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Golden eagle numbers rise by 15 per cent since 2003, according to RSPB

Golden eagle numbers have risen by 15 per cent since 2003, bringing the population back towards numbers thought to be present in Scotland historically, according to a survey from RSPB Scotland.

Golden Eagle

The fourth national golden eagle survey shows the population has increased to 508 golden eagle pairs – up from the 442 pairs recorded in the last survey.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham welcomed the figures, but labelled recent disappearances of satellite-tagged birds on or near grouse moors as “disturbing and disappointing”.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland, put the rise down to increased monitoring and satellite tagging of eagles, as well as stronger sanctions against wildlife crime.

Orr-Ewing added: “However, the continued absence of golden eagles in some areas of eastern Scotland remains a real cause for concern and suggests that much more work needs to be done.”

Roseanna Cunningham described the population increase, which means the golden eagle meets the requirements for ‘favourable conservation status’ in the UK, as “extremely heartening”.

She said: “The successes have been down to partnership work and this is continuing with the South of Scotland Golden Eagle project, which aims to boost populations even further.

“But it is clear from this national survey that there are still areas of Scotland, which are ideal habitats for golden eagles to breed and hunt, where there has not been a recovery in population despite a lot of hard work to protect these birds. This seems like a missed opportunity.”

Referring to recent eagle disappearances, Cunningham said: “That’s why I’ve ordered a review of the information being gathered by these tags, to get to the truth about how, where and why raptors are vanishing. This evidence will be a significant factor in deciding the next steps for tackling wildlife crime.”

The survey was based in surveyors from the voluntary Scottish Raptor Study Group conducting a minimum of three visits to over 700 known traditional golden eagle sites, with support also provided by landowners and farmers.

Tim Baynes, director of the Scottish Moorland Group, part of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “Our members are passionate about the golden eagles on their land and it is in large part a tribute to their management and collaboration that the population has increased. They have helped the surveyors and worked with Scottish Natural Heritage in the interest of golden eagles for many years.

“The east Highlands still have the highest level of productivity (young per pair) and a stable number of occupied territories over more than three decades. The south central Highlands, which includes significant areas of driven grouse moor has shown by far the greatest increase in range occupancy – 70 per cent – since 2003.”

The national survey was carried out during the first six months of 2015 and was co-funded by the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage.

Article taken from: https://www.holyrood.com/articles/news/

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Red kite populations taking off slowly in the north due to killings

Slow growth of one of Scotland’s four populations of reintroduced red kites is down to illegal killing, according to a new report from the country’s nature agency.

A new report suggests poor population growth of red kites in the north of Scotland is down to illegal killings. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The study, carried out by RSPB’s Centre for Conservation Science for Scottish Natural Heritage, shows the number of birds colonising the north of Scotland is much lower than at comparable release sites elsewhere.

From an original 93 individuals released there are now a total of 70 breeding pairs, far fewer than the 1,500 experts believe there could be.

The red kite was once widespread across the UK but persecution by humans drove the species to extinction in Scotland and England by the end of the 19th century.

A UK-wide re-introduction programme was launched in 1989, when young birds taken from Sweden, Spain and Wales were released at two sites – at the Black Isle, near Inverness, and in the Chilterns in England.

In addition, another seven new populations have been established across the country, three of them in Scotland and the rest in England. The scheme is considered a major success, with numbers on the rise in most areas.

The latest Scottish count showed at least 283 pairs in 2015. But the new report has found the population in north Scotland, although not at risk of decline, continues to grow more slowly than at other reintroduction sites.

It updates earlier work and suggests persecution is still the main reason numbers are not higher in the region.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management for RSPB Scotland, said: “Illegal killing is the principal threat, despite the fact that the red kite poses no threat to any land use interests. “We call on responsible landowners to work with the police to help stamp out criminal practices which continue to cause such damage to important parts of our natural heritage.”

The latest study shows survival rates and the proportion of illegally killed birds being found remained at similar levels to previous years. Of 57 dead red kites recovered between 2007 and 2014, 42 per cent were confirmed to have been illegally killed. This compares to 40 per cent from 1989 to 2006.

Sporting estates have come under fire over illegal killing of birds of prey but the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) insists efforts are being made to end the problem. “Red Kite conservation is a huge success story in Scotland and many SGA members are playing an active part in this,” said an SGA spokesman. “If a tiny minority continue to take part in illegal practices, this is through no encouragement whatsoever from the SGA and all our members know they will be expelled from the organisation if convicted of wildlife crime.”

