THE number of birds of prey illegally poisoned in Scotland has fallen to its lowest level since records began in 1989.
RSPB Scotland today revealed that a total of seven birds of prey, including a golden eagle and two buzzards, were killed as result of deliberate poisoning last year - less than half the death toll of 17 birds in 2011.
The total number of poisonings is the lowest number ever recorded by the RSPB in Scotland. Only four years ago, in 2009, a total of 45 birds were illegal poisoned North of the border.
The wildlife conservation charity welcomed the decrease, but stressed that the illegal killing of raptors was still continuing at “wholly unacceptable levels” in some parts of Scotland.
In addition to the seven confirmed incidents of illegal poisoning, there were a further 13 confirmed incidents of other forms of killing of birds of prey, including a golden eagle found shot in Dumfries and Galloway and another golden eagle killed by a trap in Angus.
Two of the illegal poisoning cases were in the Borders, two in East Ayrshire and one each in Highland, Moray and Dumfries and Galloway.
Stuart Housden, the director of RSPB Scotland, said: “We applaud the continued focus on tackling raptor persecution by the Scottish Government, but much remains to be done. We also welcome the decline in illegal poisoning. However if those who wish harm to our country’s birds of prey simply turn to other forms of persecution, such as shooting or trapping, then there is little to celebrate.”
He continued: “The deaths of these golden eagles are particularly appalling, given that the golden eagle was recently voted the nation’s favourite species in the Scottish Natural Heritage poll for the Year of Natural Scotland. We call for a new look at how the full rigour of the law can be applied in cases of raptor persecution to act as a meaningful deterrent to those considering illegal activity of this type. These crimes have no place in 21st Century Scotland, and responsible land managers must make that clear to all partners.”
Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, stressed: “Again, most of these crimes were discovered purely by chance, by local residents, walkers or birdwatchers, in remote areas of countryside, so we thank the public for their continued vigilance”
He added: “From the cases outlined in this report, it is clear that a significant number of individuals still flout the laws protecting our native birds of prey. We accept that legal predator control of foxes and crows, alongside appropriate habitat management can have conservation benefits for some ground nesting birds. But we need our moors to be managed sustainably, in ways that are not narrowly focussed on ever-increasing grouse bags, and this includes giving a home to the raptors which should occur on these moors. It is only when species like the hen harrier and golden eagle are breeding successfully and regularly in such areas that we can be confident that bird of prey persecution is truly declining.”
An RSPB spokesman said: “The annual document also draws attention to suspected cases of illegal killing of birds of prey including the destruction of nests or eggs and the disappearance of a number of birds of prey fitted with satellite transmitters, part of scientific research to look at their movements and survival.
“As in recent years, the majority of reported incidents or suspected incidents of illegal killing took place in areas managed for driven grouse shooting, particularly in the eastern and central Highlands and the southern Uplands of Scotland. Confirmed victims included thee buzzards, three goshawks, three golden eagles, a hen harrier, a peregrine, a tawny owl and a short-eared owl.”
A spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “The RSPB has clearly spent a lot of money in writing this report, which entitles them to put forward their own viewpoint. With this agenda in mind, it is important, that the public refer to the actual crimes, as published annually by the Scottish Government with information provided officially by the Police and SASA (Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture) rather than speculative possible or suspected cases, which are clearly going to confuse.”
He added: “All PAW (Partnership Against Wildlife Crime) partners, including ourselves, are fully behind the printing of the official statistics annually, based on actual legal cases, and see no reason why this should change.
“While we have been encouraged by the progress made, with the official statistics stating a record of only three confirmed cases of illegal poisoning of birds of prey in 2012, reports such as this do little other than damage to on-going partnership efforts designed to reduce crimes against birds of prey.
“As stated consistently, the SGA continues to advocate legal means to solving countryside conflicts. Because of this, the clarity and impartiality provided by law is important to us.”