Conservation Manager, Stuart Benn, reflects on the discovery of a dead golden eagle earlier this year.
A National Disgrace
Take a look at this bird. It is now dead.
The video was taken on 23 June 2011 when we were fitting a satellite tag to this golden eagle chick at its nest high in the hills above Loch Ness. It took its first flight on 20 July and, from time to time during that summer and autumn, I’d take a walk up the glen to see how it was getting on. As often as not I’d see it flying around with its parents, learning the ropes, finding out all the things that an eagle needs to know.
The GPS signals allowed me to keep an eye on it and, as the winter progressed it began to range a little further away from the glen it was born in but it would keep coming back to where it knew. Finally, on 10 February this year it left home – it was on its own. I followed its progress throughout the spring as it ranged round various parts of the Scottish Highlands and all was well until early May when I could tell from the signals that the bird was dead.
The facts of the case have been well reported and can be read here. In short, the bird was at the same location for 15 hours then shifted 15 kilometres in the dark with two broken legs to a spot under a tree where it died several days later. Now, you either have to believe a frankly improbable series of events or come to the conclusion that this young eagle died as a result of a crime. It’s clear which version the Scottish Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, believes as he tweeted “Absolutely appalling – disgusted with whoever did this”.
This week’s Scottish Farmer reports the incident under the bold headline “Game gets the blame”. It says that Scottish Land and Estates condemn the killing but that they are also calling for further examination of the evidence before conclusions are reached. The SF article also quotes the Scottish Gamekeepers Association which has decided to open its own inquiry as it believes that the case is far from clear cut.
I can’t wait to learn what these other inquiries conclude but, in the meantime, what I find most interesting about all of this is that at no point in the RSPB’s press release did it mention anything about gamekeepers, game shooting or land ownership.
Anyway, let’s not forget the dead young eagle with its two broken legs. Unfortunately, it hadn’t found out all the things that an eagle needs to know – it hadn’t learned how to avoid areas where eagles aren’t tolerated.
Over the next few months, young eagles from all over Scotland will be heading off from where they were born. They could end up as magnificent icons of the Scottish Highlands which provide one of the most memorable moments in somebody’s life or they could end up as a sad corpse with broken legs or a body full of poison. Which one of those it is depends upon the willingness of society, the legal system and the Government to deal with those who show a complete disregard for the law.
No doubt those that kill eagles feel their legitimate enterprises bring some wider economic benefit. Tourism is worth £4 billion pounds per year to Scotland. The reputation of a country is incalculable.
In June this year we learned that the plans for a massively polluting coal-fired power station on the SSSI at Hunterston had been dropped. This was a great victory for the environment and public campaigning. We need to ensure North Ayrshire Council safeguard this important wildlife site for the future.
North Ayrshire Council has opened a consultation on a revised Local Development Plan. We are pleased that mention of the coal-fired power station has been removed, but unfortunately other development proposals still threaten the SSSI and the important wildlife within it. We need you to take action and write to North Ayrshire Council expressing your concern that this site, which is protected for its special wildlife, has been earmarked for development.
All you need to do is:
1. Copy and paste the text below into an email.
2. Add an additional message if you wish.
3. Email it to LDP@north-ayrshire.gov.uk.
SUBJECT: North Ayrshire Council Modified LDP Consultation Response (Part 2 IND1 & IND2)
TEXT: ‘To whom it may concern,
The intertidal mudflats at Southannan Sands, part of the SSSI, are a vital feeding and roosting area for many wading and wintering birds, and there are few sites of this kind left on the outer Clyde.
Development within the proposed boundary within the LDP map would result in destruction of large areas of the SSSI. I urge NAC to explore other opportunities for encouraging sustainable development in the area that brings economic benefits without destroying this important wildlife site.
Your support has already helped achieve so much at Hunterston. If we continue the fight we can safeguard this important area for wildlife and for the people who enjoy it.
Thank you for your support,
Regional Director (South & West Scotland)
For more information on the Local Development Plan Consultation see:
For background to our campaign against the coal fired power station at Hunterston see:
New blog from Conservation Manager Stuart Benn.
The Lark Descending
12 October was Ralph Vaughan Williams’ birthday and that’s the only excuse I need to write about Skylarks. RVW’s The Lark Ascending is amongst the most popular pieces of music ever written and it consistently crops up in the favourite selections on Desert Island Discs and is picked by a very wide range of guests. In a recent documentary, Vic Reeves said it was the most perfect 15 minutes of music he’d ever heard and he doubted if he’d ever hear better – I’d certainly agree with that and hearing it immediately reminds me of summer days, blue skies, fluffy clouds and the sheer joy that Skylarks bring to me.
Not much to look at when they are on the ground, Skylarks are transformed when they take to the air and begin that incredible outpouring of song. But, we have an odd love-hate relationship with them. They enrich our lives but, once, huge numbers were killed and eaten (300 were baked in a pie to celebrate the opening of the Forth Rail Bridge in 1890). More insidiously, they have suffered more than most from the intensification of agriculture in Britain since the Second World War. Millions of birds lost, millions of songs unsung.
We’re deep in autumn now and heading into winter with just Robins and Dippers singing. Spring seems like a distance away so, following the format of Desert Island Discs, here are my eight favourite British birds with their songs or calls. Click on them for a taste of warmer days!
skylark, blackbird, song thrush, nightingale, ring ouzel, curlew, black-throated diver, golden plover
And since I’ve got about as much chance of being invited as a guest onto Desert Island Discs as Count Skylarkin’ has of becoming the next President of the United States, here would be my eight music picks!
Spinning around Kylie
King Kong Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention
The Lark ascending Vaughan Williams
Spiegel im Spiegel Arvo Part
The Jezebel spirit Brian Eno and David Byrne
I Believe in miracles The Jackson Sisters
Naive Melody (This must be the place) Talking Heads
Girls like us B15 featuring Chrissy D and Lady G