Golden Eagle missing in Highlands ‘black hole’ of a dozen disappeared birds

A Golden Eagles has gone missing presumed killed in the Highlands – the 12th of its  type to do so in seven years across what has been dubbed a ‘black hole’ for birds of prey.

It has led to one of the UK’s leading environment charities – the RSPB – to issue a strong statement claiming they are likely to have been persecuted.

That, in turn, has drawn counter claims from gamekeepers who say they are being blamed without any conclusive evidence.

Planet Scotland understands that the satellite-tagged golden eagle has disappeared in the northern Monadhliath Mountains of Inverness-shire.

The young bird, fitted with a tag sponsored by SSE, before it fledged from a nest in the Cairngorms National Park, was paired to a two year-old female, coincidentally also fitted with a transmitter.

Data from her tag shows that she left the same area for several days following the male’s sudden disappearance, possibly searching for her missing mate, before returning to the territory.

She has subsequently been joined there by another young male, also reinforcing the case that the two year old bird has disappeared.

Data from the two-year old male’s transmitter showed that he had been living in an upland area north of Tomatin, since early last year.

He had stayed almost exclusively in this area until mid December, when his tag, that had been functioning as expected, inexplicably stopped transmitting.

The RSPB points out the area is mainly managed for driven grouse shooting,

Police Scotland are investigating.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Species and Land Management said: “A report published by the Scottish Government last May, prompted by the regular disappearance of satellite-tagged eagles in this same area, provided unequivocal evidence that the sudden disappearance of these birds is highly suspicious.

“This is now the twelfth tagged eagle to go missing in this “black hole” in just seven years and is entirely consistent with the systematic and ongoing illegal persecution of eagles in this area.”

The missing bird and its mate were occupying a traditional golden eagle territory, but one where the nest has not been successful for decades despite good habitat and prey.

In 2016, the area was occupied by a lone adult male, but he too disappeared, the RSPB say.

Orr-Ewing continued: “Despite very recent and high level public warnings from Scottish Government, it appears that criminals intent on killing golden eagles continue to target these magnificent birds, especially in areas managed for driven grouse shooting.

“Patience with self-regulation is at an end and meaningful deterrents are now urgently required.

“We support the introduction of new measures to license driven grouse shooting, including powers for the public authorities to remove such licences, where there is good evidence of criminal behaviour”.

“In parts of the Monadhliaths, such as the area from where this bird fledged, golden eagles are doing well, but the efforts by some landowners, farmers and gamekeepers to protect these magnificent birds are constantly being undermined by persecution when eagles move out of these safe areas.

“There can be little doubt that current legislation and enforcement have proven to be insufficient deterrents to those criminals, invariably linked to the management of driven grouse shooting, who are intent on killing protected birds of prey.”

He urged anyone with information to contact police on 101 or call the RSPB Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.

However his comments and reference to landowners and grouse moors have drawn a stinging rebuke from The Scottish Gamekeepers Association.

They said: said: “If anyone has information they should contact Police Scotland. If it is proven any harm has come to this bird and if it transpires there is evidence that that harm was the responsibility of an SGA member, they will be subject to our very strict wildlife crime disciplinary code.

“The legal process deserves respect before people automatically jump to apportioning blame.”

They added: “It is becoming increasingly impossible to gain full transparency surrounding these incidents when those holding the data are the tag owners who then dictate process and message.

“At the same time, these tag owners are actively lobbying to persuade government to legislate against grouse moors.

“If investigations were to have the best chance of success and procedural transparency, this data would be held centrally by an impartial body who could look into everything such as the reliability of the tag, who fitted it, the evidence of criminality which exists and the full range of other factors which could cause a mechanical device to stop signalling after many months in the wild.

“When a tag from a Hen Harrier stopped signalling on one of RSPB’s own nature reserves in the Cairngorms National Park, the charity stated the last known location of a tag was ‘only an indication of the broad general area’ where that bird was spending time.

“That being the case, the public deserve to see the hard evidence which exists that the lost signal was down to grouse management and not any other cause such as a faltering tag, natural mortality, eagles fighting over territory or any of the other land uses in the broad general area which include farming, forestry and wind energy.”

WANT TO LEARN MORE? Read: SNH Analyses of the fates of satellite tracked golden eagles in Scotland.

IMAGE CREDITS: cc DawnyDawny

Shaun Milne is a Scottish based journalist with a particular interest in environmental issues, politics and travel.

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