Golden Eagle – Scotland’s favourite animal (but not on grouse moors)

By Juan Lacruz (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Juan Lacruz (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
The Golden Eagle is Scotland’s favourite wild animal – by quite a long way according to the voting.  It claimed the top spot ahead of four lovely mammals; Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Otter and Harbour Seal.

What a shame then that so many places ideally suited to Golden Eagles lack their presence.  Only three of 14 regions that have held Golden eagles in Scotland are regarded as having eagle populations in favourable condition according to a 2008 report from SNH.  In nine of the other 11 regions persecution was regarded as an important factor in limiting eagle numbers and in seven of these illegal persecution was regarded as the most important factor.

Here is a quote from the report: ‘A number of lines of evidence indicated that illegal persecution of eagles, principallyassociated with grouse moor management in the central and eastern Highlands, is the most severe constraint on Scottish golden eagles.’

Scotland’s favourite wild animal is rarer than it should be, across much of its range, because people kill it.  Think what happens to less favoured wildlife!

In a little discussion on this subject on Twitter the Chief Executive of the Scottish Land and Estates organisation, Doug McAdam, was very keen to point me in the direction of this paper on the impacts of catching at the nest on Golden Eagles – I am grateful to him for it is an interesting paper, and a subject about which I have always had concerns. The SLE are so concerned that they feature this paper on their website!

I sometimes worry that the enthusiasm for tagging birds may sometimes lead to harm to those birds and so this paper is absolutely what responsible scientists should publish as a cautionary tale.  Researchers should always consider any potential harm of their studies on the species that they study (and mitigate it, and, if possible, measure it).  There may be some danger that the keenness to have a sexy, interesting study might sometimes lead to needless harm to the study animals.

However, the Scottish population of Golden Eagles is not constrained and limited by radio- or satellite-tagging activities!  We might have a few Golden Eagles nesting in North Wales and northern England if Scottish grouse moors would let a few through to us.

The current situation is totally unacceptable – and again grouse moors seem to hold a large portion of the blame for the widespread absence of a protected bird.   Is grouse shooting really a legitimate field sport these days?

If Doug McAdam would like to write Guest Blog on what the SLE is doing with its members to address the findings of the SNH report and conservation framework for Golden Eagles I’ll be happy to have a look at it.

By Juan lacruz (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Juan lacruz (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons




14 Replies to “Golden Eagle – Scotland’s favourite animal (but not on grouse moors)”

  1. Thank you Mark, as you say disturbance impact is a serious issue and we need to understand all the factors at play impacting golden eagles in Scotland. However to be clear the paper you refer to was posted on our website in order that I could link to it and post on Twitter after you and others requested “evidence” that there were any other factors at play impacting golden eagles – you maintained it was just persecution. It is not posted on our website for the reasons you suggest – we tend to post our own papers on our website not other parties. My point was that there are a range of factors including climate change, afforestation and changing land use, lack of prey base in areas, increased recreational access and disturbance, expanion of renewables, intra guid effects etc etc at play and placing the blame solely at the feet of persecution is unrealistic and is not backed up by the current persecution evidence. Where persecution of golden eagles exists it must eradicated and that is why a range of partners, Scottish Land & Estates included, invest a significant amount of time and resource into working with and through PAW Scotland to help achieve this, not just for golden eagles though, but all wildlife crime. Thanks for the offer to write you a blog which I will consider. Best regards Doug

    1. This a is typical of the sort of thing that comes from the landed sporting interests whether it is in England or Scotland and whether we are talking about Golden Eagles, Hen Harriers, Peregrines or Short Eared Owls. It is essentially a cry of “not us gov” at its worst or an attempt to muddy the waters so that those who might protest against their interests fail to do so.
      Yes Doug we accept that past afforestation had an impact and that wind energy and recreation may be having a minor impact but the fact remains many eagle territories are vacant or consistently fail to produce young or are occupied by single often immature birds for years and that most of such territories are in grouse moor areas, just as in both England and Scotland Harriers are virtually gone from grouse moors as are nesting Peregrines, along with an apparent rapid fall in Shortie numbers, either there is something radically wrong with the ecology/ management of these areas or these birds are being persecuted. There may be little legal evidence but that is the logical conclusion based on bird distribution. It is time SLE and the other shooting organisations faced up tp their responsibilities rather than pay lip service to them.

