Poisoners put rare bird plan at risk after red kite killed

THE reintroduction of rare birds of prey to the Borders has been cast in doubt after a red kite was found poisoned.

Officials from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Lothian and Borders Police swooped on the prestigious Raeshaw grouse shooting estate near Heriot earlier this month.

The carcass of the red kite was discovered by a member of the public and police have confirmed the rare bird of prey was poisoned by the deadly insecticide carbofuran.

Estate vehicles and six properties, including gamekeepers’ homes, were also searched during the raid.

Three injured hunting dogs were also seized by the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on suspicion of badger-baiting activity.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish SPCA said they would be submitting a report to the Procurator Fiscal.

The same estate was raided by police five years ago after nine birds of prey were found dead.

Similar incidents have not been uncommon across the Borders, most notably the poisoning of a golden eagle that was reintroduced to the region as part of a breeding pair in August 2007.

And a spokesman for RSPB Scotland said: “When we try to identify a site of potential introduction of a species, many criteria are considered. If they keep getting killed in a certain area then obviously that will count against it.

“It is very, very disappointing that we are dealing with yet another case of a bird of prey being killed.

“Red kites are scavengers and thrive off dead things such as road kill, and gamekeepers accept they are no threat to other birds whatsoever.

“The Borders is an area where some estates are seeing regular poisoning incidents. Other estates are making positive efforts to help, such as our raptor studies and attempts to improve numbers of black grouse.

“We have seen more incidents in southern and eastern Scotland on land associated with game shooting. The problem comes from a small minority who blacken the name of responsible gamekeepers and landowners.”

In 2004, five barn owls, two buzzards, a kestrel and a tawny owl were found dead on the Raeshaw Estate.

A number of illegal poisons and pesticides were also discovered but no-one was ever prosecuted.

Officers from Lothian and Borders Police and the RSPB have now been given the task of ascertaining who was responsible for leaving the latest poisoned bait out in the wild.

There have been other notable wildlife deaths in the Borders in recent years, with only the Highlands recording a higher number of reported wildlife crimes in 2007.

The red kite death on the Raeshaw Estate comes 12 months after a bird of the same species was shot dead in Berwickshire.

And, five years ago, a Peeblesshire gamekeeper was fined 5,500 for killing 16 buzzards and a goshawk by laying out animal carcasses laced with carbofuran on a country estate in what was described as Scotland’s worst wildlife crime.

A spokesman for Lothian and Borders Police told us: “On Tuesday, June 2, a red kite was found dead in the Scottish Borders having been poisoned.

“As a result, a number of house searches have been carried out in the area.

“Police enquiries are continuing and anyone with information regarding wildlife crime is asked to contact us on 0131 311 3131.”

The red kite was one of the most common birds of prey in Britain several centuries ago. However, they were persecuted to the brink of extinction during the course of the 20th century.

The bird has been reintroduced to England and Scotland over the past 13 years and there are now an estimated 450 pairs across Britain – although they are still regarded as one of the rarest bird species north of the border.

When contacted by TheSouthern, Raeshaw Estate did not wish to comment.