Gamekeepers have pledged to work with police over allegations golden eagles have been “disappearing” in Scotland.
RSPB Scotland claims eight satellite-tagged members of the rare species have disappeared in mountains south of Inverness in the past five years.
A senior inspector with the charity blames “human interference” but has faced accusations of trying to create anti-shooting publicity on the eve of the grouse shooting season.
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) has now said it will encourage its members to contact the police with any information about the missing birds.
A spokesman for the association said: “The Scottish Gamekeepers Association will be asking its members to contact Police Scotland if they know anything regarding the allegations which have been made.
“In the past two years the SGA has encouraged its 5,300 members to record the eagles on the ground they manage in order to take positive ownership of the role they play in eagle conservation.
“Scotland has one of the highest concentrations of golden eagles in the world and we want our members, many of whom have had eagles on their ground for decades, to continue to be part of that success in a constructive way.”
He added: “It is not in our, or any of our members’, interests, whatsoever, to have negative publicity on August 11, the day before people are set to fly into Scotland from all over the world for the start of the grouse season – which injects millions into the rural economy – and to admire the beauty of our well-managed landscapes.
“We will be asking our members, therefore, to comply with any investigation by the police or Scottish Government into such allegations.
“If there is any evidence of wrongdoing by any of our members, appropriate action will be taken.”
The Scottish Government has announced it will investigate data from satellite-tagged eagles to discover if there is a “pattern of suspicious activity” following the “disturbing” reports.
Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations, said the eight birds “have all disappeared in an area where driven grouse moor management dominates the landscape”.
He added: “Given the reliability of the transmitters, the chance of so many birds disappearing over such a short timescale without some kind of human interference is so small as to be negligible.
“The pattern we see here is consistent with the birds having been killed and the transmitters destroyed.”
Tim Baynes, director of Scottish Moorland Group (SMG), part of Scottish Land and Estates, which represents landowners in the area, said its members are “committed to golden eagle conservation”.
He said: “It is now over a month since the disappearance of this latest eagle and it would have been in everyone’s interests if the matter had been raised immediately.
“There are other explanations for satellite tags stopping working and the failure of RSPB to involve land managers in trying to establish the facts is disappointing.”
He claimed the charity had not followed established practice for dealing with the disappearing satellite-tagged birds and said: “RSPB would appear to be more interested in generating anti-shooting publicity on the eve of the grouse-shooting season.”
Anyone with information on the missing birds is asked to contact the police or RSPB.