Almost a third of golden eagles being tracked by satellite died in suspicious circumstances, scientists have found. Scottish Natural Heritage identified that the majority of cases were found where land is intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.
Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham MSP confirmed to the Scottish Parliament she will now set up an expert group to look at managing grouse moors sustainably and within the law. Following a request by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee the group will also advise on the option of licensing grouse shooting businesses.
The report studied the movements of 131 young golden eagles over a 12 year period and found more than 40 had disappeared in suspicious circumstances. It also found there was no link between fitting satellite tags and the disappearance of the birds of prey and ruled out any connection with the location of wind turbines.
In response Ms Cunningham outlined a package of new measures to protect birds of prey, the wider Scottish environment and the reputation of those who abide by the law. The SNP Government will:
Set up an independently-led group to look at the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices such as muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls, and to recommend options for regulation including licensing and other measures which could be put in place without new primary legislation
Immediately review all available legal measures which could be used to target geographical areas of concern
Increase resources for the detection and investigation of wildlife crime and work with Police Scotland to pilot the use of special constables in the Cairngorms National Park;
Commission research into the costs and benefits of large shooting estates to Scotland’s economy and biodiversity.
Ms Cunningham said:
“The findings of this research are of great concern and give rise to legitimate concerns that high numbers of golden eagles and other birds of prey continue to be killed in Scotland each year. There is every reason to believe that similar levels of persecution affect untagged golden eagles, as well as those we are able to track via satellite tags.
“We have already targeted wildlife criminals, and those who sanction such crimes, by introducing measures such as vicarious liability and restrictions on the use of general licences. However, Scottish Ministers have always said they would go further if required and that is what I am doing.
“The continued killing of protected species of birds of prey damages the reputation of law-abiding gamekeepers, landowners and Scotland as a whole. Those who carry out these crimes do so in defiance of Parliament, the people, and their own peers. That must end.
“This report will allow Police Scotland to adopt a targeted approach and I also encourage members of the public to report any suspicious activity to the police.
“The range of measures we will introduce over the longer-term will build on progress made to-date and tackle outdated practices and attitudes. By looking at ways of strengthening the legal protection for birds of prey we are sending out a strong message that Scotland’s wildlife is for everyone to enjoy – not for criminals to destroy for their own ends.”
The report was written by Dr Phil Whitfield PhD and Dr Alan Fielding PhD.
The SNP Government is a member of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Scotland which includes the police, land managers and conservationists.