Poisoned golden eagle: examining the statement from Invercauld Estate

Further to the news that a poisoned golden eagle was found dead on Invercauld Estate in March 2021 and the subsequent police raid that took place on the estate earlier this week (Tues 4th May – see here), I want to examine a statement that subsequently appeared in the press (e.g. here), attributed to Invercauld Estate Manager, Angus McNicol.

[The poisoned golden eagle, lying dead next to a poisoned mountain hare bait, on heather moorland on Invercauld Estate. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

The statement was interesting because it appeared in the late afternoon just a few hours after the raids had taken place and importantly, prior to ANY media output from the Police, even though the estate’s statement alluded to a ‘police appeal’. What police appeal? It could be argued that this was a damage limitation exercise by Invercauld Estate.

The statement went as follows:

Angus McNicol, estate manager at Invercauld, said: “We have been informed by the police that the bird that was found contained pesticide. We are very disturbed indeed to learn that a bird of prey has been found on Invercauld in these circumstances.

We wholeheartedly support the appeal about this bird and anyone with information should contact Police Scotland on 101 urgently. Naturally we are offering our cooperation to the police as they conduct their inquiries and hope they are able to identify anyone who is involved.

The area where the bird was found is on a let farm in an area which is managed for sheep farming and is on the edge of an area of native woodland regeneration. It is not managed for driven grouse shooting. Within the last two weeks, we have had to call the police to report an incident of damage to gamekeeping equipment and another of anti-social behaviour on a wetland habitat and this more recent report is a further serious concern for us.

Given the relative proximity of the location to houses and the A93 main road, we are hopeful that a member of the public may have seen something which might help the investigation.

Mr McNicol continued: “So much of what we do at Invercauld is about conservation so this news is particularly distressing. Staff and contractors are actively involved in activities that help conserve many species in the Estate’s valleys, woodlands, moorland and montane habitats. We pride ourselves in the biodiversity this creates and this news is therefore especially disheartening.

We are committed to our conservation work on the Estate and would like to see this incident investigated as thoroughly and quickly as possible.”

I want to look closely at Mr McNicol’s claim that the area where the poisoned golden eagle was found “Is not managed for driven grouse shooting“.

The precise location on Invercauld Estate where the poisoned eagle (and the poisoned bait that killed it) has not been revealed, but the RSPB photograph of the poisoned eagle clearly shows heather and Mr McNicol does give away some information about the proximity of houses and the A93 main road and an area of native woodland regeneration.

We also know, from the official police statement published the following day, that the area was ‘near to Crathie’. That narrows it down considerably.

Here are a couple of Google Earth maps showing Crathie and an area of Invercauld Estate to the NE of Crathie (north of the A93 main road) that I understand to be a woodland regeneration area, and then oh, look, right next to that is a vast area of muirburn strips. You know, the tell-tale burned scars of a moorland managed for, er, driven grouse shooting:

Or have I got that wrong? Is this not a vast area managed for driven grouse shooting at all, but just a large area of moorland that is routinely set alight to create so-called ‘wildfire breaks’? I’m sure I saw some lines of grouse butts when I zoomed in, too. Probably historical, kept for nostalgic purposes, eh?

You can draw your own conclusions about the accuracy of Mr McNicol’s claim that ‘the area is not managed for driven grouse shooting‘.

I also just want to comment about something I’ve read on social media about the timing of the publicity surrounding this crime, and how ‘convenient’ it is that it coincides with the Scottish Parliamentary elections. The clear accusation has been made that ‘anti-grouse moor campaigners’ have somehow conspired to get this in the news this week.

This is absolute nonsense, of course. It was the statement from Invercauld Estate that triggered news coverage of this crime – at that time (Tuesday afternoon, the day of the police raids), nobody had said anything about it. Not campaigners, not the police, just Invercauld Estate. Had the estate kept quiet, I would bet that this news wouldn’t have seen the light of day until at least next week, well after the elections. Indeed, I’m told by my media contacts that Police Scotland was forced to issue an official statement the day after Invercauld Estate’s statement, simply because of the media interest generated by Invercauld’s statement. The police received so many enquiries their hand was forced early and they had to issue a statement.

I’ll be writing about Police Scotland’s response to the crime in a forthcoming blog. I’ll also be returning to the claimed conservation credentials of Invercauld Estate.

UPDATE 6th May 2021: Poisoned golden eagle: confirmation it was found dead on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate (here)

29 thoughts on “Poisoned golden eagle: examining the statement from Invercauld Estate”

  1. Who does McNicol think he is kidding? This is another wildlife crime most likely carried out xxxxx xxxxx

    Until the law holds xxxxx xxxxx to account this will continue.

    I saw the image of the young bird (taken last year I think). Another waste of a life. It just doesn’t stop and I am so angry.

    Thank you Ruth for your blog/report. I read every one

  2. The police are running scared, ‘bent coppers’ must be in the pay of the big estates, otherwise they would have picked someone up by now.

