More on ‘missing’ golden eagle #338, North Glenbuchat Estate

On Saturday 1 April 2017, we blogged about a satellite-tagged golden eagle (#338) that the RSPB reported had ‘disappeared’ after its last sat tag signal pinged in from the North Glenbuchat Estate in the Cairngorms National Park in early March (see here).

The estate, via PR company Media House, issued a robust statement in response and posted a video clip of a young eagle, purportedly filmed on the estate on 30 March, that the estate’s head gamekeeper “firmly believed” to be golden eagle #338.

We commented at the time that the video footage was very poor quality and it was difficult to see whether the eagle in the video was even carrying a satellite tag. We also pointed out that other sat-tagged golden eagles are currently flying around Scotland so even if this eagle in the video was carrying a tag, it would have been virtually impossible for the head gamekeeper to know whether it was eagle #338 or one of the others.

Since then, various expert field ornithologists both in the UK and the USA, all of whom specialise in golden eagles, have contacted us about the video. All of them said that although the video quality was poor, the plumage characteristics of the eagle in the video were not consistent with that of a nine-month old male golden eagle, but appeared to be consistent with what they’d expect of a second year female golden eagle.

On Sunday 2 April 2017, Media House issued another press statement on behalf of North Glenbuchat Estate and published a second video, purportedly of eagle #338, filmed on the estate on Saturday 1 April 2017. The quality of this second video is even worse than the first video (you could be looking at a flying cabbage) so it’s not much use as the supplementary evidence it was clearly intended to be.

The text of this second press release via Media House is well worth a read: North Glenbuchat Estate press release_2

In it, Media House states that the RSPB staff who were involved in the police search of the estate last week (at the invitation of Police Scotland – good, partnership working) “were hooded and kept their faces covered“.

This sentence has been widely abused by the nasty brigade on social media and has been turned into phrases such as ‘Masked intruders‘, ‘Masked RSPB thugs‘ and ‘RSPB representatives conducting themselves like hunt saboteurs wearing intimidating hoods and masks‘. Doubtless spurred on by the following inflammatory commentary from Bert Burnett (Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association) on his facebook page:

So yet again, the focus of attention is dragged away from the issue at hand (the disappearance of yet another satellite-tagged raptor on a grouse moor) and moved on to the usual anti-RSPB rhetoric in an attempt to discredit anybody or anything that might point to on-going concerns about the frequency with which satellite-tagged raptors seem to ‘disappear’ in areas where intensive grouse moor management takes place.

This abuse of the RSPB is nothing new, of course, but it’s interesting that the false claims about the efficiency of satellite tags, the false claims that the RSPB does not follow PAW raptor protocols, and the attempted denigration of raptor workers and those who fit these satellite tags, has been extremely prevalent since August last year when the Cabinet Secretary announced her decision to undertake an independent review of raptor satellite tag data. The abuse will no doubt have not gone unnoticed by the Scottish Government.

But back to the missing golden eagle #338. As we’ve been writing this blog, a very interesting map has appeared on Twitter (see @Ian_M_Thomson). It’s a map showing the recent movements of three other satellite-tagged golden eagles around Glenbuchat in March – April 2017:

Clear evidence that the eagle filmed by the head gamekeeper could have been any one of these other eagles so his “firm belief” that he was filming eagle #338 may have been his genuine belief but in fact is nothing more than hopeful optimism.

Nice try, but no cigar.

Meanwhile, the satellite tag signal from golden eagle #338 remains silent.

UPDATE 5 April 2017 14.38hrs: Ian Thomson (Head of RSPB Investigations Scotland) has just tweeted the following:

@Ian_M_Thomson: ‘Regarding missing eagle #338, Police Scotland has provided clarification to @PAWScotland partners that have contacted them that @RSPBScotland staff assisting them on a search in Glenbuchat last week did NOT have covered faces. We look forward to @PAWScotland partners disseminating this information to their memberships’

UPDATE 31 May 2017: North Glenbuchat Estate identified in Government-commissioned report as one of several hotspots where satellite-tagged golden eagles have regularly ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances (here).

