The Scottish chairman of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust has been questioned by wildlife crime officers following the discovery of a dead sea eagle on his estate.
The rare bird, which was found on land belonging to grouse moor owner Alasdair Laing, was discovered by an off-duty member of RSPB Scotland while walking in the snow before Christmas. However, the body had disappeared when officers from Northern Constabulary returned to the location the next morning.
Police have launched an investigation into the incident – but say they are unable to determine how the bird died without a body. Gamekeepers at the Morayshire estate, as well as Mr Laing, are understood to have been spoken to by investigators.
Sea eagles are currently being reintroduced to Scotland by the RSPB but are seen as a nuisance by grouse owners as they can distract grouse during a hunt – and can also prey on the smaller birds. Last year, police revealed that another of the birds, which was found dead on the Glenogil Estate in Perthshire, had been poisoned.
“We are disappointed that we haven’t managed to recover this bird,” said Bob Elliot, head of investigations at RSPB Scotland.
“White tailed sea eagles are being reintroduced back into Scotland and it is very sad that this bird has died. It is a real mystery and we would appeal to anyone with any knowledge about this incident to get in touch as soon as possible.”
The dead bird was thought to be wearing a radio tag, but it is understood that the tag was no longer working by the time the bird was found.
The landowner, who three years ago launched an osprey tracking programme as part of an initiative with the Scottish Estates Business Group to encourage bird of prey populations on rural land, told The Scotsman that he had not been aware of the discovery of the bird until after officers had visited the site to find it had disappeared.
“There has been a lot of speculation as to what happened, but without anything concrete, I can’t comment,” he said.
“I have never personally seen a sea eagle on my estate, although I have seen them regularly in the west of Scotland.”
Sea eagles, which have an eight foot wing span, are known to prey on smaller creatures, including grouse.
Mr Laing added: “Sea eagles are predators, like any other bird of prey, but as grouse estate managers, you learn to deal with that.” He said the estate was regularly used by walkers and was occasionally visited by quad bikers, despite attempts to curb motorised access to the land.