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Golden eagle adopted by Green MSP Andy Wightman disappears in Highland Perthshire

Golden eagle adopted by Green MSP Andy Wightman disappears in Highland Perthshire

Andy Wightman MSP with Adam the golden eagle - Image credit: Ruth Tingay

A golden eagle adopted by Green MSP Andy Wightman has disappeared in suspicious circumstances in Highland Perthshire.

Wightman said he felt a “cold rage” after discovering the circumstances of the disappearance and has said he is determined to find out what happened.

The MSP, who is the Scottish Environment LINK ‘species champion’ for golden eagles, named the baby eagle Adam in 2018 after the late ecologist and mountaineer Dr Adam Watson.

However, GPS tagging information showed Adam disappeared at ground level in a turning circle on an estate in the Strathbraan area of Perthshire, an area managed for grouse shooting.

The disappearance is described in a video by wildlife broadcaster Chris Packham.

A second golden eagle, called Charlie, disappeared on the same estate on the same morning of 18 April this year, when both their tags stopped working.

The disappearances are the latest in a number of missing birds that had been satellite-tagged as part of the monitoring of their behaviour and ecology.

The incidents have mainly occurred in areas used for intensive driven grouse shooting.

Nearly a third of all satellite-tagged golden eagles have disappeared without trace on or next to a driven grouse moor.

Wightman has now written to the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, calling for her to step up in prevention and detection of wildlife crime.

In the letter Wightman urges Sturgeon to legislate to regulate or ban driven grouse-shooting and to have justice secretary Humza Yousaf convene a task force of law enforcement officials to improve the prevention and detection of wildlife crime as well as the admissibility of evidence in court.

Wightman said: “I am shocked and devastated by the disappearance of Adam, a young golden eagle, whom I spent time with when he was nine weeks old.

“The cold rage that I felt when I heard of the circumstances of his disappearance has now developed into a determination to discover his fate.

“This latest outrage should be a wake-up call to the Scottish Government that for all their reviews, inquiries and reforms, rampant criminality remains in place across many of Scotland’s driven grouse moors.

“Today I have written to the First Minister to ask her to provide clear leadership on eradicating wildlife crime, to legislate to outlaw driven grouse-shooting, to meet with myself and raptor workers and to invite the Justice Secretary to convene a high-level meeting of law enforcement officials to review policing and justice measures.”

He added: “Adam’s disappearance happened on the same morning as another satellite-tagged golden eagle, Charlie.

“They both vanished within hours of each other on the same grouse moor in Highland Perthshire.

“These disappearances are merely the latest in a long, long list of raptors to disappear in suspicious circumstances in Scotland.

“Today’s revelations, together with the SNH report, demonstrate conclusively that there is organised criminal activity taking place with impunity on grouse moors.

“That’s why I’ve asked the First Minister to step up attempts to protect our iconic wildlife.”

Packham said: “We can’t prove that harm has come to Adam and Charlie, nor who might have been responsible, but we can look at the circumstances, look at the science, look at the wider evidence and draw plausible conclusions.

“The Scottish Government has already acknowledged that illegal raptor persecution is an ongoing problem.

“How many more golden eagles do we have to lose before that same government takes effective action?”

The Auchnafree estate, where the two eagles disappeared, has issued an appeal for information about the missing raptors.

Estate director Alix Whitaker said: “We were absolutely shocked to learn that these two eagles were missing.

“They have been around the estate for some time now and we were delighted to have them.

“We have been told by the police that neither the estate nor its staff were involved in their apparent disappearance.

“No-one knows what has happened to these birds and we would urge anyone with information to make contact with Police Scotland as soon as possible.

“We have also written to neighbouring estates to ask them to help.

“While the estate owns the land, we let out mixed shooting to tenants who take their wildlife conservation responsibilities very seriously.”

The tenants, Auchnafree Sporting, said: “We see eagles frequently on the estate and have no problem with them.

“We assisted police with their investigation and wholeheartedly support the appeal for information.”

But Scottish Land and Estates, which represents rural landowners, complained that reports of the birds’ disappearance had not come through official channels and there was no proof a crime has been committed.

Scottish Land and Estates chairman David Johnstone said: “Finding out what has happened to these eagles is of paramount importance and no effort should be spared in establishing the facts.

“We are, however, concerned that news of the disappearance of these birds has emerged through an anti-grouse shooting website rather than through the agreed Scottish Partnership Against Wildlife Crime communications channels. 

“Yet again, it is stated that a crime has been committed – without evidence to support this claim.

“It is for the police to complete their investigations.

“If a crime has been committed, then we would condemn that without reservation.

“In the meantime, we believe that smearing grouse shooting in this way is not justified.

“Again, this underlines the need for greater transparency over the collection and use of satellite tagging data, which is currently controlled by those with an anti-shooting agenda.

“We wholeheartedly support the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association which has launched a parliamentary petition calling for independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to birds of prey.

“This could lead to greater accountability and could assist police in prosecuting potential wildlife crime as well as providing a more transparent record of raptor persecution.”

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