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Rare sea eagle found dead in Ross-shire

By Jackie Mackenzie

A protected white-tailed eagle has been found dead in Wester Ross, launching an investigation by the police. Picture: RSPB Images.
A protected white-tailed eagle has been found dead in Wester Ross, launching an investigation by the police. Picture: RSPB Images.

AN INVESTIGATION has been launched after a rare white-tailed eagle was found dead in Ross-shire.

Vets at Scotland’s Rural College’s laboratory in Inverness are currently carrying out a post-mortem examination on the raptor.

Police and the RSPB say it is too soon to say if the protected bird of prey died from natural causes or whether foul play is involved.

The body of the white-tailed eagle, or sea eagle as they are commonly known, was found by a walker near Ullapool.

The discovery comes as the RSPB confirmed that two more red kites have been added to the death toll of the 22 birds of prey illegally killed on the Black Isle last year.

Dingwall-based inspector Paul Moxon told the North Star: "We can confirm that a sea eagle was found dead and the body is now being examined by vets in Inverness.

"The bird was found by a walker who reported it to police.

"There’s anything obvious at this stage so we await the results of the post-mortem examination from the veterinary experts."

The sea eagle’s body was found on the shores of a loch, off the A832 between Braemore junction and Dundonnell on August 13.

A spokesman for the RSPB in Inverness said they were aware of the discovery.

He said: "We await an update as to the cause of death, but that could take a few weeks until all the necessary testing is done."

Sea eagles are the UK’s largest birds of prey, with a wingspan of up to 8ft, and one of its most protected species.

Hunted to extinction in the late 1800s, they were reintroduced to Scotland in the 1970s with birds sourced from Norway.

However, the reintroduction project has proved controversial among farmers and crofters who claim the raptors take their lambs.

Earlier this year Scottish Natural Heritage and the National Farmers’ Union Scotland agreed a sea eagle management scheme in response to the growing number of complaints.

But the birds have also helped boost tourism and drawn wildlife enthusiasts from home and abroad keen to see the impressive raptors in their territories of Wester Ross, Skye and Mull.

The bird’s death comes in what has been a poor breeding season for Ross-shire sea eagle population. There were seven established territories in Wester Ross in 2014. Three of the pairs each reared a single chick in 2014 and the other four pairs failed in their breeding attempts.

The RSPB says that 2015 looks to have been a poor year, with only two of the seven pairs producing chicks.

Caithness, Sutherland and Ross MSP Rob Gibson, whose constituency covers Wester Ross, said: "I’m deeply concerned to hear about the discovery and I will be awaiting the results of the post-mortem examination with interest.

"If there is any kind of foul play involved it strengthens our case for tougher wildlife crime provisions, but let’s hope that the raptor died a natural death."

Mr Gibson said the incident also underlined the importance of the closure-threatened Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) vet laboratory in Inverness.

He acknowledged that the sea eagle reintroductions had not been without controversy, but said: "What we need to have in place for farmers and crofters is a proper compensation scheme, where it is proved that sea eagles are taking their lambs.

"We need a scheme that everyone is happy with and that recognises the value of hill sheep to the local economy."

Last week, RSPB revealed that two more red kites which were found dead in the Highlands had been illegally killed. One discovered near Beauly had been shot, while another red kite found at Cawdor was illegally poisoned.

The incidents took place in 2014 and are now being made public as police have concluded their enquiries.

Both of the crimes happened shortly after the spring 2014 illegal poisoning horror that killed 16 red kites and six buzzards on the Black Isle near Conon Bridge.

The episode caused national outrage. Nobody has been charged in connection with the incident.

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