Golden eagles have been illegally killed on Scottish grouse moors for 40+ years but apparently we shouldn’t talk about it

In response to the news that Police Scotland are investigating the circumstances of five eagles found dead in the Western Isles earlier this month (see here), Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), the grouse moor owners’ lobby group has issued what I’d call a staggeringly disingenuous statement, where the blame for ongoing raptor persecution appears to be being projected on to those of us who dare to call out the shooting industry for its ongoing war against birds of prey.

Here’s SLE’s statement in full, dated 20 August 2021:

Response to raptor fatalities should not depend on location or landuse

Reports of five eagles being found dead on the Western Isles are very serious. 

Police Scotland has said that officers are investigating and it is to be hoped that the facts of these potentially shocking incidents are established as quickly as possible.

The birds – four golden eagles and a white-tailed sea eagle – were found at separate locations on Lewis and Harris and it is said that, at this stage, they are not linked.

No grouse shooting takes place on the Western Isles and we wholeheartedly support the police’s appeal for information and anyone who can help should call Police Scotland on 101, or make a call anonymously to the charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

It has been suggested that intraguild predation – where one species predates on another – may be one possible explanation in these cases but equally we accept there is the prospect that a terrible wildlife crime has been committed to protect livestock.

If that is the case, outright condemnation is the only rightful response.

That applies wherever raptor persecution takes place.

The response from some quarters thus far to the incidents on the Western Isles is in sharp contrast to what happens over alleged incidents that occur in areas where land is managed for grouse shooting. In these cases organisations and campaign groups are very quick off the mark to point fingers. If a wildlife crime takes place on land managed for shooting, livestock farming or any other land use (and such incidents are thankfully rare, becoming more so all the time) then it must be investigated and the culprits should face the full force of the law. It can be difficult to prosecute but Scotland now benefits from some of the most stringent laws against raptor persecution in Europe. A lot more could be achieved with less finger pointing and more constructive collaboration on the ground. Scotland is fortunate to have historically high numbers of golden eagles and we want to see even more of them.


So SLE is unhappy that campaigners keep ‘pointing fingers’ at the grouse-shooting industry whenever an illegally shot / poisoned / trapped bird of prey is discovered dead or critically injured on, er, a driven grouse moor?!!!!!!!!!

Or when satellite-tagged hen harriers and golden eagles keep ‘disappearing’ in suspicious circumstances, on or close to driven grouse moors.

If these crimes were just a one-off, once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence then yes, perhaps SLE would have a point. However, the connection between the driven grouse shooting industry and the illegal persecution of birds of prey has been clear for decades, and backed up with endless scientific papers and Government-commissioned reviews (here are the latest for golden eagle and for hen harrier).

Here’s an example of how long this has been going on – a scientific paper published in 2002, using data from 1981-2000 – demonstrating an indisputable link between grouse moors and illegal poisoning:

1981 – that was 40 years ago!!

And yet here we are in 2021 and still illegally poisoned golden eagles are being found dead on grouse moors and still nobody has ever been successfully prosecuted in Scotland for killing a golden eagle. The most recently confirmed poisoned eagle was this one inside the Cairngorms National Park, right next door to the royal estate of Balmoral. In fact this eagle is believed to have fledged on Balmoral a few months before it flew to neighbouring Invercauld Estate (an SLE member, no less) where it consumed a hare that had been smothered in a banned pesticide and laid out as a poisoned bait. The person(s) responsible for laying this poisoned bait have not been identified.

[Poisoned golden eagle laying next to poisoned mountain hare bait, Invercauld Estate, Cairngorms National Park. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

Such is the extent of illegal persecution on some driven grouse moors, it is having (and continues to have) a population-level effect on some species, including golden eagles, hen harriers, red kites and peregrines.

And such is the extent and quality of this scientific evidence, the Scottish Government has committed to implementing a licensing scheme for grouse shooting in an attempt to try and rein in the criminal activity that underpins this so-called ‘sport’ because Ministers recognise the grouse-shooting industry is incapable of self-regulation.

I don’t know what SLE means when it says it wants ‘more constructive collaboration on the ground‘. Perhaps it means that gamekeepers will step forward and provide more than ‘no comment’ interviews when the police are investigating the latest crime on a grouse-shooting estate, instead of offering the usual wall of silence?

Perhaps it means the estate owners will refuse to employ the sporting agents and head gamekeepers whose methods are well known to include routine raptor persecution? (These individuals are well known – it’s no secret within the industry who they are).

