Two more red kites have been confirmed by Scottish Government testing to have been illegally killed in north Scotland. Both of these incidents took place in 2014 and are now being made public as the Police have concluded their enquiries.
The first victim was found last June near Beauly, and was subsequently confirmed by post-mortem, at the SAC Veterinary laboratory in Inverness, to have been shot.
The second red kite was found in September 2014, some 5 kilometres south-east of Cawdor village in Nairnshire. It was confirmed by Scottish Government testing to have been illegally poisoned with a banned pesticide. This female bird was part of a successful breeding pair which bred at Cawdor Castle in Nairnshire in 2014, representing the first breeding record of red kites in the county for over 100 years.
Both of these birds had been fitted with satellite tags by RSPB Scotland as part of a wider project to follow the movements of these birds and look at factors influencing their survival. It is doubtful whether either of the corpses of these birds would have been found if the satellite tags had not been in place.
Both of these crimes happened shortly after the Spring 2014 illegal poisoning incident that killed at least 12 red kites and 4 buzzards on the Black Isle near Conon Bridge. This appalling crime received widespread media coverage at the time and engendered national outrage, as well as prompting a protest by concerned local members of the public on the streets of Inverness.
Research by RSPB Scotland and SNH published in 2010 showed that the red kite population is being severely constrained in the north of Scotland by illegal killing. The study compared the performance of two red kite release projects, where equal numbers of young red kites were released over the same period, as part of the initial phase of red kite reintroduction in Scotland and England. Whilst the population in the Chiltern Hills in England has thrived, reaching an estimated 320 breeding pairs by 2006, the Black Isle population has struggled, reaching a meagre 41 breeding pairs over the same period, far lower than could have been expected. In 2009 the Black Isle population was still only 49 breeding pairs.
Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management for RSPB Scotland said: “Since red kite reintroductions began in Scotland in 1989, over 100 birds have been confirmed as illegally killed, with a significant majority of the victims found poisoned. The real figure will be much higher as the finding of these satellite tagged birds demonstrates. Our scientific modelling work has shown that illegal persecution of red kites, particularly in the north of Scotland, is having a significant impact on population growth and range expansion.”
He went on to say: “The red kite is a universally popular species amongst the public and tourists, featuring highly in recent polls to find the UK’s national bird. It poses no threat to land use interests, however due to its scavenging behaviour, it is vulnerable to the indiscriminate use of illegal poison in the countryside. We encourage anybody with information about the use of illegal poison or other wildlife crimes to contact the police.”
Bill Kidd MSP, the red kite Species Champion said: “I believe that whoever is responsible for these crimes is bringing a lot of decent law-abiding people in the highland community into undeserved disrepute through their despicable actions. The people of the Black Isle are to be strongly commended for their care of and interest in the red kites and other raptors in the area and I’m sure the same would happen in Nairnshire if the birds were allowed to spread there. I would ask if anyone knows who the perpetrators of these crimes of shooting and poisoning these magnificent birds are they should pass this information on to the police.”