Thursday, 4 July 2013

RESPONSIBLE GAME MANAGEMENT HELPS SCOTLAND'S GOLDEN EAGLES

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association believes working with responsible game managers can help government aid golden eagle conservation in Scotland. Grouse managers are often blamed for loss through illegal persecution, with the SGA acknowledging persecution, coupled with land use change, has been a constraining factor.Recently the organisation expelled 4 members for wildlife offences, including raptor persecution, and advocates legal solutions to conflicts.The SGA, however, believes it would be wrong for government agencies to overlook the contribution responsible gamekeepers make to eagle conservation.The organisation has completed a survey of members in the keepered grouse areas of East and Central Scotland which has identified at least 55 active eagle nests (see map).The nests have remained since the last census in 2003.A recent FOI request also revealed the majority of the 66 Scottish eagles chicks translocated for the Irish reintroduction programme, started in 2001, were from keepered uplands.On the west, where there is little grouse interest, eagle productivity is being constrained by lack of small prey, reduced deer numbers and extensive forestry, proven to shrink their range. There are fears the government’s onshore wind policy and its target of having 25 per cent of Scotland under forestry by 2050 could also compromise linkage of eagle territories.Against this backdrop, SGA Chairman Alex Hogg believes responsible game managers, as well as conservationists, have the knowledge to benefit golden eagles.“The conservation work done by many of our members in this area is forgotten because of the actions of a few. As an organisation we, along with the other members of PAW continue to address this issue.“As well as educating, we have expelled members found to commit wrong-doing and where conflicts arise, as they will, we advocate lawful solutions.“That said, many responsible game managers have had eagles on their land for many, many years now. They are willing to assist wider eagle conservation and have skills to be an asset.“Management for grouse provides the abundant small prey eagles need to feed chicks, even if many moors don’t have the crags or trees eagles prefer for nesting.“Legal heather burning produces a rich food source for red grouse and hares which eagles eat and, despite the ever increasing chance of unintentional disturbance from recreational access, there are still a significant proportion of Scotland’s eagles in grouse areas. This is all paid for through private investment by landowners.”Conservationists can take elements of the game management model, for example, to assist in the west where increased forestry plantations and windfarms could cause problems for eagle conservation going forward. They key constraint which has been identified in the west is the lack of small prey.”In deer stalking areas, gamekeepers leave the grallochs of culled deer on the hills, away from public access, to help sustain eagles.Studies have acknowledged this availability of carrion has aided eagle survival, particularly during winter although conservation policies are reducing deer numbers.The SGA believes government agencies, working in collaboration with game managers can produce a positive net benefit for Scotland’s eagles.“For the sake of the golden eagle, all countryside stakeholders can work together to address the many issues affecting eagles.“In Sweden it has been proven that eagle success is dependent on prey abundance so the loss of heather, for example, has a significant impact. Gross changes of habitat- especially in heavily forested areas of South Scotland- have altered the way eagles use the landscape. No up to date science has been done on the impacts of access despite one Scottish study accepting eagle sites with easier access are more likely to fail.“A 1995 study flagged up problems eagles could have with displacement due to windfarm spread but, again, no further research has been done.“There are many threats- and new ones- such as desertion of nest sites due to disturbance though nest visits, likely to affect Scotland’s eagles and those with an interest have a responsibility to look at all constraining aspects.”Scotland’s golden eagle population has recovered from historic lows of 190 pairs in the early 1950s and 300 pairs in 1968 to 442 pairs in the summer of 2003. This makes the Scottish eagle population one of the largest in the world per land mass.The population has been stable for 20 years although targets to define ‘favourble status’ were set at 450-500 breeding pairs in 2008. There are virtually no golden eagles left in England, making Scotland’s population ecologically important.