 January 2018, can be read here

But that report is now out of date. The running total now stands at 45 hen harriers that have either vanished in suspicious circumstances or have been confirmed illegally killed, most of them on or close to driven grouse moors, since 1 January 2018 (see here for details).

For completeness, although as a DEFRA Minister you must surely already be aware of this, the peer-reviewed science, based on Natural England’s own data, that demonstrates that 72% of satellite-tagged hen harriers in England were ten times more likely to ‘disappear’ or be illegally killed on or close to British grouse moors, can be read here.

The question now is, what do you intend to do about it?

[An illegally killed hen harrier. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Proposed golden eagle reintroduction in Wales: another public meeting & more controversy

Regular blog readers will know there are currently two ‘competing’ organisations working on a potential reintroduction of golden eagles to Wales.

[Young golden eagle, Getty Images]

One of the groups, called the Eagle Reintroduction Wales Project and affiliated with Cardiff University, is taking a well-considered and thoroughly-evidenced approach to evaluate the feasibility of reintroducing golden and white-tailed eagles to Wales. They have an active crowdfunder at the moment to help support their ongoing research (see here)

The other organisation is called Wilder Britain and its sole director, Dr Paul O’Donoghue, appears to be quite good at media soundbites but has been less forthcoming, so far, about the actual details of his grand plan.

Previous blogs that might be informative can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Earlier this month Wilder Britain held the first of several planned public consultation events hosted by Paul O’Donoghue (see here).

The second such event is due to take place this evening:

This evening’s event comes after some unfavourable commentary about the proposed reintroduction in the media and inside the Senedd, the Welsh Parliament.

Last week, Welsh politician Sian Gwenllian raised the issue with Lesley Griffiths, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs (and also the Species Champion for Raptors in Wales).

Their conversation went as follows:

This was then followed up by unfavourable press coverage in The Bangor Aye, which read as follows:

Siân Gwenllian, the Member of the Senedd for the Arfon constituency and Shadow Minister for Plaid Cymru has joined a number of figures to express her concern about a possible reintroduction of eagles to Snowdonia.

Golden eagles have been all but extinct in Wales and England since 1850. Wilder Britain has launched a public consultation following a feasibility study.

In 2019, Cardiff University researchers said Wales was home to “large expanses of potentially suitable eagle habitat” but reintroduction was not likely to happen “for some time”.

Siân Gwenllian MS has said: “There are many reasons to oppose this plan, but the interests of local farmers are undoubtedly a priority.

“I have been in discussions with local farmers, and with the local branch of the FUW, and I share their concerns that these plans could pose an additional danger to local agriculture, an industry which is already facing countless challenges.

“The likely reason that the species disappeared from the area in the first place is insufficient subsistence in the Snowdonia area. This could mean that if reintroduced, local farmers’ lambs would be easy prey for them. That is very worrying. ”

Wilder Britain, the organisation calling for the reintroduction of eagles to Wales, held a public meeting to discuss the plans in Betws-y-Coed in early September.

There is concern that Wilder Britain is interfering with the rigorous research project carried out by the Eagle Reintroduction Wales (ERW) project, led by Cardiff University. That project undertakes careful and detailed research into the environmental and ecological impact of eagle reintroduction.

Siân Gwenllian MS added: “Dr Paul O’Donoghue, director of Wilder Britain, claims that eagles in Snowdonia were culled, but there is ground to believe that their disappearance was due to lack of subsistence for the species.

“This could be a major threat to the area’s wildlife and agricultural stock. We know that eagles can carry the weight of other animals, putting Snowdonia’s biodiversity at risk. ”

Siân Gwenllian raised the issue in a plenary session of the Senedd today with Lesley Griffiths MS, Minister for the Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs. Ms Gwenllian asked the minister to ‘state clearly that the Welsh Government will not support these recommendations, and that they need to be put aside as soon as possible.’

Lesley Griffiths MS responded by saying that she appreciated that such proposals were ‘controversial’ and that there were polarised views’, and she noted that all points of view on the issue needed to be considered.

Siân Gwenllian MS said: “It is important that we listen to the voices of farmers who are expressing great concern about this scheme.

“I appreciate RSPB Cymru’s statement that any proposed reintroduction of the species would have to come following thorough research, local consultation, and widespread support from local communities.

“According to my conversations with the FUW, there is reason to believe that that local support does not exist.”


It seems that Sian Gwenllian is not a big fan of any proposed eagle reintroduction as she seems to think that golden eagles ‘would put Snowdonia’s biodiversity at risk‘. It’s probably fair to say, based on that statement alone, that Ms Gwenllian’s comprehension of what biodiversity actually is is quite limited, but that’s not necessarily an unsurmountable problem that couldn’t be addressed by some gentle education.

However, it appears that Ms Gwenllian is using the approach of Wilder Britain as reason enough to dismiss any thought of a reintroduction. That was always the danger of having two conflicting groups taking different approaches, and is what we feared might happen as a result.

Thankfully, Environment Minister Lesley Griffiths seems a lot better informed and has a sensible approach to how a proposed reintroduction will be assessed by the Government. In that sense, the Cardiff University-based Eagle Reintroduction Wales Project looks set to tick all the right boxes in terms of its background research, ecological feasibility studies, partnership development and planned public consultations.

Incidentally, in mid-August an FoI was submitted to the Welsh Government’s statutory nature conservation agency, Natural Resources Wales, to find out what correspondence had been received from Wilder Britain about a proposed eagle reintroduction. NRW’s response is now overdue.

Channel 4 News re-visits the grouse moors of the North York Moors National Park

The illegal killing of birds of prey on the grouse moors of North Yorkshire was firmly back in the news headlines this evening with another excellent piece fronted by Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News.

You may remember an earlier piece from Alex back in May this year (here) which featured various police investigations in Nidderdale AONB and the discovery of five dead buzzards stuffed into a hole on a Bransdale grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park during lockdown – four were later confirmed to have been shot (here).

This time the TV crew filmed a grouse-shooting party near Goathland in the North York Moors, where earlier this year film footage emerged purporting to show an individual killing a trapped goshawk on the Queen’s grouse moor in May (see here and here).

In this latest film there’s some hilarious footage of various members of the shooting party denying all knowledge of the alleged goshawk incident and providing a display of arrogance that the general public doesn’t often get to see, usually hidden as it is behind carefully-worded propaganda pieces.

Speaking of the alleged goshawk incident, Alex said,

The police told us, a gamekeeper will soon be prosecuted for killing the goshawk“.

The Duchy of Lancaster says if there is a successful prosecution, the sporting tenant, BH Sporting, may lose its lease.

Interesting times.

Here’s the six minute video that appeared on Channel 4 News this evening:

UPDATE 24th September 2020: Channel 4 bats away shooting industry hysteria (here)