Framing Nature: white-tailed eagle

August 1, 2020

The white-tailed eagle is a great conservation success story, but a lingering hatred for raptors on the grouse moors of the Cairngorms remains a threat.

My first book (of recent years), The Long Spring, chronicled my journeys from North Africa to Arctic Norway during the four months it takes the spring season to spread across the continent of Europe. As I entered a stretch of the Barents Sea towards Molvik Point, the most northerly point in my journey, a white-tailed eagle escorted my ship along the Båtsfjord to open water.  Just over a year later, in July 2017 I was in Orkney and an idea for a second book took shape, thanks to a visit to South Ronaldsay and its late Neolithic Tomb of the Eagles.

There seems to have been a deep connection between the islanders of four thousand years ago and white-tailed eagles, a species that again enjoys exalted status, as a conservation flagship. Three years and twelve essays later I had a book that explores our relationship with other species through their own stories – those of the white-tailed eagle and of eight other animals, from ants to otters. Some of the essays are full of hope and optimism, with the white-tailed eagle and the otter foremost among these. Others tell of unfinished but encouraging progress in efforts to restore our threatened wildlife. Some, like the nightingale, willow tit and badger are, for their different reasons, causes for serious concern.

White-tailed eagle by Richard Allen (linocut)

This week I wrote to complain to Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, following the illegal poisoning of a white-tailed eagle, found on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park. The news came too late to dampen the positive spirit of my essay on the species. As my email to Ms. Sturgeon, which has been published by my former RSPB colleague Mark Avery on his blog, says, it demonstrates

Scotland’s inability to confront and control that cultural backwater that is the vast landmass of the upland shooting estates. Here, white-tailed eagles, golden eagles and hen harriers continue to meet their doom.  Even our so-called National Parks are not immune.  Far from it, they are hotbeds of ill-will towards species of all kinds that happen to be occasionally inconvenient to a few people who disrespect [her] and the rule of law that [she] represent[s].

The superb linocut of a white-tailed eagle is by Richard Allen and is one of thirteen chapter headings he has contributed to the book. And I am pleased to announce that Framing Nature – conservation and culture is now available to pre-order at a discount and free of P&P from now until publication on 21 September.

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