Theft of golden eagle eggs in Cairngorms

Golden eagle egg and chick

I was saddened to read that a clutch of golden eagle eggs has almost certainly been stolen from a nest in the Kincraig area of the Cairngorms. A lot of great work targeting egg thieves has taken place over the past 21 years since the launch of Operation Easter by Tayside Police. This operation quickly developed into a partnership between all of the UK police forces, the RSPB and the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit. It depends on the sharing of intelligence and, where possible, the proactive use of that intelligence. The operation dramatically increased the risk of egg thieves being caught and changes in the law in England and Wales in 2000 and in Scotland in 2003 meant that, if caught taking eggs or with an illegal egg collection, they were most likely to be sentenced to a period of imprisonment.

It is almost impossible to eliminate any specific crime and it is no surprise that at least a few egg thieves remain. Press reports indicate that the nest targeted near Kincraig was a tree nest. Invariably the act of climbing a tree leaves evidence from climbing gear sufficient to conclude that if the eggs are missing they have been stolen. There would also have been a chance that DNA could have been left on the tree but it is likely to have been lost due to weather. The incident was reported to the police on 11 June, though the chances are that the eggs were taken soon after being laid, which would be late March or early April. I’m a bit surprised that no-one noticed that there was something amiss during the intervening period but no doubt there will be a reason.

I must commend Police Scotland – and in particular the wildlife crime officer for the area, PC Dan Sutherland – for the press coverage of this incident. It was reported timeously with, as it should be, the police leading the press coverage and other relevant organisations, in this case Scottish Wildlife Trust and RSPB, assisting with comments. It was covered by television, national and local newspapers, social media and – importantly – on the Police Scotland website. It was treated just like any other serious crime, and I wish this was the case with all wildlife crimes.

Though the criminal may not be caught and be able to be charged with the taking of the eggs, there is a strong chance that in due course his egg collection will be recovered. The penalty for taking or possessing eggs illegally is the same and he (can’t think of any women egg thieves) can look forward to a term of imprisonment.

The bad news this week was tempered by the good news that a pair of white-tailed eagles on the island of Hoy on Orkney had hatched at least one chick on their cliff nest. This pair, the first to nest there since 1873, initially arrived on Hoy in 2015, being at that time the 100th pair in Scotland. They are thought to be four or five years old and, probably due to their inexperience or young age, this is the first year of a successful nesting attempt. We look forward to news of the chick (or even two) fledging later in the year.

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