Persecution cases involving birds of prey in Scotland has more than doubled with eagles, hen harriers and buzzards among the species targeted, a new report has found.
Environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham has said the figures are “disappointing” and vowed to press ahead with tough new measures to crack down on offenders.
The Lothians and Scottish Borders had the highest number of offences with 13 of the 24 committed across Scotland in 2017-18.
Overall wildlife crime in Scotland is on the rise again after falling in recent years, according to the latest Wildlife Crime in Scotland: 2018 Annual report published yesterday.
There were 236 offences relating to wildlife recorded by the police in 2017-18. This marks a rise of five on the previous year, but reverses the decline in such offending which has fallen over the past two years from a high of 284 in three years ago.
“It is disappointing that, again, there continues to be persecution of birds of prey,” Ms Cunningham said.
“In 2018, we also saw eight satellite-tagged raptors disappearing in suspicious circumstances: two golden eagles and six hen harriers. In all cases, their tags were functioning as expected, then stopped suddenly with no indications of technical malfunction. These circumstances strongly suggest that many of these incidents may be the result of illegal killing of these birds.”
The offences included two cases of poisoning, five shootings, two cases of trapping. There were also cases of disturbance and egg theft.
Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations, said the findings are a “significant concern.”
“This shows very clearly that the targeting of our raptors continues unabated, particularly on intensively managed grouse moors,” he said.
“The repeated and ongoing suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged birds of prey, almost exclusively on or adjacent to areas managed for driven grouse shooting demonstrates very clearly that the Scottish Government needs to expedite the robust regulation of this industry.”
Tim Baynes, of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “Estates share the Scottish government’s desire to see the eradication of all wildlife crime, and raptor persecution in particular, and we support the introduction of tougher penalties for those who engage in criminal behaviour.”
He added that raptor persecution cases are at a “low level”.