DOZENS of conservation groups have banded together to call for efforts to tackle the illegal killing of birds of prey to be stepped up.
They want laws protecting the birds to be properly enforced.
The 26 groups, including RSPB Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland, the Ramblers’ Association Scotland and the SSPCA, made their demand in a joint report, On a Wing and a Prayer.
It highlights current levels of Scotland’s 15 species in the wild and shows that although some have recovered dramatically from near-extinction – such as the buzzard, which now numbers more than 40,000 across the UK – others are still at risk.
One of these is the white-tailed eagle, which was reintroduced in Scotland in 1975 after it was hunted to extinction. The birds have not been able to reach a stable level, due to deliberate killing and egg collecting.
The report says that even though nine of the UK’s 15 birds of prey have seen numbers increase in recent years, illegal activity remains a key threat to the future of some species.
Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, said it was very difficult to find out about crimes against birds of prey.
“Most of the crimes against birds of prey take place in remote areas. It’s much easier to conceal an incident than to find one,” he said.
But he also said more could be done by police.
“Wildlife crime needs to be treated as if it was any other crime. We have long been saying that perhaps it is the poor relation of the justice system.
“We are not saying that wildlife crime deserves the resources that are devoted to serious human crime but it should be at least treated as a form of normal crime.”
And although he thinks many landowners have played an important role in helping protect birds of prey, he added: “I’m afraid there’s a persistent number of people who are still involved in wildlife crime.”
Keith Arbuthnott, chairman of the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association and Sir Alastair Gordon Cumming, chairman of the Scottish Estates Business Group, have also called for landowners to step up their vigilance over wildlife crime.
They are urging members to report any suspicious incidents.
In a joint statement, they said: “A small number of rogue owners and their contractors continue to flout the law.”
But they said: “Landowners and land managers across the vast majority of Scotland’s estates recognise that the future success of some of our most iconic bird species, and in particular birds of prey, lies in their hands.”
They said their members had been involved in numerous bird of prey initiatives.
The calls for action follow a report by Scotland’s police watchdog that said more needed to be done on wildlife crime.
It said insufficient police officers dedicated to catching offenders, inadequate reporting and poor use of intelligence were among the problems.
It suggested every police force should have a full-time wildlife crime officer, and that a minimum standard for investigations should be set.
The environment minister, Michael Russell, is due to give a detailed response to parliament later this year.
Spreading their wings
• Hen harrier: Hunted nearly to extinction in UK by 1900. Now 800 pairs but illegal killing still a problem.
• White tailed eagle: Reintroduced in 1975 after being hunted to extinction; now 42 pairs. Threatened due to egg-collecting and illegal killing.
• Golden eagle: Fell to 80 pairs in late 19th century. Now about 420 pairs, almost all in Scotland, but still suffering illegal killings.
• Honey buzzard: Scarce summer visitors to the UK; about 100 breeding pairs.
• Kestrel: Once the most common bird of prey in the UK – now 36,800 and falling, possibly due to lack of prey.
• Marsh harrier: Extinct by 1898 due to killings and drainage of wetlands. Now about 360 breeding females.
• Merlin: Dropped to 550 pairs in mid-20th century due to killings and pesticide use. Now about 1,300 pairs, but loss of habitat a problem.
• Montagu’s harrier: Scarce visitors to the UK; fewer than ten pairs.
• Ospreys: Extinct by 1916. Started to breed again in 1954 – now more than 200 pairs in Scotland.
• Peregrines: Numbers at highest for 50 years, with more than 1,400 pairs. Has not recovered in north of Scotland due to persecution.
• Red kite: Reintroduction started in 1989, but today just 40 pairs in Scotland, against 350 in England, though the same number were released in each area.
• Buzzard: Numbers have recovered rapidly as rabbit population rose – their prey. Now about 44,000.
• Goshawk: Hunted to extinction but re-established by falconers from 1950s. Now more than 400 pairs.
• Hobby: Thriving – about 2,200 pairs – perhaps due to rise in dragonfly prey.
• Sparrowhawk: Pesticides caused decline in mid-20th century. Now stable, with about 40,000 pairs.
STAMPING OUT WILDLIFE CRIME
THE Scotsman is committed to helping the SSPCA catch those responsible for killing birds of prey and wildlife.
Information about raptor poisonings and other incidents of wildlife crime can be passed to police via the National Wildlife Crime Unit in North Berwick on 01620 893607.