Golden eagle persecution 7 miles from Scotland’s Parliament?

February 15, 2018

Press release issued 15th February 2018, 1pm

Chris Packham: “Again. Another one. How many of these magnificent birds have to die before Golden Eagles are safe in Scotland? Call it ‘suspicious’ or ‘mysterious’ – you make up your own minds about what happened to this young golden eagle near a driven grouse moor.

A young satellite-tagged golden eagle has disappeared in highly suspicious circumstances in the Pentland Hills, just seven miles from the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh.

The eagle had hatched at a nest site in the Scottish Borders in 2017 and last June, in cooperation with the landowner, conservationists fitted him with a state-of-the-art tracking device to follow his movements as part of a new project initiated by broadcaster and campaigner Chris Packham, and Dr Ruth Tingay of Raptor Persecution UK. The landowner named the eagle Fred after his grandson.

Data from Fred’s tag showed he stayed within his parents’ territory for several months after fledging but in mid-January he made his first exploratory flight away from home. He headed to the Pentland Hills and spent a few days ‘woodland hopping’ around the northern edge, at one point just half a kilometre from the City Bypass.

His tag was working perfectly and was providing the researchers with accurate and frequent GPS locations.

On 20th January, Fred roosted overnight in a shelter belt overlooking a grouse moor near Balerno. His tag continued to record his position there until just before 10am on 21st January, when his tag suddenly and inexplicably stopped.

However, three and a half days later, in the evening of 24 January, Fred’s tag began transmitting again but the GPS location showed it was in the North Sea, some 10 miles offshore from St. Andrews. His tag continued to provide GPS data until 26 January, showing his final position at approximately 15 miles offshore. No further data have been received.

Dr Tingay said: “It is beyond doubt that Fred’s disappearance is highly suspicious. Golden eagles don’t generally fly out for miles over large bodies of sea water but even if Fred had done so, apart from defying everything we’ve learned about Scottish golden eagle behaviour, we would have seen excellent tracking data plotting his route given the reliability of his tag.

“While we will probably never know for sure, it seems likely that Fred was killed soon after 10am on 21 January, his tag was hidden to suppress the signal and then he and the tag were dumped in the North Sea. If this is indeed the case, it’s just the latest example of when those who have killed a protected bird of prey have tried to cover up evidence of their crime”.

Chris Packham said: “Once again, we have the suspicious disappearance of a satellite-tagged golden eagle in an area managed for driven grouse shooting. What’s truly shocking about this case is that it didn’t take place in a remote Highland glen miles from anywhere, but it happened within a stone’s throw of Edinburgh, right under the noses of the Scottish Government. What must the good people of Edinburgh think, to learn that golden eagles aren’t even safe on their doorstep? That they’ve been denied the opportunity to see this iconic, magnificent bird in their local hills? This doesn’t bode well for the planned reintroduction of golden eagles to south Scotland, due to begin later this year”.

Last year a Scottish Government-commissioned report* showed that 41 of 131 satellite-tagged golden eagles had disappeared (presumed dead) in suspicious circumstances in Scotland, predominantly on or near to some driven grouse moors. In response to the report’s findings, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham ordered a review of grouse moor management practices with a view to introducing a licensing scheme for game-shooting estates.

Anyone with information about Fred’s disappearance is urged to contact Police Scotland on 101.

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*Analyses of the fates of satellite-tracked golden eagles in Scotland http://www.snh.org.uk/pdfs/publications/commissioned_reports/982.pdf

Photo of Golden Eagle Fred (above) is copyright of Ruth Tingay.