News

SNH report confirms persecution is threatening Scotland's golden eagles
02/07/2008
A new report has confirmed that some parts of Scotland no longer have viable populations of native golden eagles despite having the ideal habitat conditions for the species to thrive. A newly published Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) report concludes that there is clear evidence of the eagles' decline in areas where there still appears to be use of illegal poisoned baits.

Reviewing the recent work and the results contained in several scientific publications, the report found that only three of sixteen regions in Scotland had golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) populations which were stable or expanding, and occupying most of the existing suitable habitat. These were all in western Scotland.

The most serious problems were found in the central and eastern Highlands, where less than half of all known territories were occupied, and the existing populations of eagles continued to decline. Based on the numbers of young golden eagles produced by the remaining pairs, the populations in these regions should be expanding markedly. Instead, their numbers are declining and they are failing to produce youngsters that could settle in other parts of Scotland. The main land use in these regions is grouse moor management. These results are consistent with several other studies showing that eagles have been subjected to illegal persecution in parts of these areas.

The report's authors looked at ten factors which could affect the golden eagle population, ranging from grazing by sheep, which might reduce the heathery habitat important for prey species, to wind farms. Results showed that illegal persecution is the most severe constraint on Scotland's golden eagles, preventing them from achieving a healthy population in suitable habitats throughout parts of the country.

Environment Minister Michael Russell said: "The golden eagle is a magnificent bird of prey and a key species for Scotland and I find this evidence of its decline deeply disturbing. This is a timely report, with tackling crimes against our wildlife firmly on my - and Scotland's - agenda. In addition, the report, alas, gives scientific proof, if further proof was needed, that the illegal use of poisoned baits continues to blight our country.

"I want SNH to continue working with other bodies, including the police and land managers, to stamp out this persecution. We should all get the chance to see golden eagles in the wild."

In Scotland, the golden eagle is protected in law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the EC Birds Directive. Despite this Scotland's second largest bird of prey is still at risk. Golden eagles live in upland areas and nest on cliffs or in large trees. They feed mainly on medium sized prey such as ptarmigan, hares or rabbits and carrion such as dead sheep and deer.

Professor Colin Galbraith, SNH's director of policy and advice said: "Reports such as this provide us with key pointers to the uncertain future for the conservation of this iconic bird. Many reasons are routinely put forward for the lack of a thriving golden eagle population, especially in eastern Scotland. For carrion feeders such as the golden eagle, and other raptors such as the red kite, poisoning is a real threat; directly from poisoned bait and indirectly from eating animals which have been poisoned. We must stop this illegal killing, which mars our countryside and deprives people of the opportunity to see golden eagles. We really are very fortunate to have excellent data, collected by several hundred surveyors as part of three national surveys across Scotland, which provides the basis for this report and for our concerns."

The report, A Conservation Framework for Golden Eagles: implications for their conservation and management in Scotland, is available on the SNH website at www.snh.org.uk, or from Gordon Simpson, SNH, Great Glen House, Leachkin Road, Inverness, IV3 8NW.

ENDS
Further information:
Heather Kinnin, press & public relations officer, Scottish Natural Heritage 0131 316 2606 or main press office on 01463 725022
Professor Des Thompson, policy and advice manage, Scottish Natural Heritage 0131 316 2630 or 07774 161251.

Notes for editors:

1. This report has been produced in partnership with other members of the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme: Scottish Raptor Study Groups, Rare Breeding Birds Panel, RSPB Scotland, BTO Scotland, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, and SNH (who chair the scheme).
2. Photo of golden eagle available for free, single use please call Heather Kinnin on the number above.
3. Map attached to email showing vacant golden eagle territories available for publication after embargo. Please credit SNH, all rights reserved.
4. If you require an embargoed copy of the full report immediately contact Heather Kinnin above
5. The report's authors, Dr D P Whitfield, Dr A H Fielding, D R A McLeod and Dr P F Haworth, examined many potential constraints for their influence on golden eagles including: vegetation and land cover, geology, commercial forestry, unintentional human disturbance, wind farms, expansion of white-tailed eagles, persecution, and grazing by sheep and deer. Data from national surveys undertaken in 1982, 1993 and 2003 were analysed.
6. Other land management factors having an effect on the bird's success were found in two regions of western Scotland. There, the eagle populations produced low numbers of young birds probably because of a combination of heavy grazing by deer and sheep, and intensive burning of vegetation which meant there was less good habitat for the prey species.
7. Scottish Natural Heritage is the Scottish Government's statutory advisor in respect to the conservation, enhancement, enjoyment, understanding and sustainable use of the natural heritage. For further information on SNH visit www.snh.org.uk
8. The report cites the fact that recorded incidents of illegal persecution of golden eagles (including poisoning, trapping, shooting) were more common in those regions where grouse moor management predominated. Persecution reduces adult golden eagle survival and constrains the bird's natural distribution across regions which would otherwise be ideal areas for breeding pairs. It also causes a reduction in the overall productivity of the population, because older birds, which have higher productivity, are killed off, and there is an increase in the number of vacant territories. The report concludes that these empty areas probably become ecological 'traps', attracting dispersing immature birds from persecution-free areas whose chance of survival becomes reduced as they move into regions with persecution.