Monitoring and conserving Scotland's birds of prey
Brian Etheridge is the recipient of the 2014 Donald and Jeff Watson Raptor Award
25th February 2014
Brian Etheridge was awarded the 2014 Donald and Jeff Watson Raptor Award at the annual SRSG conference on Saturday. Here is the official citation:
Brian is a founding member of the Highland Raptor Study Group and is currently the Group's secretary.
His interest in raptors developed at an early age where, under the guidance of Brian Little, he and his mates, including such future giants of the raptor world as Mick Marquiss and Eric Meek, were out hunting the nests of Merlin and owls around Newcastle.
His interest developed during his time in the RAF, both when stationed abroad studying the likes of migrating honey buzzards at Gibraltar and at home where he started his own studies of sparrowhawks and buzzards around Kinloss.
He started work for the RSPB in 1988 and, although he was paid for much of his raptor work, largely on hen harriers and red kites, he did a lot that was unpaid work. In fact he would have done it anyway, paid or not, and that is a mark of a true enthusiast.
Brian has worked on many species but is particularly knowledgeable about hen harriers, red kite, merlin, honey buzzard, buzzard and goshawk and he is always happy to pass on that knowledge to others and help them if needed.
And, tellingly, much of Brian's fieldwork has been in areas of high persecution where he's never shied away from the issue; he's done as much as anyone to shine a light on persecution incidents and those who do raptors harm.
The Donald and Jeff Watson Raptor Award is given in recognition of a significant long-term amateur contribution to the study of raptors in Scotland. Congratulations to Brian for a thoroughly well-deserved award.
SRSG's statement to Scottish Parliament on the petition to name the Golden Eagle as Scotland's National Bird
24th February 2014
The Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) is very pleased to have been invited to give its views on the above petition, to formally declare the Golden Eagle, Aquila chrysaetos, as the national bird of Scotland. SRSG feels that there are compelling arguments for granting this petition so as to designate the Golden Eagle as Scotland's national bird, for the reasons set out below.
Scotland's Golden Eagle population, comprising some 440 pairs which occupy their own exclusive individual nesting territories, is important in terms of numbers in an overall European context. These Scottish Golden Eagle pairs are to be found at present largely in the Highlands of Scotland, but with a small part of the population located in the uplands of southern Scotland.
SRSG soon after its inception singled out the Golden Eagle as the most fitting species for its logo which is based on artwork by the renowned wildlife artist Keith Brockie, a skilled Golden Eagle fieldworker in his own right. There has been and still is a world-wide focus on Scottish Golden Eagles through the writings of distinguished Scots such as Seton Gordon who was an inspiration to Golden Eagle enthusiasts throughout much of the 20th century, Adam Watson whose Golden Eagle study is the longest-running one anywhere on the planet and the late Jeff Watson, author of the definitive monograph on the species.
The Golden Eagle is uniquely fitted to be designated as Scotland's national bird through its perception in the minds of many as an iconic symbol of wildness, strength and survival. The perception as to survival is enhanced by the fact that the Golden Eagle managed to hold out in the Scottish Highlands when in the late 19th and early 20th centuries some other species were extirpated through man's agency. It is known that many visitors to Scotland want to see three animals, namely the Loch Ness Monster, the Red Deer and the Golden Eagle. That in itself should give the charismatic Golden Eagle, an example of rugged power in the acclaimed Scottish landscape, pride of place as Scotland's national bird.
SRSG feels that it is particularly appropriate, for the Scottish Parliament's consideration of the petition, that last month the Scots Pine was officially named as Scotland's national tree. The Golden Eagle and the Scots Pine can be said to complement each other through choice of the latter as the favourite nest tree of the Golden Eagle, to the extent that it is not a crag-nester. SRSG suggests that the argument for national status for the bird is boosted by what is now the national status of its host tree, the Scots Pine.
The Golden Eagle's link with the Scots Pine should become still more apparent if the bird expands its numbers and breeds, as it should, in lowland habitats. There is no ecological reason why Golden Eagles in Scotland should remain birds of the hill country only. A valid comparison is with Sweden, for example, where there is a productive tree-nesting Golden Eagle population on low-lying agricultural land. Thus in Scotland lowland Scots Pine forests could hold breeding Golden Eagles, banished at present to the hill country through past, and unfortunately in many places still continuing, criminal persecution.
