A Tayside wildlife expert has called for landowner sanctions to be put in place to protect one of Scotland’s most iconic species.
Alan Stewart, a retired Tayside Police wildlife crime officer from Perthshire, said the list of “poisoned, shot, trapped and vaporised golden eagles is growing ever longer”.
He was speaking after a review was ordered by the Scottish environment secretary to “discover if there is a pattern of suspicious activity”.
Roseanna Cunningham ordered the review after eight golden eagles vanished in an area of the Monadhliath mountains known for its grouse shooting, south of Inverness.
RSPB Scotland believes they were killed illegally around grouse moors, and their satellite tracking tags destroyed.
Mr Stewart, who previously worked as an intelligence officer with the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit (NCWU), said: “Gamekeepers maintain that golden eagles are not a problem, yet I was told by a former head keeper that an eagle flew over a grouse drive one day and was seen by the landowner, who told him it better not be there on the next shooting day.
“Eight golden eagles known to be missing in an area of grouse moors, together with a further golden eagle found poisoned in the same area in 2010 tend to confirm that golden eagles are still being eliminated.”
Mr Stewart said that despite often lengthy investigations by wildlife crime officers, the only solution “lies outside” the current wildlife legislation.
He said: “My view is that although the wildlife laws in Scotland are excellent by way of investigative powers for the police, wildlife crimes committed in the uplands are extremely difficult in which to obtain a conviction.
“Wildlife crimes committed on driven grouse moors are almost impossible to prove since there must be evidence to identify the individual responsible.
“The law in these circumstances is pretty useless and the change necessary to reduce these crimes is some sanction against the owner of the land where the wildlife crime is occurring.
“This may be by way of reduction in subsidies, which may be possible if we are no longer in the EU, or a more likely way is to license shooting estates and revoke the licence if there is evidence on the balance of probabilities on the estate.
“Police Scotland, the Scottish Government and Scottish Natural Heritage are well aware of the problematic estates.
“Estates staying within the law should have no concerns and in fact should welcome licensing if it addresses the problem, which tars all estates with the same brush.”
The Scottish Moorland Group, which represents landowners and gamekeepers, said there was no clear evidence of the golden eagles having even died in the Monadhliath area.
Tim Baynes, director of the organisation, said there was a clear process for investigating the disappearance of satellite-tagged birds, which involved the police.