The disappearance in January of a golden eagle born in the Borders last year has prompted a police investigation and a pledge by the Scottish Government to look into new moves to protect birds of prey.
The bird, hatched in Peebleshire in June last year and given the name Fred, went missing during its first flight out of the region and is now suspected to have been killed illegally near Edinburgh.
Fred’s suspected fate was raised at last Thursday’s First Minister’s questions session at Holyrood by Lothian MSP Alison Johnstone, and she called on the Scottish Government to bring in licences for game bird shoots.
“In 2017, a rare and beautiful young golden eagle was raised in the Scottish Borders by the only pair of breeding adults there,” she said.
“He was satellite-tagged, and last month he left home for the first time.
“Less than a week later, he disappeared in the Pentland Hills near Currie.
“His tag stopped sending data for three days, then started again, this time in the North Sea off St Andrews.
“RSPB Scotland and Raptor Persecution UK regard the disappearance as highly suspicious, and I believe it is likely that the young eagle has been illegally killed.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told her: “I agree that the persecution of birds of prey is unacceptable. The government treats this as an extremely serious issue.
“A group was set up following a report on the issue published last year, and it is looking at various aspects such as licensing and the impact of grouse shooting.
“I am sure that all of us are united in agreeing that this is unacceptable and requires to be tackled robustly.”
A police investigation is also under way into the fate of Fred, the only golden eagle chick known to have hatched in the Borders last year.
“Inquiries have been conducted with the relevant partners to trace the bird,” said a Police Scotland spokesperson.
“Officers would ask anyone with information to report this to them via 101.”
Suspicions have been raised by campaign group Raptor Persecution UK and the TV presenter Chris Packham that gamekeepers seeking to safeguard grouse or partridges might have been responsible for Fred’s disappearance, as reported in last week’s Southern, but representatives of the trade have been quick to point out that there is no evidence to back up any such claim.
A spokesman for the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association said: “If evidence is forthcoming to prove this eagle’s disappearance had anything to do with grouse interests and involved any of our members, we will be quick to act, and we will act with the appropriate force.
“The association has a very strict wildlife crime policy and will use it where there is evidence to do so.
“Unlike other organisations, however, we are not going to convene a trial by media or trial by implication.”
“Beyond implication, no one knows what has happened to this bird, so anyone with information should contact Police Scotland, and we would encourage them to do so.
“We also feel that police should attempt to search the water for the missing tag.
“We will continue to investigate the allegations being made, as far as we can, rather than heaping more unhelpful speculation upon existing speculation.”