Article taken from: http://www.scotsman.com/news/environment/red-kite-populations-taking-off-slowly-in-the-north-due-to-killings-1-4271184

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Satellite tagged Aberdeenshire raptor missing in Highlands

Hen harrier ElwoodThe hen harrier, known as Elwood to conservationists, fledged at a nest site in Aberdeenshire

A satellite tag fitted to a hen harrier has stopped transmitting in the same mountains where eight tagged eagles “vanished”, RSPB Scotland has said.

The hen harrier fledged at a nest in Aberdeenshire in July.

The RSPB said its tag last sent information on 3 August from moorland in the Monadhliath Mountains managed for grouse shooting.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said there was “no independent information” on the situation.

Last week, RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Moorland Group, whose members include landowners and gamekeepers, clashed over the loss of the eight golden eagles between 2011 and July this year.

The wildlife charity believes they were killed illegally around grouse moors, and their satellite tracking tags destroyed.

The Scottish Moorland Group said it condemned wildlife crime. It added that the RSPB had not considered other reasons for the loss of the tags.

Golden eagleEight tagged golden eagles have vanished since November 2011, says RSPB Scotland

The hen harrier, known as Elwood, was being monitored under a scheme run by the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime Scotland.

After fledging at a nest site in Aberdeenshire the bird spent time near Tomatin, south of Inverness.

The bird’s tag last transmitted information a few miles from the Slochd Summit on the A9.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations, said: “This latest disappearance of a satellite tagged bird is deeply concerning, and joins the long list of protected birds of prey that have been confirmed to have been illegally killed or disappeared suddenly in this area.

“The transmitters being fitted to these birds are exceedingly reliable, and illegal persecution is therefore the most likely explanation of the disappearance of these birds of prey.

“The absence of typical breeding raptor species from areas of suitable habitat, or at traditional nesting sites, in large parts of the Monadhliaths is further supporting evidence of a major problem with wildlife crime in this general area.”

‘Appropriate action’

A spokesman for SGA said: “As with other recent allegations, the SGA will work with Police Scotland and Scottish government in an attempt to get to the bottom of this. It is clearly a situation which cannot go on.

“We have no independent information, at the present time, so getting the facts will be the first step. Speculation, at this stage, will not help.

“The SGA does not, and will never, condone wildlife crime. As an organisation we advocate legal solutions, solely, as the means to resolve conflicts. If there is any evidence of illegal activity by an SGA member, appropriate action will be taken.”

Tim Baynes, director of the Scottish Moorland Group, added: “We are as concerned as anyone when a satellite tagged bird goes missing and particularly in this case because the bird was part of a project involving Scottish Land and Estates and our members.

“This bird was tagged on one of our member estates as part of the Heads Up For Harriers.”

He added: “Estates in the area where the bird went missing are also concerned but have not been approached by RSPB to help in any search. They are unaware of any incident and would be willing to help.”

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-37107652

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Highland estates face stricter legal controls over grouse shoots

Highland estates could be forced to apply for licences to shoot grouse in a further crackdown by Scottish ministers on the illegal persecution of birds of prey.

goshawk

Aileen McLeod, the Scottish environment minister, said she had ordered a review into the stricter legal controls imposed on game estates in Europe as conservationists disclosed that at least 779 protected birds had been illegally killed over a 20-year period in Scotland.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said it believed this death toll, which includes the killing of 37 golden eagles and 104 red kites, was a fraction of the total number they suspect had been shot, poisoned or illegally trapped by gamekeepers and farmers since 1994.

Scotland already has some of the strictest rules on wildlife persecution, including “vicarious liability”, new powers where the owner of an estate can be taken to court for the actions of their employees or evidence of systematic persecution on their land.

But RSPB Scotland said that was failing to fully curb illegal killing.

Its latest annual figures for 2014 showed there had been eight cases of illegal poisoning, including the deaths of 12 red kites and four buzzards in one cluster at Connon Bridge in the Black Isle – the largest number ever poisoned in a single proven incident in the UK.

In addition, there were 16 cases where traps, shooting, nest destruction and attempted persecution was proven, involving buzzards, peregrines, hen harriers and eagles in 2014.

Stuart Housden, the director of RSPB Scotland, said landowners efforts to stem persecution were mostly voluntary and were clearly failing. “People are ignoring the law and ignoring what’s going on in many places; we have bird populations with serious problems,” he said.

In Spain and Germany – two countries now being studied under the Scottish government review, shooting estates were licensed and could lose their licences if persecution came to light – a system no UK government has previously considered.

