Saturday, 19 December 2015

What's killing Scotland's birds of prey?

People - that's what!

White-tailed eagle
CCO image from Pixabay
It has recently been revealed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds that Scotland's raptor population, particularly the golden eagle, is being kept down by illegal killing.

Raptors in Scotland, such as the golden eagle, the hen harrier, the red kite and others, have legal protection against persecution (not just killing - it is also illegal to harass or disturb a nesting raptor) but this legal protection hasn't been very successful in preventing numerous raptors being illegally killed apparently by parties with a vested interest in the eradication (or near eradication) of these magnificent birds. According to the RSPB over the past 20 years 700 raptors, or birds of prey, have been shot, poisoned, trapped or otherwise killed.

So who is doing this? Well, the obvious suspects are those gamekeepers and landowners of the big grouse shooting estates in the highlands of Scotland who (allegedly) carry out these illegal killings in an attempt to negate the effect that raptors have on the grouse populations of their estates although just how many grouse raptors take each year is open to question.

Peregrine falcon with wings spread
Photograph by the author
What's the evidence for this? Actually, there isn't any - it's all largely circumstantial but it is curious that those raptors which live on or near grouse-shooting estates are the ones which are being killed whilst those who live further away and do not prey on grouse are largely left alone and are doing well.

The RSPB further state that only 15% of suspected cases of persecution of raptors were prosecuted (but most of those which were resulted in a conviction). This low prosecution rate probably reflects the fact that most raptor killings take place in isolated areas well away from prying eyes!

I can understand how shooting estates would object to raptors taking grouse and understand that they want to protect their investment (huntin'/shootin'/fishin' estates are big business in Scotland) but these birds have legal protection for a reason.


An eagle flying
CC0 image from Pixabay
They are all in decline and they can certainly do without trigger happy gamekeepers blasting them out of the sky (allegedly) or laying out poisoned bait for them (again, allegedly) - a practice which also puts in danger other animals and even man since the main poison used is carbofuran which is neurotoxic and is fatal to vertebrates (including humans) even in small doses.

There is an argument to say that the presence of raptors in Scotland is a big tourist attraction. Speaking personally, the sight of a golden eagle soaring over a remote hillside and disappearing into the mist quickens my pulse - it is one of the joys of Scotland's natural world.

Would it not be better for those grouse-shooting estates to accept the loss of a few birds in exchange for the greater opportunities offered by wildlife tourism? Is it not possible to combine grouse shooting (with guns if you must) with golden eagle shooting with cameras?

Possibly some sort of compensation scheme could be offered by the Scottish government - cash paid for every grouse lost to a raptor perhaps. Similar schemes operate elsewhere in the world where wildlife and human farming/herding clash. It would be a real shame if 'protecting our investment' was the reason raptors disappeared from the highlands.




Main story sources:
RSPB review: The illegal killing of birds of prey in Scotland
Scottish Raptor Study Group
BBC Scotland
The Guardian

Update sources:

Disappearance of Elwood
Disappearance of golden eagles

14 comments:

  1. Not a good update - understatement.

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    1. Unless the authorities take much more robust action than they have up till now against all sorts of wildlife crime this situation is likely to continue. What is needed is a few high-profile prosecutions with big fines and custodial sentences to deter potential offenders.

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  2. I tried leaving a comment earlier. As my internet is glitchy because of the weather.

    That is a horrible amount of prey birds being killed intentionally in the last 20 years. I wonder if the grouse industry has ever tallied up how many birds they have lost due to the prey birds looking for dinner?

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    1. As far as I am aware any figures regarding the numbers of grouse taken by raptors is little more than guesswork.

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  3. I had no idea this was as it is. Nature will take care of itself if we leave it alone but unfortunately man too often steps in to change the natural order. Excellent article.

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    1. Man has interfered with nature since he developed the ability to do so - almost always with negative results. Sometimes I think that the human race is its own worst enemy!

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  4. Yes, I just read an article on this in the Guardian. It is disgraceful. The Guardian was investigating an organisation which was trying to attack the RSPB but was seen to be funded by large grouse estate owners. How many grouse can a pair of eagles eat in the shooting season? Assume 3 a day (parents plus chicks) and for 365 days a year, to cover breeding of grouse = 1,000 grouse. How much is that? No idea of cost but government could fund that surely?

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    1. In my last post 'It's Glorious' which was about the start of the grouse shooting season on 12th August I gave a figure of up to £180 per brace of grouse. This is what a top grouse shooting estate will charge a 'gun' (which is what the person who shoots grouse is called) for each two grouse killed. Simple arithmetic tells us that if a pair of eagles take 1000 grouse a year (your estimate) that adds up to a potential loss to a shooting estate of £90,000 - more than enough incentive to kill birds of prey!

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  5. You will go to jail here is you get caught killing or messing with eagles. This is sad.

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    1. Offenders can also be jailed in the UK but the prosecution level is very low probably because a remote grouse moor is unlikely to have many members of the public around to act as witnesses.

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  6. So sad that someone (or more than one) apparently value the contents of their wallet more than the opportunity to view these majestic birds.

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    1. I agree. It is, at best, short-sighted. Wildlife tourism has the potential to generate at least as much income as grouse shooting (or deer, or whatever). Wildlife can only be shot with a gun once but can be 'shot' many times with a camera!

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  7. Replies
    1. It is a sad reflection on the human race and the world we have created for ourselves when money is valued above all else.

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