Last modified: 28 December 2007
Image: Steve Round
The illegal killing of red kites in Scotland has had a devastating impact on the species, according to shocking new statistics that reveal a major rise in poisoning.
Although most land managers welcome red kites and have played a key role in the reintroduction programme, some involved with game management continue with indiscriminate and illegal abuse of banned agricultural pesticides by laying poison baits.
The record of incidents independently confirmed by the Scottish Agricultural Science Agency (SASA) shows that there were 11 deliberate cases of poisoning of red kites in 2007. In 2001 there were 10 confirmed cases. Five of the victims were found in Perthshire, two in Stirlingshire, and one each in Inverness-shire, South Lanarkshire, Nairn and Moray.
Evidence suggests that the illegal use of poisoned baits is still widespread across much of the country, although it appears to have reduced in the Dumfries and Galloway red kite project area, amongst some other lowland areas.
Evidence suggests that the illegal use of poisoned baits is still widespread across much of the country
RSPB Scotland is particularly concerned about the upsurge of incidents in west Perthshire, an area where over the past few years a significant reduction in the number of poisoning incidents involving birds of prey had been noted.
In the Highlands the situation continues to be a very serious problem that is severely restricting red kite dispersal into what should be prime habitat and breeding territories and limiting the growth of the red kite population. If it were not for this kind of illegal activity, red kites would be widespread across the whole of Scotland for everyone to see.
Sadly, nine of the illegally killed red kites were recovered from shooting estates. New crime statistics also show that a staggering 74% of those successfully prosecuted for wildlife crime in the UK over the past decade have been involved in game shooting. Although there are many sporting estates that run commendable shoots that have no part in persecution, a minority are still routinely laying poison baits in the open countryside even though the practice has been illegal since the early 1900s. At present no-one has been charged with any offences relating to the deliberate poisonings recorded this year.
It is highly likely that the figures are a conservative representation of the levels of illegal persecution taking place in the Scottish countryside, as the corpses of deliberately killed red kites are more likely to be hidden or disposed of than those that have died naturally, and the remains of some recovered birds are too decomposed for a conclusive post mortem. The overall background level of illegal activity in relation to red kites may also be indicative of what is happening to other bird of prey populations. Unfortunately more than half of all birds of prey recorded as illegally killed in the UK are found in Scotland.
Although red kites are rarely the intended victims, and most shooting estates agree that red kites are of no threat to game birds as they are largely scavengers, illegal poisoning is still having a devastating impact on both their numbers and their ability to expand their current range. Their carrion feeding habit makes them highly likely to find any poisoned meat left lying around.
'It is time for... real action on the ground, and landowners must take more responsibility for the actions of their employees'
Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, said: '2007 has seen a big resurgence of poisoning activity which has had a devastating impact on some of our rarest birds of prey. This regrettable activity has hit red kites particularly hard, but they are not the only victims. Everyone will recall that in August this year the poisoners succeeded in killing one half of the last remaining breeding pair of golden eagles in the Scottish Borders.
'We have seen recent welcome statements from landowning bodies condemning wildlife crime. It is time for this to be turned into real action on the ground, and landowners must take more responsibility for the actions of their employees to stamp out this practice once and for all.'
He added: 'We are extremely pleased that the Scottish Government introduced measures to make the possession of proscribed pesticides an offence. A number of people have been successfully prosecuted in the past couple of years under this measure introduced under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. What we need to see now is the list of proscribed chemicals being regularly updated based upon advice from Scottish Agricultural Science Agency. This will enable the law to keep up with the poisoners, who change habits and use new chemicals from time to time.'
Michael Russell MSP, the Environment Minister, said: 'This was an appalling year for the persecution of birds of prey in Scotland, not least the red kite. Since its reintroduction, this iconic bird has become a vital part of our biodiversity and deliberately killing them is totally unacceptable. A review of the investigation and prosecution of wildlife crime is underway, which I hope will go some way to stamping out these disgraceful incidents.'
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