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Scotland’s birds of prey in Scotland worry

…as crimes far too high

Following the news earlier this week that a white-tailed eagle was found dead in May 2008 near Glenogil estate in Angus, RSPB Scotland's latest annual report on the illegal killing of raptors shows that the case is far from a one-off event. Bird of Prey Persecution 2007 shows that crimes against raptors are still worryingly high and are causing serious damage to the health of a number of raptor populations in Scotland.

However, it is noted that the Scottish Government is now taking positive and welcome steps to address this problem, together with responsible landowners. It is important that adequate public resources to investigate and prosecute incidents are put in place in line with recommendations of recent official public reports.The report shows that 69 allegations or reports of illegal poisoning activity were received during 2007. Of these, 37 were confirmed (by the Scottish Agricultural Science Agency following testing) as pesticide abuse killing or threatening raptors, with one further case involving pesticides suspected of being held for an illegal purpose. This was also the worst year on record for red kite poisoning in Scotland, with 12 birds being confirmed as victims of poison abuse.

The most common substance used in illegal poisoning incidents is carbofuran, an agricultural pesticide, which has been banned since December 2001. 30 out of the 37 confirmed cases involved positive tests by SASA for carbofuran.Other illegal activity recorded includes the discovery of traps intended for criminal use to catch birds of prey. Direct persecution can also include nest destruction or intentional/reckless disturbance of breeding raptors, and deliberate shooting incidents. A further 78 reports of these cases were received by RSPB Scotland in 2007, with all but three made by identifiable individuals. Of these, 17 were confirmed incidents, and 30 were classed as probable cases of persecution. In the remaining 31 cases there was either insufficient evidence to prove, or disprove the claim one way or another.

Given that raptors are long lived, breed slowly and produce few young, the effects of illegal killing can have a damaging effect on their population levels. This was recognised in an important piece of work A Conservation Framework for Golden Eagles, published this year by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). This thorough report, which pulls together a very significant pool of scientific evidence in relation to this iconic Scottish species, states that: "Current evidence indicates that illegal persecution and low food availability in parts of Western Scotland are the two main constraints on the Scottish golden eagle population".Based on this and other evidence of the scale of wildlife crime in Scotland, and its implications for our national reputation, the Scottish Government took steps in 2007 to stress the importance that society places on the thorough investigation and prosecution of wildlife crime by police forces and the Procurator Fiscal Service around Scotland.

The Thematic Review of Wildlife Crime, published in April this year by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prosecution recommended; that each police force in Scotland should have a full time Wildlife and Environmental Crime Co-ordinator; that a minimum standard of investigation should be applied to all cases of wildlife crime, overseen by a senior officer; and that, specialist wildlife prosecutors will be developed within the Procurator Fiscal Service.RSPB Scotland welcomed the findings of the Thematic Review, including the emphasis on improving standards of investigation and prosecution as a deterrent to those who are engaged with crimes against our natural heritage, including the illegal killing of birds of prey.

Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland, said: "These figures are deeply troubling, especially when we know that wildlife crime takes place in remote areas, where it is relatively easy to conceal evidence of wrong-doing. These confirmed cases must represent a tip of an iceberg. Whilst we know that many land managers behave responsibly, it is important that they stand up and provide information to the police on criminal activity against wildlife that comes to their attention. Sweeping these issues under the carpet is not acceptable. Only in this way will this problem be stamped out once and for all. We welcome the action taken by the Scottish Government to secure improvements in the way cases of wildlife crime are investigated and prosecuted. This recognises the seriousness of the issue and the damage that is being done to our international reputation, as well as important Scottish industries, such as wildlife tourism. It is important however that Ministers continue to lead from the front on this issue".

4th July 2014