Cairngorms National Park Authority wants ‘action’ against raptor persecution

Duncan BrydenThe Convenor of the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CPNA), Duncan Bryden, has written to the Environment Minister to tell him that continued incidents of raptor persecution and ‘disappearing birds’ in the eastern side of the Cairngorms National Park “threatens to undermine the reputation of the National Park as a high quality wildlife tourism destination“.

He has asked for the Minister to attend a meeting of stakeholders in the Eastern Cairngorms (including RSPB Scotland and, er, Scottish Land & Estates) to discuss ways to address this on-going issue.

That’ll be interesting, seeing as though SLE continue to deny the extent of the problem (e.g. see here) and only last year gave membership to the ranks of SLE to the North Glenbuchat Estate – a grouse moor in the National Park that has been at the centre of wildlife crime investigations for years, most recently following the ‘disappearance’ in April of the first fledged white-tailed eagle in eastern Scotland for 200 years – it’s final signal reportedly came from North Glenbuchat estate (see here). The eagle is presumed dead but it’s body has not been recovered, just like the bodies of three other young satellite tagged eagles that ‘disappeared’ in the area in recent years. The body of a fifth eagle was found on North Glenbuchat Estate in 2011 – it had been poisoned with Carbofuran. As had a poisoned buzzard, also found in 2011, as well as a poisoned bait. A dead short-eared owl was also found in 2011 – it had been shot and stuffed under a rock.

Good luck to the CNPA in trying to oust the raptor-killing criminals from the National Park and well done Duncan Bryden for taking a stand.

Download: CNPA letter to Paul Wheelhouse May2014

Download: Paul Wheelhouse response to CNPA

CNP map


East Scotland sea eagle chick fledges: what fate awaits this one?

For the second consecutive year, a young white-tailed eagle has successfully fledged from a nest in east Scotland.

His sibling, who hatched in 2013, un-mysteriously ‘disappeared’ earlier this year in a notorious raptor persecution blackspot in the Cairngorms National Park (see here and here). He was the first sea eagle to fledge in east Scotland in over 200 years but he didn’t even survive to see his first birthday. His satellite transmitter went silent after he’d visited a driven grouse moor where previously a head gamekeeper had been convicted of poisoning offences (2006), a poisoned golden eagle had been found in 2011 (no prosecution), a poisoned buzzard had been found in 2011 (no prosecution), poisoned bait had been discovered in 2011 (no prosecution) and a short-eared owl had been found in 2011 that had been shot and shoved underneath a rock (no prosecution). The police raided the estate in April this year but found no trace of the eagle.

He might not have been the first sea eagle to fledge in Scotland in over 200 years if another east Scotland pair had not had their nest tree felled by someone with a chainsaw (see here – no prosecution).

The BBC is running an article on this year’s fledgling (see here) and includes a telling remark from RSPB Scotland saying they hoped the young bird would avoid areas where birds of prey have been poisoned or trapped. In other words, steer clear of driven grouse moors.

He’s got at least five years in which to run the gauntlet before he becomes mature enough to breed – we don’t rate his chances much.

Go west, kid, go west.

wtse fife 2014 ian francis

East Scotland sea eagle chick ‘disappears’ on grouse moor

Sea-eagle chick 1 nestLast year we celebrated the news of the first sea eagle chick to fledge in East Scotland for over 200 years (see here).

This year we’re discussing his ‘disappearance’ (in all likelihood his death) in a well-known grouse moor area in the Cairngorms National Park.

This bird was a significant one. He marked an important milestone in the East Scotland Sea Eagle Reintroduction Project, being the first to fledge from a nest there in over 200 years. He was also our symbol of hope, following the news earlier in the year that the nest tree of another pioneering pair had been illegally felled with a chainsaw, bringing their historic breeding attempt to an abrupt halt (see here).

When we blogged about the successful fledging of this young eagle last year, we ended the post with this:

Here’s hoping this year’s pioneering young male manages to stay alive (keep away from grouse moors) for long enough to raise his own family – the next big milestone for the East Coast Project will be Scottish-born sea eagles rearing their own young. Good luck kid”.

He didn’t make it. He didn’t even make it to his first birthday.

He had been fitted with a satellite tag before he fledged, allowing researchers to monitor his movements. In mid-April, the signal from his transmitter stopped. The last signal had come from the North Glenbuchat Estate in Strathdon.

