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Staff and volunteers devastated at loss of much-loved birds of prey

Last modified: 02 April 2014

Red kite in flight

Red kite

Image: Steve Round

RSPB Scotland staff and volunteers who have dedicated years to helping birds of prey have spoken of their anger and disappointment after 16 birds were confirmed dead in Ross-shire.

Police have confirmed that the death toll in the area is now 12 red kites and four buzzards. At least some of the birds of prey were poisoned.

We urge anyone with information to contact Police Scotland and are offering a £5,000 reward for information that leads to a successful conviction.

Brian Etheridge has worked for the RSPB for 27 years and marks 19 years as a red kite officer in the Black Isle this week. Instead of celebrating, he is still reeling from the deaths of many birds he has worked with for more than a decade.

Brian said: “This has been the worst two weeks of my life. I have worked with all of the birds – each one was ringed and tagged by me. I was there at the very beginning when they were only a few weeks old and I was there at the end when I went to collect their bodies. It’s a huge mix of emotions; I’ve gone from being very, very angry to extremely sad. Some of these birds I’ve known very well and for a very long time.”

Old friend

One of the dead birds was a 16-year-old female that Brian first tagged in 1998. She had been breeding in the Black Isle for 14 years and had raised between 25 to 30 young – one of which, an eight-year-old female, was also among the dead.

Brian said: “I’ve gone to her nest every year since she first bred back in 2000 and I’ve climbed up to her nest so she probably knew me quite well. She was like an old friend and a very familiar sight so I will miss her this year. She had mated with one male for 13 years and he was so faithful. He has been sitting on their nest, waiting for her to come back.

“Something like this can just wipe out so many birds and so many years of work. This is by far the worst example I’ve ever witnessed. There has been a huge reaction from the public. The community has really taken these birds to its heart. This was the very first reintroduction programme in Scotland so most people are very proud of their red kites.”

Empty skies

Around 25 volunteers dedicate their free time at the Tollie Red Kite reserve near Conon Bridge, helping to feed the birds and speak to visitors.

Liz Rollinson, 66, from Contin, has volunteered on the project since it began in 2009.

She said: “A lot of people in the local community are interested in the birds and feed them in their gardens or see them flying in the skies. The skies are now empty and it just seems so sad, I cannot see rhyme nor reason for it. All that hard work and time and so much effort from an awful lot of people and now this has happened. It’s devastating.”

Another volunteer, Eilidh Smith, 23, from Bonar Bridge, is currently studying for a masters degree in nature conservation.

She said: “It’s quite upsetting, when you know that the RSPB and other people have put so much effort into the red kite project and it’s all for nothing when they can just be wiped out like that. It’s really disappointing that we are still persecuting wildlife like this. It’s something we should have moved past.”

Hugely disappointing

Tollie Red Kites is a partnership between RSPB Scotland and the Brahan Estate, where the centre is located.

Alex Matheson, from the Brahan Estate, said: “I would like to express in the strongest possible terms our total condemnation of any form of illegal poisoning. Responsible land managers across the country are working hard to stamp this sort of thing out and show that wildlife crime is just not acceptable.

“Brahan Estate have actively supported the reintroduction of Red Kites in this area from the beginning and we will continue to do so. Over the last five or six years we have been working in partnership with the RSPB and the volunteers and we are extremely proud of the Tollie centre and the enjoyment it gives to members of the public. An incident like this, right on our doorstep, is hugely disappointing.”

How you can help

Persecution is still causing the deaths of hundreds of birds of prey every year. A donation to our appeal will help us put these awe-inspiring birds back in the skies where they belong.

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