Dear First Minister – from Chris Gomersall

Dear First Minister and Cabinet Secretary
May I ask, respectfully, which image of a white-tailed eagle do you prefer?

Poisoned White-tailed Eagle, Strathdon grouse moor. Photo: Police Scotland

And which best represents the aspirations of the Scottish government and its attitude to Scotland’s native wildlife and the environment?

White-tailed eagle adult in flight carrying fish. Isle of Skye, Scotland. Photo: Chris Gomersall

I am writing to you because of the latest in a long line of sickening and illegal poisonings of our “protected” birds of prey – most recently a juvenile white-tailed eagle, complete with satellite tag, on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park. The known incidents of wildlife crimes such as these are numerous and growing by the day, are probably just the tip of the iceberg, and yet there are hardly ever any prosecutions and no realistic deterrent. The idea of any form of effective self-policing by sporting estates is simply laughable – these people clearly think they are above the law. 

Despite my home address in the south of England, and in case anybody tries to dismiss my concerns as those of an urbanite who simply doesn’t understand the ways of the countryside, I would like to point out that I have worked for 50 years in wildlife conservation and ecotourism in Scotland. At the age of 17, I began volunteering for the RSPB on its Operation Osprey at Loch Garten. Later, as a graduate research ecologist I spent four years studying arctic terns in Orkney and red-throated divers in Shetland. Then in 1985, as RSPB’s staff photographer, one of the proudest moments of my career was photographing the first white-tailed eagle to fledge in the wild on the isle of Mull, following their re-introduction after a long period of absence in Scotland. Every year, a good proportion of my work programme is spent north of the border. For the last twenty years, I have regularly worked as an onboard naturalist and wildlife guide on live-aboard cruises in the Hebrides, where our guests from all over the world are always thrilled to see a wild white-tailed eagle, and indeed have sometimes made the journey especially for this purpose. I also lead residential wildlife photography workshops in the Highlands for Nikon School UK, and next week I have been invited as a speaker in residence for the Bird Watching and Wildlife Club in Grantown-on-Spey. My point is that wildlife tourism in Scotland is hugely important to the economy of rural and island communities, and there is no better mascot for that than the magnificent white-tailed eagle. You will no doubt be aware of the research from 2010 that showed tourist spending on the isle of Mull amounts to £5 million per year, largely driven by the presence of the eagles. There has been a massive conservation effort over many decades to slowly assist the recovery of this threatened species, and all of this is placed in jeopardy by the selfish actions of a few people and their narrow vested interests. Yet I know that most people I meet in Scotland are rightly very proud of their wildlife heritage and are just as disgusted as I am by these cynical crimes. 

This state of affairs has gone on for too long. Please act immediately to bring an end to the illegal persecution of our birds of prey. 
Thank you

Chris Gomersall

IG address @chrisgomersallwildlife

If you are maddened or saddened by the level of wildlife crime in Scotland’s Cairngorms National Park then please write to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (firstminister@gov.scot) and copy in Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham (CabSecECCLR@gov.scot).

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