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3 Oct 2014
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Egg thief crackdown
Dominic Arkwright and Huw Williams

Click here to hear the full length interview

Police and conservation bodies in north-east Scotland have launched their annual campaign to protect birds of prey, while they hatch eggs and raise chicks. It is the first nesting season that wildlife criminals north of the border have faced possible jail sentences after the law was amended to bring penalties into line with England. But - as Today's Scotland reporter, Huw Williams explains - there are fears that an emphasis on catching egg thieves mean other - even more serious - cases are being ignored.

Just a few days ago, the RSPB said that no egg thieves were sighted and no nests were reported disturbed in Scotland during this year's spring breeding season. Police attributed that to greater public awareness and the new tougher sentencing options for Scottish courts.

Meanwhile, at the launch of Grampian's "Operation Falcon" the police, and wild-life organisations spoke with pride about the hen harriers and peregrine falcons that have been raised at nest sites protected by the scheme in the past four years it's been running.

But despite those good news stories, the volunteers who watch on nests where vulnerable birds are raising their chicks are worried.

Jane Molloy, a licensed volunteer from the North East Raptor Study Group who took me out to a nest site at a quarry in northern Aberdeenshire, said: "I would think the biggest threat is likely to be persecution. Somebody who does not want the birds here for one reason or another. In this area, we don't really have bother with people trying to steal the eggs."

Specifically, gamekeepers and pigeon fanciers have been accused of killing birds of prey, but their activities are hard to detect, and even harder to prove in court.

Five red kites and a rare sea eagle have been deliberately killed in Scotland already this year. Four of the kites were poisoned with a pesticides left in bait, and the fifth was shot.

John Hardie from the North East Raptor Study Group, said: "The Peregrine Falcon population in north east Scotland, on grouse moors, has declined by about 40% over the past six or seven years. And our Hen Harrier population in the region could very easily become extinct in a few years."

He told me that he had no doubt that this decline was down to estates and gamekeepers deliberately killing the birds.

Paul Timms, from the government conservation body Scottish Natural Heritage, admitted that there were problems getting people who kill birds of prey convicted. But police deny they go after the relatively soft target of egg thieves to make it look as though they're serious about wild-life crime.

The final irony is that the breeding pair of peregrines at the flagship site where Operation Falcon was launched were victims of deliberate poisoning last year. There's a suspicion that the same thing has happened to one of the new birds which moved in and tried to breed there this season. So there are no chicks to watch on the newly installed closed circuit tv system at the specially built visitors centre ... and so far no prospect of who-ever did it being brought to book.

Today reporter, Dominic Arkwright spoke to Archie Dykes, a spokesperson from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association

Listen - Listen to the full interview with Archie Dykes.

Listen - Listen to Huw Williams's package.

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