North Glenbuchat Estate has been at the centre of a series of wildlife crime investigations over a number of years. These have included the prosecution and conviction of the then head gamekeeper (in 2006) for poisoning offences; the discovery of a poisoned golden eagle in 2011 (killed by Carbofuran – no prosecution); the discovery of a poisoned buzzard in 2011 (killed by Carbofuran – no prosecution); the discovery of a poisoned bait in 2011 (no prosecution), and the discovery of a dead short-eared owl in 2011, that had been shot and stuffed under a rock (no prosecution). (See here for details of these discoveries).

Not only that, but a number of young satellite-tagged eagles have all mysteriously ‘disappeared’ in this area over the last few years, including one in September 2011, one in February 2012, one in May 2013 and now this latest one in April 2014. Including the poisoned golden eagle found in 2011, at least five young eagles are presumed dead. We only know about these young birds because they were all fitted with satellite transmitters. How many other young eagles have ‘vanished’ in suspicious circumstances in similar black holes across the central and eastern uplands, the heartland of driven grouse moors?

North Glenbuchat Estate was bought by the Marquess of Milford Haven in 2008,  according to the Glenbuchat Heritage website, and he “began an ambitious programme of renovating Glenbuchat Lodge and its dependent properties and improving the grouse moor”.

In 2013, North Glenbuchat Estate became a member of Scottish Land & Estates:

North Glenbuchat joins SLE 2013

Today’s police raid of the estate (reported by the BBC here) is welcome news, although the chance of finding any evidence to link to a suspect is pretty slim, especially if the bird has been shot, as is suspected.

We’re almost at a loss what to say. What can we say that hasn’t already been said each and every time? What words are there to describe the fury, rage, sadness, sorrow and overwhelming frustration about what is going on, right under our noses, in our own countryside? The Untouchables strike again. It is out of control and the Government seems powerless to stop it.

Only they’re not powerless. They’re actually very powerful and they could stop this at the drop of a hat if they really wanted to. The Environment Minister has said over and over again that if persecution continues, he will ‘not hesitate’ to bring in further measures. It’s time to stop hesitating, Mr Wheelhouse – get a grip on this insidious criminality and do what you’re paid to do. No more excuses.

Please email the Environment Minister and demand further action. Email:

Another sat-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’ in Aberdeenshire

mysteryWell would you believe it. Another young satellite-tagged golden eagle has mysteriously ‘disappeared’.

This time it’s a two-year-old bird called ‘Angus 33’, being sat-tracked by Roy Dennis (see here). The bird’s last known signal came from the North Glenbuchat Estate on 13th May 2013. A search was undertaken but nothing was found.

Naturally, there’s no evidence to demonstrate the eagle has been illegally killed, it’s just vanished into thin air in the same area that several other sat-tagged golden eagles have ‘disappeared’ in recent years. What a bloody mystery, eh?

Further mysteries from here include who used Carbofuran to poison a young golden eagle found in March 2011 (here), who used Carbofuran to poison a buzzard found in May 2011 (here, p.9) and who shot the short-eared owl that was found stuffed under a rock in May 2011 (here, p.6 & p.14)?

The Headkeeper of this estate was convicted of poisoning offences in 2006 (see here).

21 eagles, 6 years, 0 prosecutions

Ever since that poisoned golden eagle was found in Glen Orchy in June 2009, we’ve been assured by the authorities (including in an email from a spokeswoman of the former Environment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham) that, despite our concerns to the contrary, the alleged wildlife crime uncovered that day was being ‘dealt with’.

We’ve had to wait for almost three years to find out that, according to a statement in The Herald attributed to RSPB investigator Ian Thomson, nobody has been charged with poisoning that golden eagle (see Herald article here).

It’s just the latest in a long line (21 eagles in six years!) of both confirmed and suspected eagle deaths for which nobody has ever been prosecuted.

In fairness, some of the 21 examples shown below may not be a result of criminal behaviour (i.e. the bodies of seven of the eagles listed have never been recovered so foul play, whilst suspected, cannot be verified, but neither can it be ruled out). However, there have been 14 confirmed eagle deaths (13 poisoned and one shot), that we know about, for which nobody has been charged. There are probably more confirmed deaths that we don’t know about because for some reason, some confirmed deaths are not being publicly reported. And without a shadow of a doubt, there are other deaths that are attributable to criminal behaviour that never see the light of day.

