The latest poisoned eagle scandal – some thoughts

A poisoned venison bait on a boundary fence

A poisoned venison bait on a boundary fence

A poisoned hare bait beside an electrified double fence on a boundary

A poisoned hare bait beside an electrified double fence on a boundary

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.

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4 Responses to The latest poisoned eagle scandal – some thoughts

  1. Borderslass says:

    Well said, I agree 100% that Wildlife Crime Officers do get unfairly criticised by a certain Raptor Blogger at times, however in fairness, taking 3 months or more to issue a press release for public assistance in some cases does beggar belief, and to me damages the reputation and good work dedicated officers carry out daily.

    • Hi Borderslass. I don’t want to get in to an ongoing discussion on the use of media. Sometimes there are reasons for a delay that the public are not aware of. I do, however, think that these incidents should be in the public domain as soon as it is possible to do so without prejudicing an investigation. The police – and I include myself here in the past – have sometimes failed to do that.

  2. Geri Thomas says:

    This Government will never clamp down on the Land owners instructing their gamekeepers to undertake these illegal acts. The owners of these shoots are the natural voters….and monetary backers for the Conservative Party and all the liberals in the Con/Lib coalition don’t own a pair of Bollocks between them.

    • Geri, lack of action in England and Wales on vicarious liability and creating offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of possession of certain pesticides tends to vindicate your views. Hopefully the Scottish Government can further show the way forward.

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