SRSG contends that designation of the Golden Eagle as Scotland's national bird would help to reduce the impact of such persecution, through increased interest in conservation of the species and removal (or at least reduction) of the factors operating against it. It is clear that many more people, both residents in and visitors to Scotland, would like to be able to see Golden Eagles than are able to at present. Designation should help towards this end. The resulting increased interest in the Golden Eagle would be to the benefit of environmental education, wildlife tourism and thus local economies.
JOB VACANCY: Scottish Raptor Monitoring Coordinator
18th February 2014
The Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme (SRMS) is seeking a dynamic, self-motivated person with raptor ecology, survey and monitoring experience to coordinate the work of the Scheme. The post will be hosted by BTO Scotland, on behalf of the SRMS. Two-year fixed-term contract. Salary: £21,452 - £23,835 pa + pension. Job share considered. Closing date: 18th March 2014. For further detailed information and how to apply please see here.
Senior SGA officer in row over call to 'destroy' pine martens and sea eagles
16th February 2014
George Macdonald, the Training, Education and Development Officer of the Scottish Gamekeepers' Association has come under fire for seeming to back a call for the 'complete eradication' of pine martens and sea eagles. The full story can be read here.
SGA Chairman lies about gamekeeper involvement in illegal raptor persecution
12th February 2014
Channel 4 News featured a report this evening about the illegal persecution of raptors on Scottish grouse moors. The report included interviews with SRSG member Logan Steele, RSPB Scotland's Head of Investigations Ian Thomson, and Scottish Gamekeepers' Association Chairman Alex Hogg. Astonishingly, Alex Hogg denied that gamekeepers were involved with the poisoning, shooting and trapping of raptors. It's hard to fathom why he would tell such a blatant lie when there is ample evidence that destroys his claim. Indeed, the SGA recently confirmed that three of their members were expelled following their convictions for raptor persecution (see here). Mr Hogg's disappointing attitude undermines the credibility of the PAW Scotland Raptor Group, a committee on which both the SRSG and the SGA serve, with the purported objective of clamping down on those who commit illegal raptor persecution offences. Mr Hogg also put forward a proposal for raptor culling on grouse moors 'when raptors become a problem'. For further information on the news report see here and here.
Former Crofting Commissioner calls for 'complete eradication' of white-tailed eagles
11th February 2014
A letter published by the Scottish Farmer this week is a good example of the Victorian attitude toward raptors that still persists in some areas of Scotland. The letter was written by a former Crofting Commissioner and betrays an astonishing level of ignorance and prejudice. Members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group work closely with many enlightened crofters and hill farmers and thankfully, this particular crofter's view is not shared by the majority but it's still an indicator of how much work there is to do.
SIR, - Listening to and reading about the Winter Watch tv programme regarding sea eagles, I found most of it incredible and so 'too bad' as far as the loss of lambs was concerned - they didn't even mention hoggs or ewes.
Then, for Mr Warnock of NFUS to say: "Sea eagles are here to stay". Surely it's time for him to vacate his perch - and if that is the view of the NFUS, what a precarious position hill sheep farmers and crofters are in.
Nothing short of complete eradication will do, and it is the same for the pine martin - both should be absolutely destroyed. The National Sheep Association, the Crofting Commission and Crofting Federation should be backing this to the hilt.
Will Mr Lochhead or Mr Wheelhouse do anything about the sea eagle? No, they didn't even prick their ears until a danger to our native eagle was mentioned and, for Mr Lochhead to say they are a tremendous tourist attraction is rubbish. If, like me, he had spoken to tourists from all over the world over the last 20 years at 'Working Sheepdogs' here, he would know they don't come for one attraction but to see as much as they possibly can. The oblivion of the sea eagle wouldn't matter and, indeed, would be an absolute blessing for the countryside and its animals.
