The poisoning of a satellite-tagged golden eagle in the Angus Glens is yet another disgraceful and disgusting crime against our wildlife committed in that area of Scotland. It is the latest in a litany of raptor persecution incidents blighting Scotland’s reputation as a place to come to see wild birds of prey, particularly the larger species such as the golden eagle and white-tailed eagle. The number of poisoned birds of prey, the number of poisoned baits, the number of illegally-set traps designed or baited to catch birds of prey and the traces of pesticide found in gamekeepers’ vehicles, all in the Angus Glens, make it impossible for grouse-shooting estates there to argue that they are not those responsible. Birds of prey are being sacrificed to produce the biggest possible grouse bags on a shooting day. This is a situation which is not sustainable and I would not be in the least surprised to see – in fact I am at the stage I would now welcome – further government sanctions against grouse moor owners.
For at least a decade now some of the larger grouse moors have been intensifying their grouse production. This has included the removal of deer, dramatic reduction in white hare numbers, the complete enclosure of estate land by electrified double deer fences and an increase in gamekeepers. I have even seen trees cut down by the sides of burns running through the moor so that birds of prey would have nowhere to roost and it is not the first time I have referred to some of the grouse moors as a desert of monoculture: little else except heather and grouse.
There is now a clear culture on some estates of poisoned baits being set round the boundary. Any victim is then equally likely (or more likely depending on the contour of the land) to be found on a neighbouring estate. This was exactly the case in 2008 when over 30 baits were found placed on the posts of a double electrified deer fence of an estate intensively managed for grouse, while two victims, a white-tailed eagle and a buzzard, were found a short distance away on a neighbour’s land who had no shooting interests. Indeed the dead white-tailed eagle was found by and reported to the police by the neighbouring landowner.
These situations make it incredibly difficult for the police to reach a successful conclusion in their investigation. Even if one of, say eight, gamekeepers on an estate set out the poisoned bait that killed a bird of prey that has been found, evidence needs to show beyond reasonable doubt that the bird of prey took bait set out by that particular person. In the absence of any bait found (or indeed even if a bait is found) this is an exceptionally difficult task. I have said for years that while I was a wildlife crime officer the investigation of wildlife crime was much more challenging than any other crime investigation with which I was involved during many years of CID and drug squad work.
Police wildlife crime officers, who are some of the most experienced and dedicated police officers in Scotland, now need as much support from the public as they can get. This includes gamekeepers standing up and being counted, since they must know even better than the police who is involved in illegal practices. It also includes support, rather than endless criticism, from some of those who have a love of birds of prey but seem to see police wildlife crime officers as people who can ignore or circumvent legal restrictions in the same manner as do the poisoners.