Friday, June 4, 2010

Police fear as many as 10 protected birds of prey might have been poisoned

Police who swooped on an Invernesshire sporting estate yesterday fear that up to 10birds of prey may have been poisoned there.

The raid on the 25,000-acre Moy Estate 10 miles south of Inverness by 25 officers was triggered when the signal from a satellite-tagged red kite, which was adopted by a local primary school, indicated it had stopped moving.

Houses, outbuildings and vehicles were searched throughout yesterday and estate staff were interviewed.

At one point, police officers removed several large plastic evidence bags from a house next to the old A9 road at Moy village.

It is understood that items removed included bird carcasses and weapons.

Officers also searched a gamekeeper’s house and kennels on the estate, the seat of the chief of the Clan Mackintosh, which hosts the Highland Sports and Leisure Fair every August.

No one from the estate could be contacted for comment yesterday.

Police said they acted after receiving intelligence about the area, and red kites and other birds of prey had been found dead at Moy in recent weeks.

A dead grouse found there some days ago tested positive for poison. Poisoned bait was also found two to three weeks ago at Moy, it emerged.

Officers would not confirm which other species were discovered, describing them only as “protected birds of prey”.

It is believed they included merlins and sparrowhawks.

The dead birds will be sent for analysis at specialist laboratories.

Northern Constabulary’s Inverness area commander, Chief Inspector Andy MacLean, said he could not say how many birds were involved as investigations were ongoing.

He said: “Red kites and other birds of prey have been found on this estate during the past month and are known to have been poisoned.

“The birds will be sent for analysis and the results will form part of the investigation.”

He added that the raid, and the large number of officers involved, was a sign that the force took wildlife crime very seriously.

He described it as a “blight” on the environment.

He added: “As far as we are concerned, if there is evidence of a crime on this estate, we will make inquiries as to who is responsible for that.

“If there is evidence to charge somebody, we will do so.”

The police went to Moy in a fleet of vehicles supported by 20 representatives from the RSPB, Scottish SPCA, Scottish Natural Heritage, the National Wildlife Crime Unit, and the Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspectorate.

RSPB Scotland director Stuart Housden said: “Serious crimes against our most spectacular birds and wildlife are utterly deplorable, and do major harm to our reputation as a country that values and cares for its wildlife and natural environment.

“There is a growing body of compelling evidence which abundantly demonstrates the scale and impact that illegal poisoning is having on the populations of iconic birds of prey such as the red kite and golden eagle.

“The perpetrators of these crimes must be pursued with the full vigour of the law.

Estate owner Celia Mackintosh, the widow of Lieutenant Commander Lachlan Mackintosh of Mackintosh, was one of 200 Scottish estate owners who signed a letter last month publicly condemning those who illegally poison birds.

The letter was sent to Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham after the remains of three golden eagles, a buzzard and a sparrowhawk were found on or near the grounds of Skibo Castle, near Dornoch in Sutherland.

Police are trying to establish if they were poisoned.

Lt Cdr Mackintosh, the former clan chief, died on Christmas Day 1995 and his widow continues to run the estate. The couple’s son, John Lachlan, is the current clan chief and is understood to live in Singapore.

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