Scottish Ornithologists' Club calls for game-shooting regulation following more reports of raptor persecution
2nd February 2014
The Scottish Ornithologists' Club has become the latest organisation to call for game-shooting regulation in Scotland following the latest reported raptor persecution crimes. The SOC has written to the Environment Minister to condemn the on-going acts of raptor persecution associated with driven-grouse moor management, and to urge him to "give serious consideration to the introduction of measures that will impose a degree of regulation of the game shooting industry in Scotland, with the possibility of revocation of sporting rights where there is a clear breach of the law". Their letter can be read here.
Golden eagle considered unsuitable as national bird by MSP who believes it symbolizes the Nazi regime
29th January 2014
The Public Petitions Committee hearing took a bizarre turn yesterday when the RSPB's proposal to designate the golden eagle as our national bird was attacked by a member of the petitions panel. Jackson Carlaw MSP (Scottish Conservatives, West Scotland) suggested that the golden eagle was a symbol of 'imperial power' as used by the Romans and the Nazis. He suggested the Robin might be a better candidate, before then arguing that perhaps 'another' national symbol wasn't even necessary. Fortunately, his cross-party colleagues on the Petitions Committee chose to put the petition through to the next stage which will include a public consultation. They also stated they would seek consultation from the Scottish Raptor Study Group and we look forward to providing information in support of a formal designation for the golden eagle.
A video of yesterday's proceedings can be viewed here for 4 weeks.
It's worth pointing out that Poland has had an eagle as its national emblem since the 1300s and did not see reason to change it after being invaded in WW2. Indeed, in 2011 a new football strip for the Polish national team excluded the eagle emblem and, following protests from fans and politicians alike, the eagle was reinstated.
Petition to formally designate the golden eagle as Scotland's national bird is heard at Holyrood
28th January 2014
The Public Petitions Committee in Holyrood will hear evidence today in support of the petition to designate the golden eagle as our national bird. The petition was lodged last December by RSPB Scotland. Evidence will be heard today from SRSG member Duncan Orr-Ewing (RSPB Scotland) and wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan. The petition has the full support of the Scottish Raptor Study Group. Further details about the background to the petition and today's hearing can be found here.
Calls to control sea eagles rejected by SNH
27th January 2014
Scottish Natural Heritage has rejected calls for sea eagle 'controls' being proposed by NFU Scotland. Des Thompson, principal advisor on biodiversity at SNH, told the BBC there was 'plenty of space' for the growing white-tailed eagle population and pledged to continue working with farmers and crofters to improve livestock husbandry and ensure there is plenty of prey for the eagles. Full story on the BBC website here.
SRSG member says call for grouse-shooting licences is 'sadly inevitable'
27th January 2014
Tayside Raptor Study Group member, Logan Steele, has written to the Scotsman to suggest that the recent calls for grouse-shooting licences are "sadly inevitable following decades of failed initiatives, joint working groups, codes of practice committees and legislative changes". He points to the spate of recent raptor persecution incidents to emphasise his point. His letter can be read here.
Overwhelming majority of poll respondents reject need for sea eagle controls
27th January 2014
Last week the Scottish Farmer hosted a poll to gauge interest in whether the Scottish white-tailed eagle population should be subject to control measures. An overwhelming 92% of respondents did not believe that control measures should be enacted. There's an interesting commentary about this poll here.
Dead bird & suspected poison bait discovered in South Lanarkshire
22nd January 2014
Police are investigating the discovery of a bird carcass found close to a suspected poisoned bait in the Carmichael area of South Lanarkshire this morning. Samples have been sent for toxicology analysis and Police Scotland are urging members of the public to "exercise caution" if they discover animal or bird carcasses in the countryside. Full story on the BBC website here.
Amendment to Parliamentary Motion calls for review of legislation covering game management, in response to continuing raptor persecution
21st January 2014
The Scottish Raptor Study Group welcomes an amendment that has been lodged to a Parliamentary Motion concerning raptor persecution. Claire Baker MSP's amendment includes a call for sufficient resources to be given to Police Scotland and the Crown Office to undertake investigations and subsequent prosecutions for raptor crime. In addition, there is a call for a review of the legislation covering game management to assess whether there is scope for further measures to be taken against the perpetrators of raptor crime. Details can be found here.
