Police in Scotland are appealing for information following the illegal killing of a goshawk on public land close to gamebird shooting estates.
The body of a young female goshawk was spotted by walkers who saw the bird dangling from the branch of a tree in woodland near Loch Farr, around 10 miles south of Inverness.
Police Scotland’s wildlife crime officer Constable Daniel Sutherland said: “This was a cruel and callous act against a protected bird of prey which will simply not be tolerated.”
The species, known as “the phantom of the forest”, was hunted to extinction across the UK in the late 19th century by gamekeepers, while deforestation across the country also impacted populations.
Unofficial reintroductions of both escaped and deliberately released falconry birds have seen a slow recovery of the goshawk around Britain since the 1960s, but there are still thought to be fewer than 500 pairs today, of which around 150 live in Scotland.
However, the species is still targeted by gamekeepers aiming to rear gamebirds such as red grouse and pheasants, which goshawks will occasionally predate.
Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations told The Independent: “They’re among the most protected birds that we have, and the disappointing thing is that there are still those who would flout those laws to target those birds. That is hampering their recovery.”
He said the bird’s body was “found to be riddled with shotgun pellets”, when the carcass was X-rayed.
“It was a recently fledged bird, probably just mastering the ability to fly,” he said.
“Goshawks are usually very shy birds, quite hard to see, and if it’d been an adult it would probably have disappeared.
“It’s quite clear that someone has deliberately gone into this woodland to take out that bird. It’s public Forestry Commission woodland. Nobody should be in there with a firearm.
“You have to ask who’s got the motive to do so, and who’s got the equipment to do so, and the knowledge that they’re there. They all point to the people looking to protect gamebirds.”
“There’s plenty of gamebird shooting in that area. It’s only really them who’d have the motive to target a bird like the goshawk. Ironically goshawks are voracious predators of species like pigeons and crows that are also not particularly popular with farmers and gamekeepers.”
He said it highlighted the “completely unsustainable system” of land management in which predators are targeted, so more time then had to be spent killing the species deemed to be pests.
In Scotland the government is poised to introduce licensing for grouse moors, in which the estates managing the land could lose their right to hold shoots if linked to illegal activity such as raptor persecution.
Graeme Prest, Regional Manager, North, Forestry and Land Scotland said: “We work hard to safeguard all protected species on our land so it is extremely disappointing to find an incident such as this has taken place on land managed by FLS.
“We carry out regular monitoring of sites in this area and will continues to work with local police officers, the Highland Partnership against Wildlife Crime and RSPB to ensure that all incidents of wildlife crime are reported and investigated.”
PC Sutherland added: “I am grateful to the member of public who came across the bird and reported it to us. Wildlife crime can be challenging to investigate and we work closely with a number of partners to investigate and bring those who seek to destroy or harm wildlife to justice.
“I am therefore appealing to anyone with information about this incident or who may have seen anything suspicious in this area to please contact police on 101, quoting reference NM/3907/21. Alternatively, if you wish to remain anonymous, you can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”