    2. Douglas – welcome and thank you for your comment. I’d be very surprised if you get around to writing a Guest Blog on the subject of Golden Eagle persecution for this blog but I wish you would.

      I didn’t actually say that disturbance impact is a serious issue. And I don’t think that we have to know any more about Golden Eagles than we already know to be sure that tackling illegal persecution is the top priority. And I didn’t say, in our conversation on Twitter, that persecution was the only issue. Illegal persecution of eagles in Scotland is clearly a much more important issue in determining the numbers and range of the Golden Eagle in Scotland (and probably England and Wales) than is disturbance.

      The more that SLE can do – your Guest Blog could tell us all what you are doing – to reduce illegal persecution by its members and others the better.

  2. Just had some amazing views of this bird on Mull. I have been told that my sightings with Ewan [ ] who photographed the food pass is possible new to science. So It shows there are still more to learn about this iconic bird.

  3. It’s perhaps worth pointing out that the paper on the impacts of catching Golden Eagles at the nest was written before 2001 and the trapping and fitting of radio trackers was carried out in the early 1990s. Radio-tracking technology has improved considerably in the last 20 years, in particular the radios are now very much smaller and lighter. (See for example the recent successful tracking of cuckoos by the BTO)

    It is certainly good to hear from SLE that “Where persecution of golden eagles exists it must eradicated.” I would certainly like to hear more from Doug about how SLE “invest a significant amount of time and resource” into reducing wildlife crime. He suggests that there is a lack of current persecution evidence and cites research that was carried out 20 years ago. How about looking objectively at current evidence?

  4. It’s the usual hypocrisy, Cherry picking any information. Using a paper from 2001, based on information gathered in the previous century to make a point because it suites. yet his organisation and others connected with Shooting, strongly criticised and asked for the the JNCC,s Hen Harrier report produced in 2011 to be dismissed as being outdated because it only contained information up to 2004.

  5. Crucial to making policy – and taking action – for any species or habitat is to focus down on the key causes of unfavourable status. There are always lots of factors – and always people with an interest in skewing decisions one way or another – but the big question is which factors are making the big difference – sometimes it can be just one, sometimes several – but rarely are the whole suite of potential factors critical to successful management – which is why the endless reports with 60 reccomendations frequently have less impact than the authors expect.

    In this case there is just one question: what would happen were persecution removed from the equation ? All the evidence suggests that this is a one problem issue and that all the further impacts – disturbance, afforestation etc would have only a marginal impact compared to that single big issue – as is equally the case for Hen Harrier in England.

  6. It’s interesting that of all the dead satellite-tagged golden eagles found over the last few years in Scotland, no post-mortems have shown any evidence of any ill-effects of being fitted with a tag. A significant number, however have been found poisoned. A further bird was illegally trapped, for 15 hours on a grouse moor. It then mysteriously moved, with two broken legs, 10 miles overnight, to where it was subsequently found under a tree, close to a minor road. Various land management interests denied or played down any evidence of persecution. Of course, a good few other birds have simply disappeared, never to be seen or heard of again, with their last known locations invariably in areas managed intensively for grouse shooting. Draw your own conclusions…

  7. Has anyone else noticed how difficult it is to see golden eagles well in areas around grouse moors? It’s not just because their numbers are depleted, but because when you actually see one, they are disappearing behind a ridge and/or very distant. Go to the Hebridean isles, away from the heavily managed grouse moors, and you can see golden eagle relatively easily, and apparently unconcerned by the presence of humans. I would be interested if others can back up my observations?

    What this would point to is that illegal persecution not only affects the population of Scotland’s favourite animal, but it affects their chances of seeing it.

Comments are closed.