Dawn raid as 50 police swoop on Highland estate in poison inquiry
SCORES of police officers investigating the illegal poisoning of birds of prey have swooped on a Highland estate in one of the largest operations of its kind in Scotland.
Investigators found several legally protected and rare birds of prey – red kites and buzzards – poisoned in the area, and poisoned bait allegedly used to kill them.
More than 50 police from the Highlands, Grampian and Tayside forces mounted a dawn raid on Glenlochy Moor shooting estate, in the northern Cairngorms near Grantown-on-Spey, owned by the Formula 1 motor racing tycoon and multi-millionaire Paddy McNally.
Four gamekeepers were detained for six hours and police seized a large number of items, including clothing, equipment and documents during the raid at about 6:30am on Thursday.
While the four gamekeepers were questioned at police stations across the region, scores of officers, with staff from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland, the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the National Wildlife Crime Unit, combed the upland estate that runs to several thousand acres.
Police dogs, including one specially trained to detect pesticides, were used in the hunt
for evidence of banned poisons such as Carbofuran – which was used to treat soil in root crop and cereal farming but is now the most popular pesticide for the illegal poisoning of birds of prey to try to maintain grouse levels for money-spinning shooting parties.
Shooting rights on the estate, which is near a nature reserve run by the RSPB, were bought by Mr McNally in 2004.
The multi-millionaire, who has been romantically linked with the Duchess of York, made his fortune selling advertising for Formula 1 and is estimated to be worth 623m.
The Scotsman was unable to contact him at the offices of his company, Allsport Management in Geneva, Switzerland.
Last night Northern Constabulary's wildlife crime co-ordinator, Chief Inspector Paul Eddington, said prohibited pesticides laid down by gamekeepers posed a risk to birds of prey, land animals, pets and people.
He said: "If these items were left in the high street there would be an outcry. There's just as much a risk in open areas, given the size of the leisure industry. Public safety is the crucial one I'm focusing on."
The searches, which follow an investigation lasting several years, came after a series of high-profile discoveries of poisoned birds of prey across Scotland.
Last year The Scotsman pledged its commitment to helping the SSPCA catch those responsible for killing birds of prey and other wildlife.
Last night Mr Eddington warned: "People who are responsible for land management, people who have responsibilities for the local environment, shouldn't be doing this.
"My own opinion is these activities are carried out by a relatively small number of people but they are making a significant impact on tarnishing the good reputation of the gamekeeping profession."
Northern Constabulary, which led the operation, said: "A substantial number of items were recovered during the searches of several properties and locations in the Badenoch, Strathspey and Nairn area. Inquiries will continue."
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