Crackdown comes amid concerns about illegal persecution of birds of prey shot, poisoned or trapped by gamekeepers and farmers in Scotland
Highland estates could be forced to apply for licences to shoot grouse in a further crackdown by Scottish ministers on the illegal persecution of birds of prey.
Aileen McLeod, the Scottish environment minister, said she had ordered a review into the stricter legal controls imposed on game estates in Europe as conservationists disclosed that at least 779 protected birds had been illegally killed over a 20-year period in Scotland.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said it believed this death toll, which includes the killing of 37 golden eagles and 104 red kites, was a fraction of the total number they suspect had been shot, poisoned or illegally trapped by gamekeepers and farmers since 1994.
Scotland already has some of the strictest rules on wildlife persecution, including “vicarious liability”, new powers where the owner of an estate can be taken to court for the actions of their employees or evidence of systematic persecution on their land.
Its latest annual figures for 2014 showed there had been eight cases of illegal poisoning, including the deaths of 12 red kites and four buzzards in one cluster at Connon Bridge in the Black Isle – the largest number ever poisoned in a single proven incident in the UK.
In addition, there were 16 cases where traps, shooting, nest destruction and attempted persecution was proven, involving buzzards, peregrines, hen harriers and eagles in 2014.
Stuart Housden, the director of RSPB Scotland, said landowners efforts to stem persecution were mostly voluntary and were clearly failing. “People are ignoring the law and ignoring what’s going on in many places; we have bird populations with serious problems,” he said.
In Spain and Germany – two countries now being studied under the Scottish government review, shooting estates were licensed and could lose their licences if persecution came to light – a system no UK government has previously considered.