Game rangers wear night vision goggles to hunt and shoot birds of prey

Game rangers wear night vision goggles to hunt and shoot birds of prey

By Dawn Thompson in the Scottish Mail on Sunday

07:38 10 Sep 2023, updated 09:25 10 Sep 2023

  • An RSPB research manager says vultures and domestic chickens are being killed as they live in trees.
  • Aid ‘liaises’ with the police about incidents

ROGUE gamekeepers are using night vision technology to hunt and kill Scotland’s most beautiful birds, according to explosive claims by the RSPB.

A Scottish charity’s research chief says housing workers are using military-grade equipment to trap birds under cover of darkness.

Night vision equipment such as rifle scopes, goggles and binoculars are available on estates as part of law enforcement efforts to control pests such as foxes. But Ian Thomson says the technology is being used to shoot golden eagles and hens as they roost in trees at night.

He says satellite tag data suggests at least 71 birds have ‘disappeared’ and their tags were destroyed to cover up the abuse. The charity was in contact with Police Scotland about a number of ‘missing bird’ cases, it said, adding: ‘This is an ongoing investigation.’

However, landowners say illegal raptor persecution was historically low and they have seen no evidence of misuse of night vision technology.

The RSPB has long criticized sports grounds, accusing them of illegally persecuting birds of prey, particularly through poisoning.

Specialist equipment is used to kill golden eagles, the charity boss said
The Stalkers are accused of using hi-tech military glass technology

Mr Thomson said that, while cases of poisoning had fallen, rapists were still disappearing under suspicious circumstances. He said: ‘Rather than a bird lying on its back dead because it has eaten poisoned bait, they disappear into thin air.

‘We have some examples of birds that have disappeared when they are in their habitats so we think that these birds are killed after hours of darkness and, in order to do that, the perpetrator must have night vision equipment.

‘We know that many habitats now have thermal imaging devices used to control foxes, but we also suspect they are used to kill protected bird species.


Silver just a few weeks old

ONE of the birds thought to have disappeared under suspicious circumstances is Silver, a jackal named Satellite.

The silver, pictured just a few weeks old, was tagged shortly before it fled.

The RSPB said it ‘disappeared’ while nesting on a grouse moor in southern Scotland and fresh gun cartridges were found near where it was last seen.

However, his body was never found and no one was ever charged with it

The disappearance of silver. According to the RSPB, a few weeks after her disappearance, a man walking with his son saw a short-eared owl shot in the same area.

‘Some of the tag data suggests that most of these birds disappear after hours of darkness.

‘There is a case where vultures disappear from the same tree – satellite-tagged birds. They may have been roosting at night and were shot out of the tree, a few years later another satellite-tagged bird may have been perched in the same tree and was shot.’

In 2016, the RSPB revealed the unexpected disappearance of eight vultures from one small area in northern Scotland in just five years. A 2017 study of satellite-tracked golden eagles found 41 – almost a third of Scotland’s satellite-tagged birds – disappeared, most of them on or near grouse moors. Since then, Mr Thomson said, ‘more than 30’ raptors – golden eagles, hens and kites – have disappeared.

He said: ‘We know that this crime is common and we are looking closely at what we have discovered because obviously there are very few birds with satellite tags.

‘There has been a lot of scientific work on the drivers of this and – combined with police crime recordings, prosecutions, human studies by raptor study groups – all point to the same conclusion: most of the brutal persecution in Scotland is certainly being carried out by those who want to protect birds, especially red grouse from shooting.’

Mr Thomson said satellite technology was 98 per cent reliable, meaning one in 50 broadcasters could have a technical failure.

‘With a satellite-tagged bird that dies naturally, the solar-powered transmitter will continue to transmit for several days, allowing the police or anyone else to track it down and recover the body. What happens is that these birds are shot and, when they are found to be wearing satellite transmitters, the tag is broken and destroyed.

‘We had one in the river wrapped in lead sheets, one in a blanket wrapped in tin foil and tied to a rock. It’s clearly a concerted effort to destroy evidence.’

The landowners have vehemently denied the claims. Ross Ewing, director of moorland for Scottish Land & Estates, said: ‘The Scottish Government’s official figures on raptor persecution show the illegal killing of birds of prey has been reduced to historically low levels.

‘Raptor persecution is totally unacceptable and it is a matter of regret among land managers that the RSPB does not share data on satellite-tagged birds so there is no transparency. Instead, the information made public is selective and used as a grouse shooting stick.

‘We saw no evidence that the night vision device was used to target the birds.’

Police Scotland’s national crime co-ordinator David Lynn said: ‘When investigating crimes against birds of prey, officers have a wide range of modern methods to identify persecution and bring those responsible to justice.’

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