Birds of prey

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I wish to respond to Irvine Inglis’s rather offensive letter (28 February), in which he attacks the views expressed by Mr Duncan Orr-Ewing (Friends of The Scotsman, 27 February).

He begins by wrongly attributing the “emotive” headline to Mr Orr-Ewing, when that’s actually the preserve of newspaper editors.

In his eagerness to portray the RSPB as nothing more than a collection of people motivated by self-interest, he then proceeds to list a catalogue of inaccurate statements and sweeping generalisations which he presents as facts.

Mr Inglis claims that deer culls, the reduction in sheep numbers, and the re-introduction of white-tailed eagles have resulted in a shortage of food for golden eagles so drastic that their numbers are static due to a failure in breeding success, but offers no evidence to support his assertion.

The status of deer and sheep populations is not relevant to the breeding success of golden eagles, as Mr Inglis claims.

The preferred prey of golden eagles in most seasons is medium-sized mammals and birds, including rabbits, hares, grouse and ptarmigan.

Their breeding success is related to the availability of this live prey, on which they feed their young, and is not influenced by a scarcity of carrion, on which the adults do depend in the winter months.

Furthermore, the most influential factor in breeding success for golden eagles is the weather. Cold, wet springs are fatal for young birds, which succumb due to the twin factors of chilling and low food supplies from adults who have to struggle against often ferocious conditions whilst hunting.

Wild Scotland is not always a benign paradise for beast or man.

Densities of golden eagles in western Scotland are actually amongst the highest recorded anywhere in the world, precisely because of the high numbers of sheep and deer, despite recent reductions in the former.

Since sheep at one time outnumbered deer by eight to one, the reduction in their numbers has actually been beneficial for the environment. They certainly haven’t “disappeared from Scotland’s hills and moors”.

Humans present a major threat to golden eagles, which are still routinely poisoned, trapped or shot on grouse driven moors in central, eastern and southern Scotland.

Dr Adam Watson, the veteran mountain ecologist, has recently published a book on mammals in which he exposes the massive decline in mountain hares on grouse moors due to culling. In some areas they have been completely wiped out.

This obviously has an impact on golden eagles, for whom hares are a source of food.

Whilst it’s true white-tailed eagles share the same food sources as golden eagles, their numbers do not present a threat to the latter, with whom they happily co-existed until they were wiped out by man.

Also, they are not “semi-tame”: the young birds are screened from the humans who provide their food, precisely to avoid imprinting.

Carolyn Taylor

Gagiebank

Broughty Ferry, Dundee

Your report (27 February) ­regarding the killing of native birds in Scotland to preserve game shooting interests will come as no surprise to those who monitor the growing list of criminal offences taking place across sporting estates and in particular grouse moors.

The public and increasingly MSPs are sickened by the toll of poisoned, shot and trapped birds of prey and in particular the golden eagle, voted as Scotland’s favourite species last year following a poll conducted by Scottish Natural Heritage. The shooting industry could bring a halt to the illegal killing tomorrow if it chose to do so but it would require strong leadership from those who purport to speak up for the industry.

Their choice is clear: choose to stop the killing now or leave it to the government to introduce licensing for grouse moors. The decision is in their hands, for the time being at least.

Logan D Steele

Bridgewater Avenue

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