Golden eagle shooting leads to concern for species

There could be just six golden eagles in the south of Scotland. Picture: Jane Barlow
There could be just six golden eagles in the south of Scotland. Picture: Jane Barlow
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A CONSERVATION charity has warned that golden eagles face a “disastrous” future in Scotland after one of the iconic birds died from gunshot wounds.

The eagle, discovered in October on a grouse moor in Dumfriesshire, succumbed to its injuries despite prolonged efforts by the Scottish SPCA to save its life.

RSPB Scotland warned that the latest death put the future of the species in the area at risk with the numbers of breeding pairs in the south of the country “less than half of what it should be”, down from around ten to just three or fewer.

The shooting is the latest in a string of attacks on golden eagles across Scotland.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations, said yesterday the death was sad news for conservation of golden eagles in general.

He warned: “This species is barely clinging on in the South of Scotland, so to lose an adult bird from this already tiny population is, in conservation terms, a disaster.

“A bird from one of the very few breeding pairs in the area was killed in the Borders by illegal poisoning back in 2007, so the death of another adult bird puts the future of the species, in an area that should hold nine or ten pairs, in serious jeopardy.”

The eagle was discovered near the village of Wanlockhead and taken into care by the Scottish SPCA.

It had been hoped that veterinary treatment would allow the bird to recover so that it could be released back into the wild. But the bird had to be put down last month after suffering complications.

Announcing the death yesterday, the Scottish SPCA issued a new plea for information about the shooting, which is still under investigation.

Scottish SPCA Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn said: “Despite extensive treatment, unfortunately the eagle had to be put to sleep on veterinary advice due to underlying health conditions.”

Wildlife campaign group Raptors Persecution Scotland echoed the RSPB’s fears.

A spokesman said: “We are gravely concerned about the status of golden eagles in southern Scotland. The recent death of this golden eagle may well have a further impact on the poor status of golden eagles in southern Scotland.”

The group called for more action to tackle illegal persecution of raptors in Scotland and greater police enforcement of wildlife legislation.

Recent statistics provided by the British Trust for Ornithology show that overall golden eagle populations across Scotland have remained fairly stable over the past few decades.

The latest ten-year surveys recorded the number of breeding pairs nationwide at 424 in 1982-83, dropping slightly to 422 in 1993 before increasing to 442 in 2003.

The RSPB estimates that there are currently 420 breeding pairs of golden eagles nationwide.

Scottish Land and Estates, which represents landowners, suggested that the charity’s expectations on breeding populations were unrealistic without major land use change.

A spokesman said: “Further north where there is a largely stable population, our members… are actively involved in conserving golden eagles on their land.”