Pigeon racers suspected in falcon killings
PIGEON fanciers were yesterday suspected of the deliberate poisoning of two young peregrine falcons being reared at a cliff-top nest on a nature reserve on the Buchan coast.
The fledglings were killed after a pigeon carcass, laced with carbofuran, an agricultural pesticide more toxic than strychnine, was placed near a popular coastal footpath on the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Longhaven Reserve, near Peterhead.
The pair of young falcons are believed to be two of five peregrines to have been poisoned in Scotland in the past 20 years.
Last night the owners of the reserve and RSPB Scotland joined in condemning the killings as appalling and despicable, as Grampian Police launched an investigation to track down the culprits.
The bodies of the newly fledged peregrine falcons, a male and female, together with the body of a crow, were discovered by two climbers close to a path on the Longhaven Reserve on 5 July. Detailed analysis has only now confirmed the presence of the illegal pesticide, carbofuran, which was banned three years ago.
The Scotsman understands that the police inquiry is focusing on pigeon fanciers in the North-east of Scotland, rather than shooting estates in the area. Peregrine falcons have been known to attack racing pigeons flying back to pigeon lofts in towns and villages along the Buchan coast, and Peterhead is a well-known destination for pigeon racing.
Dave Dick, a senior investigator with RSPB Scotland, said the poisonings could also have endangered human life.
He told The Scotsman: "It is very unusual, thankfully, to have birds of prey poisoned on a nature reserve. But it is also unusual for peregrine falcons to be poisoned as well, because they normally catch live birds in flight. I have records of only three or four peregrine poisonings in the last 20 years. It is as rare as that.
"It appears that the fledglings from a nearby nest have been deliberately targeted, as the adult birds would still be catching a lot of their prey for them. If you placed this bait in the right place it would be very easy to kill young ones."
Mr Dick continued: "It is dreadful that wildlife has been killed, but there is also a threat to humans here as well. This bait was laid in a very public place, right beside a path people would take to look at birds on the cliffs. The chemical used to poison these birds is also very dangerous to human beings. If somebody was to touch one of these baits and then lick their fingers they would be extremely ill very quickly."
Lisa Rigby, Aberdeenshire conservation manager for the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT), said: "The trust is shocked and appalled that such a mindless, criminal act has taken place on an SWT reserve - a place that should be a wildlife haven.
"The peregrines had lived on the reserve for years and the individual or individuals responsible obviously have a total disregard for wildlife."
Constable George Sangster, a wildlife crime officer with Grampian Police, said: "Peregrines have been the unfortunate victims of persecution for many years. There are particular groups who view the peregrine as a special enemy and a small proportion of them commit these criminal and wholly unjustifiable acts. I would particularly appeal to these groups to come forward and speak to the police."
He added: "Unfortunately, my colleagues and I have seen a worrying trend emerging in the last few years in the North-east of Scotland with an increase in the persecution of peregrines."
Although peregrine falcon numbers have recovered from their low levels of 30 years ago, there are thought to be only about 1,500 breeding pairs in Britain, with more than half in Scotland.
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