LIMITS should be placed on the growing number of birds of prey in Scotland to protect the interests of landowners, according to the outgoing head of a leading conservation charity.
Ian McCall, director of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, has warned that if legal means are not provided to help farmers, grouse-moor owners and pigeon fanciers to control birds of prey, they would be forced to take the law into their own hands.
McCall's comments will inflame the debate between those who support controlling bird of prey numbers – which have exploded over the past decade – and those who believe they should be allowed to flourish without interference.
Among the species that have increased following government protection of their status are buzzards and sparrowhawks, which prey on other birds.
Although landowners can get licences to shoot birds of prey in certain circumstances, one has never been granted to protect grouse or pigeons.
"We have got to decide how many (raptors] we want because infinity is unacceptable," McCall said.
"There should be target populations and when we exceed them then we may need to control them."
McCall, head of the trust which carries out scientific research on wildlife conservation, said sparrowhawk and buzzard populations were no longer under threat.
He argued that the Scottish Government should grant licences to allow raptors to be killed if they were causing problems that were having an impact on livelihoods.
"We need to recognise that if there are too many of any species then one needs to offer people who have got a serious problem a way out," he said.
"If you see your lambs being killed every day by raptors, and it's your livelihood and you can't do anything about it then you think, 'Christ I have to take the law into my own hands,'" he said.
"We want to find a compromise solution where people can manage land for wildlife conservation and agriculture and tourism without having to break the law."