Scottish Raptor Study Group calls for red grouse management to be licensed
18th January 2014
The Scottish Raptor Study Group has sent the following letter to Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse:
May we send best wishes to you and to your colleagues for 2014. In one respect the year has not started off well, given the continuing concern over the report towards the end of last year of the most recent (the most recently detected, that is) golden eagle poisoning incident. The untimely demise of "Fearnan" is of course the last publicly known episode in the long and depressing saga of Scottish golden eagle mortality caused by criminal action.
The Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) wishes to put forward suggestions for the future of red grouse management, primarily in the context of such management as it affects raptor populations, but would like to mention first some details of a recent case study we’ve undertaken. This takes the form of a critique of a press release by the SGA six months ago and related map, citing at least 55 "active golden eagle nests" in the "keepered grouse areas of East and Central Scotland." We emphasise here that the SRSG is not mounting a deliberate attack on the SGA (indeed the SGA article stated validly that red grouse management can help to provide a worthwhile food supply for golden eagles) but merely seek to put forward the full picture in relation to that press release.
The SRSG has carried out a detailed analysis of golden eagle territory occupation and non-occupation in the Highlands south-east of the Great Glen, effectively by far the larger part of the area described by the SGA in its press release and shown on the related map. By no means however can all of that area count validly as "keepered grouse" ground. While our analysis discloses 52, not 55, "active golden eagle nests" per the SGA definition of these, it also shows that there are 57 "non-active" golden eagle territories (to which the SGA did not refer) in the area concerned - but taking into account also peripheral tracts of land managed for red grouse shooting although with known vacant golden eagle territories on them. Furthermore breeding Scottish golden eagles should be more widespread than they are at present, in lowland farmland as they are in Sweden for example.
Turning to land use aspects, our analysis discloses the following: of the 52 "active golden eagle nests", 8 (16%) are on (high intensity) driven grouse moors, 23 (44%) are on land managed to some extent for (lower intensity) i.e. broadly walked-up grouse shooting although within some of these 23 golden eagle territories the red grouse interest is very marginal now and 21 (40%) are on what one can call "non-grouse" areas; but of the 57 "non-active" golden eagle territories, 31 (54%) are on driven grouse moors, 14 (25%) are on land managed (with the above caveats) for walked-up grouse shooting and 12 (21%) are on non-grouse areas. We suggest that the above percentages, in relation to the three different land uses in question, are very telling. A similar message was brought out in the 2008 Golden Eagle Conservation Framework report published by SNH.
Taking the obvious difficulties that golden eagles encounter in trying to survive (let alone breed) on extensive parts of the land that is intensively managed for red grouse shooting along with the known adverse effects of this type of management on Scotland's populations of hen harriers, goshawks and peregrines, we urge the Scottish Government to take more effective measures to put a stop to the present ongoing criminal persecution of these (and any other) raptors on much of such land. There is a need also for such measures in some other parts of the Highlands and in southern Scotland. Increasingly the evidence is stacking up that, despite allegations to the contrary, it is not just a few who in the red grouse industry are involved in raptor crime but that the problem is rife throughout much of this industry. Looking to wider issues and as is now being recognised belatedly, there are clear biodiversity disadvantages in the intensification, sometimes extreme intensification, of red grouse management practices that is taking place increasingly in much of this bird's Scottish range.
We contend that the maverick side of the red grouse industry has failed over many years to put its house in order, that it still has no intention of doing so and that it is in contempt of the species protection laws that are justifiably in place. We feel that, this part of the private sector having failed conspicuously in these respects, the public sector must be more closely involved now in rectifying matters. Our view is that the Scottish Government should institute as quickly as possible a system of licensing of red grouse management (applying both to persons including corporations and to landholdings) backed up with stringent sanctions and should adopt other countries' practices aimed at curbing wildlife crime in general and raptor persecution in particular, where these would seem to be useful in the Scottish context.
