A RARE Scottish raptor had to be put down after being shot on a hunting estate.
The goshawk was taken into the care of an animal sanctuary after the incident in the Strathdon area of Aberdeenshire late last month.
After an initial check up, the bird of prey - nicknamed Bart - appeared to be in good health and was given the all clear to be released into the wild.
But on its release, it quickly became clear that the animal was more seriously injured than first thought and would struggle to survive if left to its own devices.
It was recaptured but due to the nature of its injuries it later had to put down by vets.
There are thought to be only around 150 pairs of the protected animals breeding in Scotland.
Goshawk numbers are thought to have plummeted in recent years due to persecution on hunting estates.
Wildlife crime officers are now investigating this latest killing.
Keith Marley, who owns and runs the New Arc wildlife sanctuary, near Ellon, said it was a prime example of a “deliberate” shooting.
He said: “The bird was originally shot from a hidden shooter on a hunting estate.
“Another guy saw it, picked it up and took it to a falconer who didn’t treat it and didn’t x-ray it.
“He obviously thought it was good to go so we picked it up and took it out to near to where it was shot because it’s mate was there.
“Unfortunately it then hopped up a tree because it couldn’t fly. We then spent the next three and a half hours trying to recapture it.”
The next morning the bird of prey was taken to a vets, where x-rays and a CAT scan found “substantial” internal injuries.
Due to the location of the metal pellet and the level of pain the bird was in, vets ruled out surgery and had to put the bird down instead.
Mr Marley said that the species had become a target on hunting estates in recent years as they are considered “vermin” despite their protected status under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
And he accused estate owners of trying to profit from increased number of game animals by culling natural predators.
He said: “Goshawks do pre-date grouse and game birds. They have the highest level of protection.
“But unfortunately they are getting shot on a regular basis on hunting estates.
“All the incidents are on hunting estates - so go figure.”
He added: “There needs to be tighter legislation on hunting estates - it’s as simple as that.
“They are killing any type of predator so that they can get artificially high numbers of game.
“These people are managers of profit making concerns and they are trying to hike the profit as much as possible by simply overpopulating the countryside with what they consider suitable animals - basically anything they can shoot.”
Last year a gamekeeper was jailed for four months after killing a rare bird of prey and injuring others in traps on a Scottish estate.
George Mutch, 48, was secretly filmed catching raptors in two bird traps while working on Kildrummy Estate near Alford in Aberdeenshire in 2012.
Secret RSPB camera footage revealed the Mutch had killed a juvenile goshawk by beating it on the head several times with a stick.
The gamekeeper could be seen putting a buzzard and another goshawk in white sacks on the camera footage then walking out of view with the bags in his hands. It is not known what happened to these birds.
Mutch, of Kildrummy, was the first gamekeeper in Scotland to have been jailed for the wildlife offences, which is often difficult for police and RSPB officers to detect.