Wightman to champion under-persecution Golden Eagles

Scottish Green MSP Andy Wightman is the new Scottish Environment Link species champion for the Golden Eagle.

The Golden Eagle is Scotland’s most iconic bird of prey but, despite decades of legal protection in Scotland, continues to be the victim of illegal persecution. 

In a recent review commissioned by the Scottish Government and published by Scottish Natural Heritage, it was found that almost a third of young satellite-tagged golden eagles had disappeared in “suspicious circumstances” in the Highlands over a 12 year period. These incidents largely occurred in areas dominated by intensive driven grouse-shooting management.

Moreover, in the last few months, there have been further suspicious disappearances of “Fred” in the Pentland Hills and of another young male eagle in the wildlife crime blackspot of the northern Monadhliath mountains in Inverness-shire.  

Reports published by both Scottish Natural Heritage and RSPB Scotland have repeatedly shown that while incidents of illegal poisoning have declined in recent years, other forms of persecution continue to have a proven and significant impact on not just golden eagles, but also species such as hen harrier and red kite. While wildlife criminals may go to considerable efforts to hide the evidence of their crimes, the absence of these species from  significant areas of our uplands, particularly in eastern and southern Scotland, gives a clear indication that levels of illegal killing of our birds of prey have not declined.   

On the back of the Scottish Government review’s findings, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham set up a review of grouse moor management practices, a clear indication of the increasing concern that this issue is impacting on Scotland’s reputation.

Andy Wightman MSP commented:

“I am delighted to be the species champion for Golden Eagle. It is clear that much work still needs to be done to ensure that this iconic species continues to thrive across Scotland and that the species returns to parts of the country that it has for too long been absent.

"I look forward to meeting those involved in conservation and monitoring of Golden Eagle populations over the coming years and to work with them to tackle the ongoing challenges facing this magnificent bird.”

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland said:

“It is great to have Andy on board as a passionate species champion for this special bird, which is arguably Scotland’s 'national bird;. The golden eagle is an indicator species for the health of our uplands, however sadly it still faces many conservation challenges, most significantly the continuing threat of illegal persecution in moorland areas managed for 'driven' grouse shooting.

"This appointment comes at a time when the important South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project, designed to reinforce the population of golden eagles in this area, and to bring wide ranging rural development opportunities to local communities is also about to begin. I am sure that partners in this project will look forward to involving Andy as part of his role in due course.”