Or perhaps it means that the shooting industry itself, including the game-shooting organisations, the shooting press etc will blacklist those estates known to still be killing birds of prey, instead of accepting funding donations from them and pretending that they don’t know what’s going on there?

That’d be useful, constructive collaboration, wouldn’t it?

Until all of that happens, SLE and the rest of the grouse shooting cabal can expect people like me and my colleagues in the conservation field to continue shining a bloody great big megawatt spotlight on this filthy industry.

23 thoughts on “Golden eagles have been illegally killed on Scottish grouse moors for 40+ years but apparently we shouldn’t talk about it”

  1. “a terrible wildlife crime has been committed to protect livestock” so why add the ‘protect livestock’ unless you are trying to provide some justification?

  2. It seems like a quicker than normal response from SLE, Is this perhaps because in other circumstances there’s a reluctance to say anything too soon, or at all, until the case goes cold and there’s little chance of evidence coming to light. This time, they’re quicker, and confident enough to appear critical, but unable to resist the opportunity to almost excuse it, if it had likely been in the interests of protecting livestock. An FBI profiler could have real fun with the statement.

  3. You can almost feel the relief of SLE that these dead eagles did not turn up on or near the more usual killing grounds of driven grouse moors.

    “More constructive collaboration on the ground” – there’s an idea: how about well paid/resourced wildlife rangers patrolling driven grouse moors? I suspect, however, that “collaboration” is nothing more than SLE-speak for doing feck all.

  4. ‘Scotland now benefits from some of the most stringent laws against raptor persecution in Europe.’


    And did the shooting industry campaign in favour of, or against, the introduction of these stringent laws?

  5. I rather like the implication in their statement, “No grouse shooting takes place on the Western Isles, and we wholeheartedly support the police’s appeal for information….” intimating that if there WAS grouse shooting there, they wouldn’t support an appeal for information! You can bet your life’s savings that they would have been very very quiet if it had been on a grouse moor.

  6. Will Raptor Persecution UK make a public reply to SLE or reply on their website including the research etc? It would be interesting to see if SLE would remove your reply or leave it for their membership to peruse.

    1. Hi Ian,

      SLE don’t have a facility for accepting comments on their news webpage. However, I know that some of their staff subscribe to this blog, and so do members of their PR agency (Media House), so they can always comment here if they want to. I wouldn’t hold your breath though.

  7. interesting article in todays daily mail by prince Charles talking about climate change and how he has been asking large organisations to sign up to reducing their carbon footprint, with world shortages of construction timber due to the forest fires raging annually worldwide and with the UK having the least amount of forestry in Europe, do you think there is any chance Charles might look on his own doorstep at Balmoral and ponder how he could make a change?

  8. Scotland could only be accurately described as benefitting from these ‘stringent laws’ if the culprits were being identified and successfully prosecuted. As it stands, it looks more like an estate agents blurb than a realistic and accurate statement.

  9. Scotland has ineffective legislation on paper created and administered by paper tigers.
    Plenty politicos who “talk the talk”, but cannot “walk the walk”.

  10. SLE: “Stop complaining that we’re killing the eagles. We don’t kill ALL the eagles.”

    Such a stupid, incriminating line to take.

    1. Thanks for those links, Alan. So SLE put in their statement “No grouse shooting takes place on the Western Isles” when it clearly does. I made the elementary mistake of thinking that SLE knew what they were talking about when it came to grouse shooting. Oh dear.

  11. Just reading the link to the above,
    Who the hell would want to bring down a Golden Plover, or a Snipe, high time these were taken off the quarry list, I was reading an old shooting times this week from before Curlew and Redshank were protected, article about tips on wildfowling, Curlew and Redshank used to be regularly shot on the shore.
    Imagine now the uproar if someone shot one of these birds. They are protected yet still declining, massive efforts now need to go into saving the Curlew or it could be extinct within a few years.
    Modern farming with early crop silage cutting has done for them and all the other reasons which ill not go into .

    1. The slaughter of snipe each autumn in the Western Isles is obscene. It is no better than DGS in my view and needs to be banned altogether. Those participating in this activity are sick xxxxxxx, and those offering the ‘sport’ to these animals have no idea or consideration about how this may be affecting population numbers further north and neither do they care, as long as the money rolls in. I have seen wheelie bins full of carcasses after a ‘good days’ shoot. Utterly despicable. And, of course, it is worth bearing in mind that any birds that do manage to avoid the guns here have to run the gauntlet again further south….and again…

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