THE number of birds of prey found dead within a two-mile area has now risen to 16 as the RSPB offered a reward for information leading to the
Four buzzards and 12 red kites have been found in the last two weeks near Conon Bridge in the Highlands
A £5,000 reward has been offered to help find those responsible for a spate of raptor poisonings in the Highlands.
Tests on the first seven raptors have so far revealed that six of them were illegally poisoned.
The figure equals the total number of raptors known to have been poisoned in Scotland last year.
The latest discoveries are thought to be the worst bird of prey poisonings in Scottish history.
Duncan Orr-Ewing, of RSPB Scotland, said the charity was now offering a “substantial” reward for information leading to a successful conviction.
He said: ”This appalling incident highlights the very real threat illegal poisoning poses to fantastic species like red kites. The vulnerable Black Isle population in particular has been repeatedly hit by deaths due to illegal poison use.
“We are offering a £5,000 reward for information that leads to a successful conviction and we urge anyone with information relating to this incident to contact Police Scotland so the perpetrators can be identified and brought to justice.”
A spokesman for Police Scotland said the newly-discovered birds were found during multi-agency searches and had been located in an area of two square miles to the south east of Conon Bridge.
They have not confirmed which toxin was involved but said it had acted quickly, indicating that the birds ingested it close to where they had died.
The spokesman confirmed inquiries into the deaths were continuing.
He added: “The birds were located within an approximate two square miles to the south-east of Conon Bridge around Conon Brae, Balvail, Leanaig and Alcaig.
“Seven of the recovered birds have undergone post-mortems, six of them have been confirmed as poisoned.
“Due to this discovery the initial inquiry has now been confirmed as a wildlife crime.”
Reintroduced after extinction
The red kite became extinct in Scotland in the late 19th century, largely due to persecution, the taxidermy trade and egg collecting.
Between 1989 and 1991, 93 red kites of Swedish origin were reintroduced on the Black Isle with additional reintroductions carried out near Stirling, in Dumfries and Galloway, and in Aberdeenshire.
According to the RSPB, an estimated 166 red kites from the Black Isle population were later illegally poisoned between 1999 and 2006.
Figures from the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (Paw) Scotland showed six birds were found to have been illegally poisoned in 2013, double the number from the previous year.
The numbers remain well below a peak of 30 poisoned birds recorded in 2009.
Those who find dead birds are advised not to touch or try to recover them. If an individual finds any further dead birds in the area, they are asked to make a note of their location and inform the police.
RSPB Scotland described the latest deaths as “a major setback” to a vital conservation programme.
Mr Orr-Ewing said: “This is devastating news and confirms our worst fears. This appalling incident highlights the very real threat illegal poisoning poses to fantastic species like red kites.”
Alex Hogg, chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, said the discovery of so many dead birds in one area was unprecedented and alarming, and urged any with information to contact the police.
He added that the indiscriminate use of poison was unacceptable and condemned by the SGA.
Douglas McAdam, chief executive of the landowners’ organisation Scottish Land & Estates, said: “Wildlife crime of any kind will not be tolerated by the responsible majority.”