Preying this will stop

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LATEST Scottish Government figures show birds of prey continue to be targeted for illegal poisoning.

Last year Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA)’s wildlife incident investigation scientists found 32 ‘abuse’ cases out of an increased 233 incidents reported – up 40 per cent on last year – concerning raptors, wild mammals, livestock and pets.

And 22 of the 32 deliberate poisonings were of birds of prey – 13 buzzards (two from the Borders), seven red kites and four golden eagles.

Environment minister Stewart Stevenson said: “This report highlights the devastating impact that the irresponsible abuse of pesticides can have on our wildlife.

“The number of birds of prey which continue to be victims of deliberate poisoning does remain a concern and we will continue to use the range of measures available to combat this.

“However, early indications would seem to suggest that there is a reduction this year. I am delighted to see law enforcement, land management organisations and conservation bodies now working together to tackle the wide issues surrounding raptor persecution.”

Of the 288 cases that went forward for investigation, 106 involved pesticides and the illegal use of carbofuran (insecticide) accounted for more than half of all 32 abuse cases. The bird of prey poisonings made up 69 per cent of all abuse cases, similar to last year’s figure.

Incidents in the Borders started in March when a buzzard was found to have been killed by rodent bait. In April a sparrowhawk was found dead from pesticide poisoning. The cause of death of a buzzard found beside a path in a popular dog walking area in the region in June was likely starvation because scientists found only a low level of pesticide in its liver. In July three pieces of ‘sausage bait’ were found in a garden where the owner’s dog was behaving strangely.

The meat was found to be contaminated with rat poison and police investigated. In August scientists established a rabbit, one of several the owner feared had been poisoned at the same property, had been poisoned with rodent bait.

Lab tests on a barn owl found dead in a Borders garden in September ruled out pesticide poisoning, but in November scientists confirmed a buzzard found ‘in excellent bodily condition but in a contorted state’ had been poisoned by pesticide.

RSPB Scotland’s head of species and land management, Duncan Orr-Ewing said: “The impact of illegal poisoning on birds of prey remains a serious concern, undermining the recovery of their populations.

“We welcome the increased reporting by the public of potential illegal poisoning cases, and the steps being taken by Scottish landowning interests, who we are working alongside, to bear down on those who continue use poisons illegally and indiscriminately in our countryside.”

The Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group’s chairman, Superintendent Alan Smailes, said: “The data confirms existing suspicions that poisonings are becoming more geographically polarised.”

And he warned: “As for those areas where poisoning is continuing to occur, it is becoming ever more apparent who and where you are and we will not hesitate to use all means at our disposal to stop you.”

The chairman of Scottish Land and Estates, which represents 2,500 landowners, Luke Borwick said: “Landowners are working hard in partnership with police and other organisations to help eradicate poisoning.

“This requires a sustained approach over time and there is evidence these joint efforts are beginning to pay off.

“Early indications for the first half of 2011 show there has been a significant decrease in illegal poisoning incidents at a time when some species are increasing rapidly and now number tens of thousands, the highest overall for nearly a hundred years.

“This decrease is welcome, reflects serious partnership working in this area and needs to be sustained.”