Discovery of golden eagle’s tag in Scottish river proves illegal killing, says RSPB

RSPB Scotland say unearthed tag “unequivocal proof” that the bird was killed in grouse lands

Daisy Lester
Saturday 26 September 2020 15:02 BST
A 2017 study found nearly one third of tagged golden eagles have been killed in suspicious circumstances
A 2017 study found nearly one third of tagged golden eagles have been killed in suspicious circumstances (Michael McGregor/RSPB Images)

An animal conservation society says the illegal killing of a golden eagle was covered up after its satellite tag was discovered dumped in a river.

The tag, wrapped in heavy lead sheeting, belonged to an eagle that disappeared in 2016. A police search had failed to recover the bird.

RSPB Scotland said the unearthed tag is “unequivocal proof” that the bird was illegally killed in the grouse lands.

The eagle’s tag was working before it stopped transmitting over Perthshire grouse moor, the charity revealed.

“The discovery sheds new light on the activities that criminals will go to in a bid to cover up the illegal killing of protected birds of prey,” the RSPB said in a statement.

Details of the discovery near Dunkeld have now emerged following a months-long police forensic investigation after the tag was found in May.

A walker and his son had found the lead package on the bank of the River Braan.

The tag was confirmed as belonging to the eagle by the serial number and was found miles from the bird’s last known location.

The wildlife campaign group claim the find is another example of the persecution of birds of prey on land used for grouse shooting, a claim the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) deny.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said: “This young eagle was killed illegally. The tag was clearly removed from the bird, its antenna was cut off, and the tag was then wrapped in a piece of lead sheeting, presumably because the perpetrator thought this would stop it transmitting.”

He added: “The package was then cast into the river, never to be seen again. Or so they thought.”

Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB Scotland’s head of species and land management, said the incident bolsters the need for tighter rules surrounding the management of shooting estates.  

The SGA said the disappearance of the bird and discovery of the tag should be investigated by the police as disappearances of birds over grouse moors are often been unfairly blamed on gamekeeprs.

A spokesperson said: “We will await to see what the police can uncover from the evidence. We hope they find the truth of what has happened, for everyone’s sake.”

They added in a statement that the disappearances of satellite tagged birds have been “heavily weaponised by political campaigners.”

Mart Tennant, chairman of Scottish Land and Estates, said the organisation would “fully support a thorough police investigation and any perpetrator being brought to justice.”

Meanwhile, Tayside and Central Scotland Moorland Group said it is too easy to pass blame on grouse moors.

“Hopefully the police can get to the bottom of it and people can be removed from unfair suspicion,” they added.

A 2017 study found nearly one third of tagged golden eagles have been killed in suspicious circumstances.

After analysing the fate of 131 eagles fitted with satellite tags between 2004 and 2016, the study concluded: “As many as 41 (31 per cent) disappeared (presumably died) under suspicious circumstances significantly connected with contemporaneous records of illegal persecution.”

This prompted the Scottish government to review how grouse moors were managed.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in