We suggest also the following three features of such a licensing system:
(1) that it should operate in a proactive and not a reactive way, in other words that a grouse shooting enterprise should be required to prove that it is fit to operate as such rather than others having to prove that it is not fit to do so;
(2) that it should regulate all red grouse shooting management and not just the driven shooting component since what could be a quite intensive grouse shooting enterprise (with all that that could involve in the way of raptor persecution) might be able to sidestep in some way the driven shooting requirements and continue to operate in defiance of the law; and
(3) that it should apply also to the management of other game bird species (especially red-legged partridges) that are used as "red grouse extras" or as "red grouse substitutes."
We hope that the Scottish Government, with the support of its statutory agencies, will implement these suggested measures. To do so would not amount to "taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut", as some might contend.
Scottish Raptor Study Group
Scottish farmers calling for 'action' against white-tailed eagles
17th January 2014
The National Farmers Union (Scotland) is calling on the government to implement 'control measures' against reintroduced white-tailed eagles in western Scotland. They claim the sea eagle population is 'out of control' and is having a negative impact on sheep and other species such as golden eagles. The editor of The Scottish Farmer also suggests that the eagles might attack a small child; a now familiarly sensationalist claim, often rolled out for scaremongering purposes but with as much credibility as the notion that babies are delivered to parents by a stork.
A recent scientific study has shown that sea eagles have a 'minimal impact' on lambs in the Gairloch area of western Scotland (the study was initiated in 2009 when farmers claimed that three eagle pairs had taken 200 lambs - see here).
Two further studies have shown that white-tailed eagles are not having any negative effect on golden eagles in western Scotland in terms of where they nest (see here) and what they eat (see here).
In 2010, a study was undertaken to estimate the economic benefits of sea eagle toursim on the Isle of Mull. The study found that up to £5 million of tourist spend every year is as a result of visitors coming to see the eagles, and that 110 eagle tourism-related jobs are supported each year (read the report here).
Loch Garten osprey chick 'killed in collision in fog' in Spain
17th January 2014
A young osprey raised at the RSPB's flagship Loch Garten Reserve in 2012 has been found dead in Spain. The young bird, named Caledonia by local school children in the Highlands, was being satellite-tracked on her migration route. She was found in the cloisters of a convent in Seville and is believed to have collided with a cable. Full story from the BBC here.
Raptors set to feature on BBC's Winterwatch
16th January 2014
Winterwatch returns to BBC 2 next week (Mon 20th - Thurs 23rd January) and this year will be based at the National Trust's Mar Lodge Estate in the heart of the Cairngorms. Expect to see several features on raptors including golden eagles, hen harriers, red kites and little owls. Visit the Winterwatch webpage for more details.
Man reported for hen harrier death in Aberdeenshire
14th January 2014
A man has been reported to the Procurator Fiscal in relation to wildlife crime after the death of a hen harrier in the Huntly area of Aberdeenshire last June. The 58 year old man is expected to appear at Aberdeen Sheriff Court at a later date. Unfortunately, no further details have been made available at this time.
Parliamentary Motion: No Place for Wildlife Crime
13th January 2014
James Dornan MSP (SNP, Glasgow Cathcart) has lodged a parliamentary motion entitled: No Place for Wildlife Crime. The motion reads: That the parliament notes the poisoning of the golden eagle named Fearnan and believes that the killing of birds of prey has no place in modern Scotland; believes that the golden eagle population is of national interest, as demonstrated by a recent poll in which the species was voted the country's favourite animal; supports efforts by Police Scotland to bring wildlife criminals to justice, and commends the Scottish Government's commitment to end raptor persecution.
Retired gamekeeper claims gamekeepers are being pressurised to use poison bait to protect grouse stocks
8th January 2014
A retired gamekeeper from Angus claims that other gamekeepers are being put under pressure by their employers to use illegal poison to protect grouse stocks. Colin Gair, 66, made his claims after the recent discovery of the poisoned golden eagle 'Fearnan' on an Angus grouse moor. Mr Gair speculates that the poison may be being passed to gamekeepers by shoot managers. Full story here.
Police investigate another illegally-killed buzzard
3rd January 2014
Police Scotland are appealing for information relating to the death of a buzzard near Tomatin. The dead bird was found by a member of the public on 9th December. Police say the buzzard had 'not died of natural causes', but they provide scant detail about this incident, which is very disappointing. It is not known why the police have chosen to withhold details.
2013: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December,
2012: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December.