Here’s the list of the ones we do know about:

MAY 2006: A dead adult golden eagle was found on the Dinnet & Kinord Estate, near Ballater, Aberdeenshire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Grampian Police launched an investigation. Five years and 11 months later, nobody has been prosecuted.


JUNE 2006: A dead golden eagle was found on Glen Feshie Estate in the Cairngorms. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary launched an investigation. Five years and ten months later, nobody has been prosecuted.




AUGUST 2007: A dead adult female golden eagle was found on an estate near Peebles in the Borders. She was half of the last known breeding pair of golden eagles in the region. Tests revealed she had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Lothian & Borders Police launched an investigation. Four years and eight months later, nobody has been prosecuted.




AUTUMN 2007: Tayside Police received a detailed tip-off that a young male white-tailed eagle (known as ‘Bird N’) had allegedly been shot on an estate in Angus. The timing and location included in the tip-off coincided with the timing and location of the last-known radio signal of this bird. Four and a half years later, the bird has not been seen again. With no body, an investigation isn’t possible.


MAY 2008: A one year old male white-tailed eagle hatched on Mull in 2007 and known as ‘White G’ was found dead on the Glenquoich Estate, Angus. Tests revealed he had been poisoned by an unusual concoction of pesticides that included Carbofuran, Bendiocarb and Isofenphos. A police search in the area also revealed a poisoned buzzard, a baited mountain hare and 32 pieces of poisoned venison baits placed on top of fenceposts on the neighbouring Glenogil Estate. Laboratory tests revealed the baited mountain hare and the 32 poisoned venison baits contained the same unusual concoction of highly toxic chemicals that had killed the white-tailed eagle, ‘White G’. Three years and 11 months later, nobody has been prosecuted.


JUNE 2009: An adult golden eagle was found dead at Glen Orchy, Argyll, close to the West Highland Way. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Strathclyde Police launched a multi-agency investigation. Two years and ten months later (April 2012), Tom McKellar pled guilty to possession of Carbofuran stored in premises at Auch Estate, Bridge of Orchy. Nobody has been prosecuted for poisoning the golden eagle.


JULY 2009: A two year old female golden eagle known as ‘Alma’ was found dead on the Millden Estate, Angus. Tests revealed she had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Alma was a well-known eagle  – born on the Glen Feshie Estate in 2007, she was being satellite-tracked and her movements followed by the general public on the internet. Tayside Police launched an investigation. Two years and nine months later, nobody has been prosecuted.


AUGUST 2009: A young white-tailed eagle was found dead on Glenogil Estate, Angus. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Tayside Police were criticized in the national press for not releasing a press statement about this incident until January 2010. Two years and 8 months later, nobody has been prosecuted.


MAY 2010: Three dead golden eagles were found on or close to Skibo Estate, Sutherland. Tests revealed they had been poisoned; two with Carbofuran and one with Aldicarb. Northern Constabulary launched a multi-agency investigation. One year later (May 2011), Sporting Manager Dean Barr pled guilty to possession of 10.5 kg of Carbofuran stored in premises at Skibo Estate. One year and 11 months later, nobody has been prosecuted for poisoning the three golden eagles.


JUNE 2010: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

JUNE 2010: A golden eagle and a white-tailed eagle were found dead on an estate near Farr, Inverness-shire. Tests revealed they had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary apparently did not search the property until July 2011. One year and ten months later, nobody has been prosecuted.


DECEMBER 2010: A decomposing carcass of a white-tailed eagle was found and photographed on Logie (Lochindorb) Estate, Morayshire. It was reported to Northern Constabulary. By the time the police arrived to collect it, the carcass had disappeared. The police said they couldn’t investigate further without the body.


MARCH 2011: The body of a young golden eagle was discovered on North Glenbuchat Estate, Aberdeenshire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide, Carbofuran. Grampian Police launched an investigation and raided the property in May 2011. One year and one month later, we are not aware of any pending prosecutions.


