LANDOWNERS and huntsmen are being persuaded to work with conservationists to reduce the number of birds of prey illegally killed on Scotland's private estates.
The RSPB is trying to orchestrate a change in attitudes among people who previously regarded the need to protect raptors as a "distraction" rather than a priority.
Although most land managers now welcome birds of prey, and have played a key role in the reintroduction of red kites, ospreys and sea eagles, a minority involved in game management are having a disproportionate impact on the conservation of some species, including golden eagles and hen harriers.
Now, in an unprecedented show of public unity, 12 bodies that play major roles in estate management and bird conservation have signed a pledge saying there should be no place in Scotland's future for the illegal killing of such birds.
Senior figures in the RSPB hope that the pledge will lead to significantly fewer numbers of endangered species such as golden eagles and hen harriers being poisoned, trapped or having their nests destroyed.
Last year was the worst yet for red kite poisoning, according to the record of incidents independently confirmed by the Scottish Agricultural Science Agency. The female of the only remaining pair of breeding golden eagles in the Borders was also poisoned with an illegal pesticide last August.
Duncan Orr-Ewing, the head of species at the RSPB, told The Scotsman: "Some of the landowning bodies are on board now, which is very welcome. In the past there has been an issue where the killing of birds of prey has been regarded as a bit of a distraction by a minority of people. But now they are realising this is an important issue, and we can all move forward on this."
James Reynolds, an RSPB spokesman, added: "It is a groundbreaking piece of work because historically there's been a bit of antagonism between the various organisations. This level of buy-in from landowners is a bit of a landmark in bringing an end to this problem.
"Now there is a real partnership happening; things are hopefully changing and it will mean there is a significant drop in the number of persecution incidents."
Michael Russell, the environment minister, launched the pledge in Cammo Park, Edinburgh, yesterday.
Mr Russell said: "Recent reports of the persecution of raptors have been very disturbing and the pledge I am signing today will be an important means of protecting these wonderful species.
"A recent report on wildlife crime also made a number of recommendations for government, prosecutors and the police, which I have been more than happy to accept."
Luke Borwick, chairman of the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association, said: "Our position is clear on illegal activity – it cannot be tolerated and we will work with the relevant agencies to eradicate wildlife crime."
The pledge was signed by the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association, National Farmers' Union Scotland, Edinburgh City Council, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Scottish Agricultural Science Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Ornithologists' Club, Raptor Study Groups, Tayside Police, the Heather Trust, Scottish Raptor Study Group and the Countryside Ranger Service.
During the launch RSPB Scotland also unveiled a new buzzard nest viewing project, the first within city limits for Scotland.
Working together to combat illegal persecution
IN AUGUST last year The Scotsman teamed up with the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help catch those responsible for killing this country's birds of prey.
The campaign was triggered by the discovery of a dead golden eagle on an estate near Peebles in the Borders.
The Scottish Government joined the campaign after ministers pledged to step up efforts to stamp out wildlife crime, of which there were 275 reported cases last year.
Michael Russell, the environment minister, announced a review of the way wildlife crime was investigated and prosecuted.
The Royal Mail backed the effort by issuing ten stamps featuring examples of bird species, together with population figures showing how, in Britain, they had been driven to the edge of extinction and, in some cases, beyond, but had since recovered.
The latest organisation to come on board was the Argaty Red Kite Project in Perthshire, after three red kites were found poisoned and post-mortem examinations revealed extremely high levels of a toxin in their systems.