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White-tailed Eagle has lost at least one nest in the recent Scottish wildfires. Photo: Yathin S Krishnappa (
White-tailed Eagle has lost at least one nest in the recent Scottish wildfires. Photo: Yathin S Krishnappa ( image

Eagles under fire

Posted on: 09 Apr 2013

The RSPB has revealed that at least one White-tailed Eagle nest was destroyed in the recent wildfires, while a Golden Eagle has died of gunshot wounds.

The charity is calling for landowners and managers to exercise restraint and caution when undertaking legal controlled burning of heather moorland and to abide by the Muirburn Code to prevent harming vulnerable wildlife.

The conservation organisation is extremely concerned that due to late snow cover in some areas of Scotland, land managers might be tempted to apply for consent to continue their burning activities beyond the legal cut off date of 30 April. This would endanger many birds, including European Golden Plover, Short-eared Owl, Northern Wheatear, Skylark, Golden and White-tailed Eagles, and Hen Harrier, all species of high conservation concern. Landowners are permitted to burn heather up until 30 April to help promote new growth and to conserve, restore, enhance or manage the natural environment.

At least one White-tailed Eagle nest has been burned out, and there have been several reports of incidents of a flagrant disregard of the code, which clearly stipulates that burning should not be carried out in “any areas within a half mile of nesting Golden Eagles” after the end of February. The reckless destruction of any birds nest is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) and those who choose to disregard it should be subject to the full weight of the law.

While it is not suggested that landowners are intentionally causing the fires to kill eagles, some seem genuinely keen to kill the birds. RSPB Scotland has reported that a Golden Eagle found badly injured on a grouse moor in October 2012, has died after attempts to rehabilitate it failed. The bird had suffered multiple gunshot injuries.

The adult bird was found by a walker on 6 October last year near the Dumfriesshire village of Wanlockhead, and was subsequently taken into care by the Scottish SPCA. It was hoped that veterinary treatment would lead to the bird recovering from its injuries and that it would eventually be released back into the wild.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, said: “This is very sad news, not just for this bird but for the conservation of Golden Eagles in general. 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 10 pairs in serious jeopardy.”

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