APRIL 2011: The body of a white-tailed eagle was found at the base of cliffs on Skye. The person who discovered it (a professional medic) considered it to have been freshly shot with a rifle, decapitated with a sharp implement and thrown from the cliff top. He took photographs and alerted Northern Constabulary and RSPB. There was a delay of two weeks before the now probably decomposed carcass was collected. A post-mortem was inconclusive. This incident was not made public until one year later after a tip off to this blog. We are not aware of any pending prosecutions.


NOVEMBER 2011: The signal from a satellite-tracked young golden eagle (hatched in 2010) stopped functioning when she was at a location in the Monadhliaths, a well-known raptor persecution black spot in the Highlands. Her last known location was checked by researchers but there was no sign of the bird. Another ‘disappearance’ in suspicious circumstances or a technical malfunction of the satellite transmitter?

A recent history of golden eagle persecution in Scotland

Two years ago in July 2009, Alma, a two-year golden eagle who had been satellite-tracked across Scotland from her birth place on the Glenfeshie Estate, was found dead. She was discovered lying face-down in the heather on Millden Estate, Angus and later tests showed she had been poisoned by the banned pesticide Carbofuran.

The police conducted a search of Millden Estate and the local community responded with anger to Alma’s death. They wrote letters of concern to the local estates, the Environment Minister and the Chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage. On the second anniversary of her death, has anybody been brought to justice for killing her? Not that we know of.

Alma’s death is not a stand alone case, as we are all too aware. Prior to her killing in 2009, 17 golden eagles were confirmed victims of shooting, trapping or nest destruction in Scotland, between 1989 and 2009, according to this RSPB report. In addition, in the same report a further 24 golden eagles were confirmed victims of illegal poisoning in Scotland during the same period, including Alma.

The killing didn’t end with Alma. Since her death in 2009, a further 5 golden eagles have been confirmed killed – four of them last year (3 of them at Skibo Estate and one on an un-named grouse moor near Inverness ) and at least one known death so far this year, on North Glenbuchat Estate. That makes a total of 46. And these are only the ones we know about. There are other suspicious incidents, such as the four golden eagle leg rings reported to have been found in 2010 in the possession of convicted gamekeeper James Rolfe of the Moy Estate. As this report points out, these rings were originally fitted to golden eagle chicks prior to their fledging from nests in Sutherland, Grampian, Mull and Skye. These rings must have been removed from the dead eagles but how they came to be in Rolfe’s possession is unclear.

Add these four to the grand total and you get a minimum of 50 golden eagles illegally persecuted in Scotland since 1989. Nobody has ever been convicted for any of these reported crimes.

Golden eagle found poisoned on North Glenbuchat Estate, Aberdeenshire

An investigation is underway after the discovery of a dead golden eagle found poisoned on the North Glenbuchat Estate in Aberdeenshire. The young eagle, being tracked by satellite, was found dead on 29 March. Tests have confirmed the eagle had been poisoned by Carbofuran. Grampian Police raided the estate yesterday and items have been removed for forensic testing but nobody has been charged as yet. Well done to Grampian Police for publicising this incident.

 BBC news story here:

This is not the first time that North Glenbuchat Estate has been at the centre of a wildlife crime investigation. In July 2006, the head gamekeeper at North Glenbuchat was convicted of three offences: killing a wild bird, possession of birds’ eggs, and possession of a proscribed pesticide under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. The head keeper, who had been employed at the estate for 30 years, was fined £850 (see here).

So, here we go again. Another year, another golden eagle found poisoned on a Scottish sporting estate, despite the rhetoric of the SRPBA and the SGA that this is a ‘rare’ event and they’re doing their best to put a stop to it. These continuing persecution incidents are nothing short of bloody outrageous.

Gamekeeper convicted of poisoning offences on North Glenbuchat Estate, Aberdeenshire

 At Aberdeen Sheriff Court on 12 July 2006, the head gamekeeper on the North Glenbuchat Estate, Strathdon, Aberdeenshire, was found guilty of three offences: killing a wild bird, possession of birds’ eggs, and possession of a proscribed pesticide under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.

The 56 year old head keeper, Hector McNeil, of Whitehillock, Glenbuchat, had worked as a gamekeeper on the Estate for 30 years. He was fined £850.

The RSPB claimed this was one of many cases but a spokesman for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association had said the case was not typical of the profession.