Police investigate bird of prey deaths at Skibo estate

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La police enquête sur la mort d'oiseaux rares dans la propriété de Skibo.

Police called in to investigate suspicious deaths of three golden eagles and other birds of prey at prestigious Highland venue  
Severin Carrell. Scotland correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 12 May 2010 13.11 BST

Police are investigating the suspicious deaths of three golden eagles and at least two other birds of prey on a prestigious Highland estate where Madonna married Guy Ritchie.
The dead birds – all protected species – were found on Skibo estate, a 3,000 hectare (7,500 acre) grouse moor and exclusive members-only hotel overlooking the Dornoch firth north of Inverness last weekend, prompting a major police inquiry.
The discovery of the golden eagles, plus a dead buzzard and a dead sparrowhawk, is one of the largest single incidents involving the suspected persecution of birds of prey in recent years.
Birds of prey are persecuted particularly on shooting estates by gamekeepers who blame them for killing grouse, pheasant and partridge reared as game; most frequently they are poisoned, shot or trapped.
The bodies are now being examined for possible poisoning, in breach of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, at the Scottish government's agricultural science laboratories on the outskirts of Edinburgh.
Skibo was bought for £23m in 2003 by Ellis Short, an American multi-millionaire investment banker and the owner of Sunderland Football Club. Madonna and Ritchie married at Skibo castle in 2000 when the estate was owned by Peter de Savary.
There is no suggestion or evidence that Short or his staff are under investigation, and the police have made no arrests.
A statement from Skibo castle said: "The owners and management of Skibo Castle are committed conservationists and do everything they can to support the welfare of wildlife and birds. We will cooperate fully with the authorities in their investigation."
The estate, on the border between Sutherland and Caithness, includes two farms, forests, grouse moors and landscaped parkland alongside an 18-hole golf course and several artificial lochs.
The golden eagle is one of Britain's rarest birds. It is close to extinction in England but there are about 440 breeding pairs in Scotland, chiefly in western and northern areas.
The species has found it very difficult to recolonise the area around Inverness, with deliberate persecution being blamed by ecologists.
The find is being investigated by Northern constabulary and specialist detectives from the national wildlife crime unit, a UK-wide police body based in North Berwick, together with the conservation agency Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and wildlife crime specialists from the RSPB.
In a brief statement this morning, Northern constabulary said: "Police are investigating the deaths of three golden eagles and other birds of prey which have been found in the East Sutherland area during the past week.
"Officers are working closely with their partners at the RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage and the National Wildlife Crime Unit. The birds have been sent for forensic analysis in Edinburgh and police are awaiting the results."
An RSPB Scotland spokesman said: "Subject to confirmation by the authorities, this is an extremely serious incident. Our staff are working closely with the Northern constabulary, the national wildlife crime unit and Scottish Natural Heritage to assist with the police investigation."
A study by SNH found that in the surrounding region, well over one-third of the golden eagles' possible territories were unoccupied.
The latest official figures show that two golden eagles, four red kites 19 buzzards were killed illegally in Scotland last year. A Scottish government map recording all confirmed deaths between 2005 and 2009 shows the area around Inverness is one of several persecution hotspots in the Scotland highlands.

Source: The Guardian.

Three golden eagles among birds found 'poisoned' on Scots estate
Published Date: 13 May 2010
Last Updated: 13 May 2010 12:11 PM
Source: The Scotsman
Location: Edinburgh
Related Topics: Birds of prey

THE HIGHLAND estate where Madonna was married was yesterday at the centre of a major investigation into the deaths of five birds of prey, including three golden eagles.
Police and wildlife experts are trying to find out what killed the birds amid fears they were deliberately poisoned.
The carcases, which also included those of a sparrowhawk and a buzzard, were discovered in or near the grounds of Skibo Castle in Sutherland, the exclusive retreat where Madonna married Guy Ritchie in December, 2000.
The location was not revealed by investigators but yesterday Skibo Castle confirmed it was told the remains had been found "on or near our property".
A spokesman for the castle added: "The owners and management of Skibo Castle are committed conservationists and do everything they can to support the welfare of wildlife and birds and will co-operate fully with the investigation."
Northern Constabulary said the dead birds have been sent for forensic analysis in Edinburgh and they are awaiting results.
A spokeswoman said officers are working with RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the National Wildlife Crime Unit on the investigation.
A spokesman at RSPB Scotland said three dead golden eagles in one area is a huge loss: "It will have a devastating impact on the population in that area. To lose three golden eagles in such a small location is very serious, as they are long-lived birds and slow to breed."
He said breeding when breeding was successful there was usually just one chick and survival rates were not 100 per cent.
"All these factors conspire against the bird to expand and sustain its population", he said.
The discovery shocked other rural landowners. A spokesman for the Scottish Estates Business Group, which represents rural estates, said: "This is deeply disturbing news."
"Estates and land managers throughout Scotland will be utterly appalled. If it transpires these birds have been poisoned then the full weight of the law should be brought to bear on those responsible."
Luke Borwick, chair of the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association (SRPBA) said: "I am appalled, disgusted, horrified by this news. If this is as a result of criminal activity, this has to stop."
Rob Gibson, a Highlands and Islands SNP MSP, said: "I am deeply troubled that so many raptors have been found dead in such a limited area. An incident like this looks like poisoning and if it is proved to be so it is a worrying turn of events."
There are an estimated 440 pairs of golden eagles in Scotland. According to the RSPB, 14 have died as a result of poisoning in the past ten years.
A report from the bird charity in March showed that 27 birds of prey were killed in 22 recorded poisoning incidents last year, including two golden eagles.
Last June a golden eagle was found dead in the Glen Orchy area of Argyll, having died from poisoning caused by toxic insecticide. And last July the body of a poisoned golden eagle was found in Glen Esk in Angus.
Golden eagles live on open uplands and eat medium-sized prey including grouse, hares or rabbits, and carrion such as dead sheep and deer.
The species is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). There are eight special protection areas for the birds in Scotland and the SNH last year proposed another six.

Source: Scotsman.

Police investigate bird of prey deaths at Skibo estate
A rescued golden eagle on the Isle of Mull. Three of these protected birds of prey were found dead on the Skibo estate.
Photo: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian.

Police investigate bird of prey deaths at Skibo estate
The bodies of three golden eagles were found near Skibo Castle in Sutherland. Their deaths, and those of two other birds of prey, are being investigated.
Photo: Jane Barlow.

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