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Bird killings 'deeply troubling'

18 November 08 03:02 GMT

The number of birds of prey killed illegally in Scotland is "deeply troubling", a conservation group has said.

Crimes against the birds remain at "worryingly high" levels, according to the latest report from RSPB Scotland.

It comes days after it emerged that a white-tailed eagle was found poisoned near the Glenogil estate in Angus in May.

The charity said such crimes were damaging Scotland's raptor populations.

The Birds of Prey Persecution 2007 study showed that crimes against the birds had dropped since the previous year but remained high.

There were 69 allegations or reports of poisoning in 2007, compared with 98 in 2006.

Of these, 37 were confirmed as pesticide or poison abuse killing or threatening raptors, down on 42 the year before.

It was the worst year on record for red kite poisoning, with 12 birds dying.

Carbofuran, an agricultural pesticide which has been banned since December 2001, was used in 30 out of the 37 confirmed cases.

There were also 78 reports of other types of persecution, such as nest destruction, traps and shooting incidents, down on 85 in 2006.

Of these, 17 were confirmed incidents, while 30 were classed as probable cases of persecution.

In the remaining 31 cases there was either insufficient evidence to prove or disprove the claim.

The RSPB said that because raptors are long lived, breed slowly and produce few young, the effects of illegal killing can have a damaging effect on their population levels.

Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, said: "These figures are deeply troubling, especially when we know that wildlife crime takes place in remote areas, where it is relatively easy to conceal evidence of wrong-doing.

"These confirmed cases must represent a tip of an iceberg.

"Whilst we know that many land managers behave responsibly, it is important that they stand up and provide information to the police on criminal activity against wildlife that comes to their attention.

"Sweeping these issues under the carpet is not acceptable. Only in this way will this problem be stamped out once and for all."

'International reputation'

Many of the raptors are killed by people trying to protect grouse populations on country estates, who perceive the birds as a threat.

The RSPB stressed that it happens only on a small minority of estates.

The charity welcomed steps taken by the Scottish Government to improve standards of investigation and prosecution, together with responsible landowners.

It called for adequate public resources to investigate and prosecute incidents to be put in place in line with recommendations of recent official public reports.

Mr Housden said: "We welcome the action taken by the Scottish Government to secure improvements in the way cases of wildlife crime are investigated and prosecuted.

"This recognises the seriousness of the issue and the damage that is being done to our international reputation, as well as important Scottish industries, such as wildlife tourism.

"It is important however that ministers continue to lead from the front on this issue."

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