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National park trials new technology to combat golden eagle deaths

Golden eagles will be fitted with new tags to help stop wildlife crime Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA

Golden eagles will be fitted with new tracking technology able to pinpoint death locations in a bid to cut wildlife crime.

The satellite tag has an early warning system to detect unusual behaviour and will provide more accurate information on deaths.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said the tags should “make a real difference in deterring would-be criminals” as they will give an instant fix on birds which die.

The trackers will also give more in-depth information on raptor movements and behaviour.

Golden eagles at the Cairngorms National Park will be fitted with the tags in an 18-month trial which, if successful, could be extended to cover the species elsewhere.

The technology could potentially be miniaturised to fit on smaller tags for other birds of prey, such as hen harriers.

It uses the “geostationary Iridium” satellite network and ensures signal information is always available, while multiple sensors immediately send a distress signal and exact location back to base if unusual behaviour is detected.

This means rapid identification and recovery of any tagged birds which die and provides detailed information on their movements in the minutes leading up to their death.

A satellite tagged golden eagle which disappeared from Aberdeenshire Credit: Scottish Raptor Study Group/PA

Ms Cunningham said: “This is great news for improving our understanding of eagle behaviours, and the fight against wildlife crime.

“The tags should make a real difference in deterring would-be criminals, as well as playing a key role in establishing exactly what happened, should any of these magnificent birds of prey disappear or die in unusual circumstances.”

Grant Moir, Cairngorms National Park Authority chief executive officer said: “This is an exciting breakthrough in the technology around raptor conservation, understanding the birds and combating wildlife crime.”

The latest wildlife crime report published by the Scottish Government in December showed raptor persecution offences fell from 25 in 2015-16 to 11 in 2016-17.

However, in her foreword to the report, Ms Cunningham noted concern over the disappearance of nine satellite tagged birds of prey – six golden eagles and three hen harriers.

The incidents were not recorded as crimes by Police Scotland but she said the number of incidents, neither bird nor tag being recovered, and evidence of the reliability of tags “strongly suggests that many of these incidents are likely to be the result of illegal killing of these birds”.