Ministers have not committed to a formal licensing system for Scotland, but have asked Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to investigate the options. McLeod confirmed on Thursday that SNH had just invited tenders for the review.

Paul Wheelhouse, her predecessor, told Holyrood last year: “The Scottish government is determined to stamp out this deeply unpleasant and pernicious criminal behaviour. If and when we judge it necessary, I am committed to taking further action. If that involves licensing certain types of businesses, we will do so.”

Ian Thompson, head of investigation for RSPB Scotland, said discovering poisoned or shot birds was a matter of luck; many perpetrators – who were trying to protect their grouse or pheasant shoots – covered up their crimes or birds never found.

There had been 171 cases of poison baits or non-target species such as domestic cats and dogs found poisoned. There had been 134 cases were illegal traps were set or other attempts at persecution detected.

That pointed to systematic, widespread persecution, said Thompson: “This isn’t the work of a few rogue individuals. It is widespread and concentrated where shooting management takes place.”

RSPB Scotland said red kite, hen harrier and golden eagle populations were at an unnaturally low level in game shooting regions, in the Highlands, Angus near Dundee, and southern Scotland as a direct result of the persistent persecution.

There had been a 23% fall in hen harrier numbers recorded to 2010; there were hundreds of pairs of red kites missing from the Black Isle area north-east of Inverness and perhaps several hundred pairs of golden eagles more than the 442 breeding pairs now living in Scotland.

A recent Scottish Gamekeeper Survey had found 53% of golden eagle territories on grouse moors were occupied; Ian Thompson, head of investigations for RSPB Scotland, said that 66% should be in active use. Even those which were occupied, were held by a solitary bird, not a breeding pair.

The latest annual figures for 2014 showed there had been eight cases of illegal poisoning, including the deaths of 12 red kites and four buzzards in a cluster at Conon Bridge in Ross-shire – the largest number ever poisoned in a single proven incident in the UK.

In addition, there were 16 cases where traps, shooting, nest destruction and attempted persecution was proven, involving buzzards, peregrines, hen harriers and eagles in 2014.

The Scottish Moorland Group, which represents shooting estate owners, challenged the RSPB’s position that there was no downward trend over the last 20 years, arguing that there had been a noticeable decline in incidents in recent years.

Landowners were themselves taking action, said Tim Baynes, director of the Scottish Moorland Group. “The most striking fact about bird of prey deaths in Scotland is that they declined over the last 20 years and have fallen dramatically over the last five years in particular,” he said.

Article taken from: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/17/highland-estates-face-stricter-legal-controls-over-grouse-shoots?CMP=share_btn_tw

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Hundreds of raptors illegally killed since 1994, says RSPB

A 20-year review of the illegal killing of birds of prey in Scotland shows 779 raptors died between 1994 and 2014, according to RSPB Scotland.

buzzard

The charity said a “significant majority” of the killings took place in areas associated with game shooting.

Environment Minister Aileen McLeod said the report was “uncomfortable reading” but added that wildlife crime was being tackled.

The Scottish Moorland Group said the number of illegal deaths was declining.

It added that owners and managers of land used for shooting game birds did not tolerate the illegal killing of birds of prey.

RSPB Scotland’s review records 468 birds of prey being poisoned, 173 shot and 76 caught in illegal traps. The figures include 104 red kites, 37 golden eagles, 30 hen harriers, 16 goshawks and 10 white-tailed sea eagles. There were also seven attempted shootings, according to the report.

RSPB Scotland also said that 14 cats and 14 dogs died after eating poison left for birds.

The RSPB said the Scottish government and Police Scotland had strived to tackle wildlife crime, but called for stricter controls on shooting estates, including a review of game bird licensing systems.

Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, said: “We recognise that many landowners and their staff have helped with positive conservation efforts for birds of prey, particularly with reintroduction programmes for white-tailed eagles and red kites, and that the majority operate legitimate shooting businesses.

“But there are still far too many who do not act responsibly, and there will be no improvement in the conservation status of raptors until all land management is carried out wholly within the law.”

Mr Housden said the review did suggest a decline in illegal killings in lowland areas.

Environment Minister Dr McLeod said work was being done to tackle illegal killings of wildlife.

She said: “There is no doubt that the figures in this report make for uncomfortable reading, but we have made progress in recent years with the new vicarious liability provisions, the publication of the report from the Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Group, new measures implementing restrictions on the use of general licences and earlier this year the Scottish government funded pesticide disposal scheme that removed over 700kg of illegally-held poisons in Scotland.”

She added: “I have noted that the RSPB are calling for the Scottish government funded review into game licensing in other countries to be commenced and I can confirm that tenders to carry out this important research were invited on 11 December.”

