Estates in Perthshire have criticised the handling of a case involving a dead Eagle by local Police, claiming ‘insensitive’ public messaging led to individuals becoming targets for unwanted hate.
On Monday 25th April two gamekeepers discovered the corpse of a Golden Eagle in a wood in the Glen Quaich area near Dunkeld.
Careful not to contaminate evidence, the estate voluntarily informed local officers and handed the bird over. They then waited for toxicological analysis to rule out any possibility of foul play, but told the police that they believed the bird had probably died of natural causes.
However, gamekeepers and glen estates were shocked when, without dialogue, Tayside Police issued a witness appeal, three weeks later, stating Police were ‘committed to investigating any criminality relating to the death of such a raptor’.
Despite the full co-operation of land managers where the bird was found, there was no reference in the media statement to the estate reporting and handing over the bird. As a result, this directed unwarranted public suspicion towards the estate and its staff.
The Police press statement was then embellished by an anti-game shooting blog and, in the hours following the Tayside division’s statement, gamekeepers and estate staff were subjected to relentless online abuse.
A young family member was also challenged at school causing emotional distress.
After a considerable delay following the public statement, Police officials finally indicated to the impacted land managers that no traces of shot or poison were found in the eagle.
It now looks likely the bird may have died of natural causes.
However, the local estates expressed disappointment in how this was handled by the police. They believe the incident wasted a golden opportunity to develop trust, stressing the impact Tayside Police’s public messaging had on individuals.
They believe Police actions may have undermined a genuine willingness within the Perthshire land management community to work constructively with Police Scotland to address rising rural crime.
“What we have here is individuals following good protocol and doing the right thing. As a result of a Tayside Police statement, they - and the local community- have been made to suffer, along with school aged kids.” said Alex Hogg, Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, which represents the gamekeepers.
“Wildlife liaison officers in the area know very well the public interest in such cases. There is no reason why they could not have been more evidence-driven in their public messaging.
“There have been reports in the past of wildlife crime in this area -a lot of which remains contested- but nevertheless there is an overwhelming desire for positive change, which can only be a good thing.
“Similarly, there is a willingness to work with Police Scotland on rural crime which is a growing issue, Scotland-wide. Local wildlife officers should be trying to enable that process, not set it back by damaging opportunities for building trust, because land managers could be assets to them in the countryside.
“We commend the actions of the local gamekeepers and feel sorry that they and their families had to go through an anxiety-inducing experience when this should have been a positive exercise.”
Fife Police were recently forced into a climbdown over a dead buzzard found on 9th April near Ladybank which they claimed, in a public call for information, had been deliberately shot and left to suffer ‘a lingering and agonising death.’
The BBC ran the story but the Fife Police backtracked in a Facebook post in June where they admitted the bird had not been shot, as they previously stated.