The body of the white-tailed sea eagle found in Aberdeenshire. Photo: Police Scotland

The body of the white-tailed sea eagle found in Aberdeenshire. Photo: Police Scotland

A rare bird of prey whose body was found in the Cairngorms national park was poisoned, police said.

The dead white-tailed sea eagle was found in Strathdon in the East of the national park in April.

The one-year-old was satellite tagged and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland informed police when it was clear the bird was no longer moving.

A post-mortem examination revealed the eagle had been poisoned, and Police Scotland said its death is being treated as suspicious. Officers appealed to anyone with information that might help identify the criminal responsible to contact them.

They said an investigation is continuing.

White-tailed sea eagles were re-introduced into Scotland in the 1970s after becoming extinct in the UK in the early 1900s. There are now over 150 breeding pairs in Scotland. The bird found in April in Aberdeenshire fledged from the first successful nest of a white-tailed eagle that was wild-bred, and marked a major step forward in the re-establishment of the species in the East of the country, RSPB Scotland said.

Police Inspector Sheila McDerment, who chairs the North East Partnership Against Wildlife Crime, said: “As well as being illegal, poisoning is a cruel way to kill a bird. It also puts the lives of other creatures and plants at risk and impacts negatively on our environment.

“This incident is particularly upsetting because these rare and beautiful birds had been re-introduced to Scotland after being extinct throughout the UK.

“Raptor persecution is one of six priorities set by the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit. In the North-East we work closely with a number of partners to tackle wildlife crime. Members of the public are our eyes and ears. I appeal to anyone out there who may hold any information about this incident to help us bring the offender to justice by coming forward and telling us what they know.”

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations said: “The news that this bird has been illegally poisoned is appalling.

“This crime would never have come to light had the bird not been fitted with a satellite tag, and the killing of this young eagle can be added to a litany of raptor persecution incidents in recent years, including previous poisonings and multiple disappearances of similarly tagged birds of prey.

“Poisoning is vicious and indiscriminate and we join with Police Scotland in appealing for information.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Gary Cunningham, wildlife crime lead for Police Scotland, said: “Scotland’s rich, rare and diverse wildlife and landscapes are among its biggest attractions. We cannot allow the indiscriminate use of poisons and pesticides to threaten our natural heritage.

“Police Scotland, working with our key partners, is committed to protecting our wildlife habitats and to bringing those who seek to destroy or harm it, to justice.”

White-tailed sea eagles were reintroduced into Scotland in the 70s. Photo: Talks Presenters 09 CC-BY-SA-3.0

White-tailed sea eagles were reintroduced into Scotland in the 70s. Photo: Talks Presenters 09 CC-BY-SA-3.0

Mr Thomson said: “Today’s appalling news that a white-tailed eagle has been illegally killed on a grouse moor in the Strathdon area of Aberdeenshire won’t come as a particular surprise to any of us who have been involved in the conservation of Scotland’s birds of prey over the last 15 or so years.

“It was killed in early April, during the early days of strict Covid-19 lockdown when our countryside was, in effect, closed to all but local people and those still working in the countryside.

“This young eagle is the latest victim of a widespread, relentless and systematic campaign of shameful persecution of raptors in this area, dominated by intensive driven grouse moor management, dating back over many years.

“Recent confirmed crimes here have included the shooting of a goshawk, the targeted destruction of a goshawk nest in a nearby publicly owned forestry plantation; and the disappearance of two satellite-tagged hen harriers, including one in April this year.”

He said there were multiple cases of suspicious disappearances of satellite-tagged golden eagles in upper Donside.

“In April 2014, the first young white-tailed eagle to fledge from a nest in the East of Scotland in one hundred years also suddenly disappeared here.

“A satellite-tagged golden eagle was found poisoned in Glenbuchat in 2011. The national golden eagle survey 2015 showed that less than a third of known golden eagle home ranges in the eastern Cairngorms were occupied despite the fact that this area should be the most productive for this species in Scotland given the widespread availability of red grouse and mountain hare prey. Illegal killing was identified as the main threat.

“We all hoped the dark days of poisoned raptor cases were fading into the past. The use of such chemicals is not just illegal, it is pre-meditated and indiscriminate – whatever the intentions of the criminal who places out a bait.

“So, the news we received in the last few days that this young white-tailed eagle had been the victim of poisoning by an illegal pesticide is both exceedingly depressing and deeply worrying. It is perhaps all the more so because this bird was of a new generation of white-tailed eagles originating from the East of Scotland re-introduction supported by Scottish Government that began in 2007.”

Police Scotland said anyone with information can contact them on 101 quoting crime reference number CF0160960720. The public can also report information anonymously by contacting Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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