The Scottish Moorland Group, which is part of landowners’ body Scottish Land and Estates, said its condemnation of wildlife crime was “unequivocal”.

Director Tim Baynes said: “The most striking fact about bird of prey deaths in Scotland is that they declined over the last 20 years and have fallen dramatically over the last five years in particular.

“This substantial drop in cases has been recorded in official statistics produced by the Scottish government.

“Only yesterday, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association produced a report showing that golden eagles were nesting on 58 different sites where grouse shooting takes place and the number of eagles is rising.

“Last month, there was further evidence produced in a raft of wildlife reports which showed that 81 different species of birds were thriving on shooting estates – something RSPB is reluctant to highlight.”

He added: “We are pleased, however, that RSPB Scotland has made in its report some acknowledgement of the positive role landowners are playing in leading the efforts on bird of prey conservation.”

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-35120692

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Estates and farms targeted over bird of prey crime

Scottish Natural Heritage has placed licence restrictions on four properties over “clear evidence” of wildlife crime against birds of prey.

buzzard

The move follows a Police Scotland investigation into poisoning and the illegal use of traps at the properties in Stirlingshire and the Borders.

General licences allow land managers to carry out actions which would otherwise be illegal.
These include controlling some wild birds to protect crops or livestock.

The three-year licence restrictions have been placed on Raeshawe Estate and Corsehope Farm in the Borders, and Burnfoot Estate and Todhalls Farm in Stirlingshire.

Nick Halfhide, director of operations at Scottish Natural Heritage, said: “This measure should help to protect wild birds in the area, while still allowing necessary land management activities to take place, albeit under tighter supervision.

“We consider that this is a proportionate response to protect wild birds in the area and prevent further wildlife crime.”

RSPB Scotland welcomed the restrictions which it said provided a “meaningful deterrent to the serious problem of the illegal killing of birds of prey”.

Spokesman Duncan Orr-Ewing said: “The use of the open general licence to control what are considered by some to be ‘pest species’ of bird, including crows and magpies, for conservation and other legal purposes, is a privilege and not a right.”

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-34733470

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Hen harrier breeding season most successful for 5 years

Figures from the 2015 hen harrier breeding season show it is on track to be the most successful year since 2010.

Despite poor weather throughout the breeding season, there are 6 successful harrier nests fledging 18 new chicks. An additional seventh nest – which was close to fledging young – unfortunately failed late in the season, due to natural causes.

hen harrier - male in flight

Hen harriers remain the most endangered breeding birds in England. News of this year’s successful nests follows the disappearance of 5 male hen harriers, which resulted in the failure of their nests.

Rob Cooke, Natural England’s Director of Terrestrial Biodiversity, said:

6 nests is a small number, but it is actually more than we have seen in total over the past 3 years – which is a significant and positive step forward. Obviously we need to see many more pairs of these iconic birds nesting successfully and we are actively looking at how we and our partners can build on this positive outcome in the future.

The nests range across the north of England, in Northumberland, Lancashire, County Durham and two in north western England. Dedicated staff from Natural England, Forestry Commission, RSPB and the Moorland Association have worked tirelessly with volunteer raptor workers, landowners and their staff to help bring about these results.

Chairman of the Moorland Association, Robert Benson, said:

Grouse moor managers have played a significant role in protecting nests and this year’s success, which is very welcome. However, we need to do more for hen harriers. With government help, via a hen harrier action plan, numbers and the spread of nests next year could be even better, buffering the effects of poor weather and predation.

Fledged chicks are being fitted with satellite tags by the RSPB EU funded hen harrier LIFE+ project and by Natural England, and their progress closely monitored. Satellite tag technology is improving rapidly and these latest tags will provide even more detailed information on how birds move around the landscape and the factors which currently limit the population.

RSPB board spokesman Stuart Housden said:

Whilst we’re very pleased some hen harrier chicks have fledged successfully this year, we must recognise there remains a long way to go to secure the species’ future as a breeding species in England. Harriers are still absent from vast swathes of suitable habitat, and are highly vulnerable to illegal persecution. Until this is addressed there is little prospect of a sustainable population in England’s uplands.

Tom Dearnley, Forestry Commission Ecologist, said:

We are thrilled there have been 2 successful hen harrier nests in Northumberland. We hope that this will mean many more successful years for breeding hen harriers on land the Forestry Commission manages. This success highlights the habitat value to the species.

Article taken from: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hen-harrier-breeding-season-set-to-be-most-successful-for-5-years