Highlands & Islands

Hundreds of raptors illegally killed since 1994, says RSPB

Poisoned golden eagle Image copyright RSPB Scotland
Image caption A golden eagle that was found poisoned in Sutherland in 2010

A 20-year review of the illegal killing of birds of prey in Scotland shows 779 raptors died between 1994 and 2014, according to RSPB Scotland.

The charity said a "significant majority" of the killings took place in areas associated with game shooting.

Environment Minister Aileen McLeod said the report was "uncomfortable reading" but added that wildlife crime was being tackled.

The Scottish Moorland Group said the number of illegal deaths was declining.

It added that owners and managers of land used for shooting game birds did not tolerate the illegal killing of birds of prey.

Cats and dogs

RSPB Scotland's review records 468 birds of prey being poisoned, 173 shot and 76 caught in illegal traps. The figures include 104 red kites, 37 golden eagles, 30 hen harriers, 16 goshawks and 10 white-tailed sea eagles.

There were also seven attempted shootings, according to the report.

RSPB Scotland also said that 14 cats and 14 dogs died after eating poison left for birds.

Image copyright Dean Bricknell
Image caption Red kites were the most persecuted species, according to the review
Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Thirty-seven golden eagles were recorded as having been killed illegally

The RSPB said the Scottish government and Police Scotland had strived to tackle wildlife crime, but called for stricter controls on shooting estates, including a review of game bird licensing systems.

Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, said: "We recognise that many landowners and their staff have helped with positive conservation efforts for birds of prey, particularly with reintroduction programmes for white-tailed eagles and red kites, and that the majority operate legitimate shooting businesses.

"But there are still far too many who do not act responsibly, and there will be no improvement in the conservation status of raptors until all land management is carried out wholly within the law."

Mr Housden said the review did suggest a decline in illegal killings in lowland areas.

'Striking fact'

Environment Minister Dr McLeod said work was being done to tackle illegal killings of wildlife.

She said: "There is no doubt that the figures in this report make for uncomfortable reading, but we have made progress in recent years with the new vicarious liability provisions, the publication of the report from the Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Group, new measures implementing restrictions on the use of general licences and earlier this year the Scottish government funded pesticide disposal scheme that removed over 700kg of illegally-held poisons in Scotland."

She added: "I have noted that the RSPB are calling for the Scottish government funded review into game licensing in other countries to be commenced and I can confirm that tenders to carry out this important research were invited on 11 December."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Landowners and estate managers are opposed to the illegal killing of wildlife, says the Scottish Moorland Group

The Scottish Moorland Group, which is part of landowners' body Scottish Land and Estates, said its condemnation of wildlife crime was "unequivocal".

Director Tim Baynes said: "The most striking fact about bird of prey deaths in Scotland is that they declined over the last 20 years and have fallen dramatically over the last five years in particular.

"This substantial drop in cases has been recorded in official statistics produced by the Scottish government.

"Only yesterday, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association produced a report showing that golden eagles were nesting on 58 different sites where grouse shooting takes place and the number of eagles is rising.

"Last month, there was further evidence produced in a raft of wildlife reports which showed that 81 different species of birds were thriving on shooting estates - something RSPB is reluctant to highlight."

He added: "We are pleased, however, that RSPB Scotland has made in its report some acknowledgement of the positive role landowners are playing in leading the efforts on bird of prey conservation."

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