    [Ed: That’s really not helpful, Christopher. I’m not aware of any ‘bent coppers’ involved with this investigation]

  3. No doubt about it then this was the work of a bored tourist they are after all well known for smuggling banned pesticides into the Cairngorms killing mountain hares and scattering them ont moors to kill ANYTHING . Case solved these idiots that run the shoots dont just behave like neanderthals they also think like them if they expect anyone to believe the tripe they come out with

  4. This is a very common tactic by the driven grouse shooting industry. They know full well that areas of woodland adjacent to moorland managed for driven grouse shooting will attract a variety of raptor species, which is why there are multiple videos online of nests being shot out over the years in the middle of the night by ‘mysterious’ armed men. Who would have the motivation to do this?

    The estate knows full well that this incident happened next door to a driven grouse moor, but they’re playing semantic games to try and shift the blame away.

    1. Disappointed to see that this incident was to be found reported on page 17 of The Courier in a 3 column inch article.
      Very little press reporting generally – am I being hyper sensitive – surely this is something that many Scots now regard as very important – the golden eagle is admired by so many here.
      The response by the estate factor is astonishingly poor and is it not time for another petition to parliament to get the licensing of grouse shooting etc finally passed
      I would hope many people local to the estate start exercising their right to roam much more vigorously as it seems we may need to try to stop through civil control

      [Ed: it has had wide press coverage, Michael. Google ‘golden eagle poisoned Invercauld’]

  5. Aye, it’s the same half truths which characterises Shooting Estate statements when they find themselves in situations like this. They then try to turn it into a PR exercise about the fantasy that they view themselvers as “conservationists” while calling species “vermin” and hunting them to such a degree that local extinctions of mountain hares take place — for simply having the audacity to eat the same food as driven grosue and host the same ticks as them too.

    [Ed: rest of this comment deleted as libellous]

  6. Angus McNicol offers £5,000 reward for successful prosecution

    Now wouldn’t that be a nice gesture from a concerned citizen, eh?

  7. Looks like they are trying to pin the blame on the tenanted farm and ignoring the invisible-to-them grouse moors.

    For what it is worth, this latest incident was the deciding factor on how quite a few of us voted today.

  8. A question in relation to the statement by Invercauld Estate might be , who would be the more likely to have a dead mountain hare that could be used for a bait – the farm tenant or one of his or her employees or an employee of the estate itself?

  9. Great that Invercauld are promoting wildlife conservation and hope that a witness may have seen who is responsible for poisoning this eagle.

    I for one will take them up on their offer of support and will be regularly visiting their estate with my friends and should I happen to witness any wildlife crime I will report it immidately.

    1. Does Prince Charles have anything to do with this estate. His holiday home is up there. What does he say about it ?

  10. For the avoidance of doubt, the eagle was found poisoned next to a mountain hare bait, in an area of strip muirburn within 200m of a line of grouse butts and a landrover track.

  11. Typical DARVO
    deny, attack, and reverse victim and offender
    What it tells me is that they have no intention of changing, ever.
    So where does this leave us regarding licensing. What would have happened to xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxx
    Mike Russell is retiring now. What has changed since he was Environmental Minister? Sod all, but the can kicked down the road for another 20 or so years. I somehow doubt he loses any sleep over it. Nothing is ever urgent for the Nicola Sturgeon Party, except gender politics.

  12. Anybody know why there was approximately two months between the crime being discovered and the raid?

  13. Don’t they just make you sick? Look at the pathetic attempt to divert the issue with the bollocks about damage to gamekeeping equipment and antisocial behaviour on a wetland habitat.
    The antisocial behaviour, McNicol, is the obliteration of our iconic raptors so that Joe Public seldom sees one. That’s antisocial.

  14. I don’t care who they are if they break the law they must be punished. What does Prince Charles say about this . He resides up there ?

  15. Has nobody questioned what this so called poison is that knocked a large healthy eagle over instantly within 2 feet of the alleged poisoned hare that it had allegedly eaten. Frankly I don’t believe that an eagle would be eating carrion anyway as they generally eat live prey. Plus how come the ground is not scattered with other carrion eaters. Why does nobody question the veracity of these so called crimes. Is it because it doesn’t suit the rhetoric? And any poison that would knock a bird over like that is almost certainly either illegal or traceable and very scarce. Why would anyone leave the evidence lying around? And if it has been proven to be poison where are the toxicity reports. Or does it just suit some people to immediately blame the grouse moor owners who plough huge sums of money into conservation and maintenance and use grouse shooting to recoup some of that cost.

    1. ‘Fred’

      The poison found on the bait and digested by the golden eagle has not been named by police, presumably as their criminal investigation continues, but independent toxicology analysis has shown it to be one of the eight banned poisons prohibited since 2005 under the Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order, which is why the Police said, in their official statement, that the eagle had been ‘deliberately poisoned’.

      The fact that you don’t believe golden eagles eat carrion exposes your jaw-dropping ignorance of eagle ecology.

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