A row has broken out between gamekeepers and conservationists over the fate of a young golden eagle that went missing near a sporting estate on the outskirts of Edinburgh.
Members of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) have hit out, claiming they have been subjected to a ‘trial by media’ after the satellite-tagged bird’s disappearance was reported.
They say suggestions that the protected eagle has been illegally killed and dumped in the North Sea to safeguard grouse shooting interests “do not stack up”.
The spat erupted after naturalist and TV presenter Chris Packham released a video detailing how a tag fitted to a one-year-old golden eagle named Fred had ceased transmitting near a grouse moor in the Pentland hills, only to spring back into action three days later from a spot 15 miles off the Fife coast.
It was a “bizarre reawakening of the tag”, according to Mr Packham, who goes on to describe the circumstances surrounding Fred’s disappearance as “highly suspicious” given his the proximity of his last known location to an area where wildlife crimes had been proven in the past.
Scottish environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham also appears in the short film, urging estate workers involved in criminal actions against birds of prey to “stop it”.
Now gamekeepers are calling for clarity over the incident and an en end to speculation.
“Trial by media has already taken place,” said an SGA spokesman.
“Now everyone who has been drawn into this needs the truth as to what happened to this eagle.
“It is not enough for people to be implied as being criminals and those in possession of the satellite tag evidence to walk away after presenting their judgement to the media, then say no one will probably ever know what has happened.
“If the tags are as reliable as everyone has been told, then the tag data will surely provide conclusive evidence.
“Many questions need to be answered, including why it could not be located in the sea if it continued to transmit locational data for several days.
“There needs to be greater transparency because there are too many elements to the carefully stage-managed narrative which do not stack up, despite its presentation as a fait accompli.
“If, by releasing this evidence, in full, to Police Scotland, it helps to bring this to a successful conclusion or prosecution, then the SGA and others would be satisfied that justice, as we have come to expect justice to look like, will have run its course.
“In the meantime, serious allegations have been made against a community of people on the basis of a running commentary of media speculation, implication and suggestion, which makes a laughing stock of what looks to be a live investigation.”
Fred was tagged in a project involving the Springwatch presenter and Raptor Persecution UK, a group set up to highlight the killing of birds of prey.
He was the sole chick born last year to the only pair of golden eagles known to be nesting in Southern Scotland.
Dr Ruth Tingay from Raptor Persecution UK described the gamekeepers’ outrage as “laughable”.
She said: “The circumstances of Fred’s disappearance are highly suspicious and fit with the findings of the Scottish Government’s recent review of the fates of satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland, which demonstrated that almost one third of tagged eagles have disappeared without trace in areas managed for driven grouse shooting.”
She says the group has been able to retrieve further information from the satellite tag that corroborates suspicions that Fred is a victim of illegal persecution, and this has been passed on to investigators.
She added: “Far from ‘walking away’, as the SGA claims, this new information has been passed to the police for investigation so we cannot comment further at this stage.
“It’s laughable that the SGA is complaining about ‘trial by media’ when one of its own directors has been using social media to smear and discredit the conservationists involved in this project, suggesting we’ve fabricated the whole story.
“If the SGA used its time and resources more productively to root out the criminals within the game-shooting industry, eagles like Fred would stand a much better chance of survival.”
The incident was also highlighted by Green MSP Alison Johnstone during First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood.
Nicola Sturgeon agreed that persecution of birds of prey is “unacceptable”. She said it’s “an extremely serious issue” that must be “tackled robustly”.
Police have confirmed an investigation has been launched.
A spokeswoman said: “Police Scotland received a report of a potential missing bird of prey on Friday 26 January. Inquiries have been conducted with the relevant partners to trace the bird, however no evidence of criminality has been established at this time.”
Anyone with information is being urged to contact officers.