A SHOOTING estate near the Queen's Scottish holiday home has been sanctioned after the poisoning death of a golden eagle.

The protected bird was found on the grounds of Invercauld Estate in March.

Located within the bounds of the Cairngorms National Park area, the shooting, stalking and salmon fishing estate is just a few miles from Balmoral Castle.

Wildlife agency NatureScot has now taken action after Police Scotland passed on evidence of wildlife crime against birds at Invercauld, near Braemar.

The lands there have been in the hands of the Farquharson family for generations, as were the grounds of Balmoral itself until its sale to Queen Victoria in the 1800s. That sale paved the way for the building of the royal retreat.

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing on the Queen's nearby grounds, but poison-baited hare and rabbit carcasses were discovered on two parts of Invercauld Estate – Gairnshiel and Micras moor, where general licences will be under tight restrictions for three years.

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Donald Fraser, head of wildlife management at NatureScot, which is a Holyrood agency, said: "These poisoning incidents are appalling and an act of animal cruelty. The indiscriminate use of poisons is not only lethal to our iconic Scottish wildlife, but can also pose a serious health risk to people and domestic animals that come into contact with it.

"We are committed to using all the tools we have available to tackle wildlife crime. In this case, there is clear evidence of criminal behaviour.

"Because of this, and the risk of more wildlife crimes taking place, we have suspended the use of general licences on this property for three years. They may still apply for individual licences, but these will be closely monitored.

"This measure will help to protect wild birds in the area, while still allowing necessary land management activities to take place, although under tighter supervision. We believe this is a proportionate response to protect wild birds in the area and prevent further wildlife crime.

"We work closely with Police Scotland and will continue to consider information they provide on cases which may warrant restricting general licences.

"The detection of wildlife crime can be difficult, but this is the third time in recent months when we have restricted use of general licences on the basis of evidence of crime taking place. New and emerging technologies, along with a commitment from a range of partners to take a collective approach to these issues, will help us stop wildlife crime."

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General licences allow landowners or land managers to carry out control of common species of wild birds, such as crows and magpies, to protect crops or livestock, without the need to apply for an individual licence.

The move comes just two weeks after controls were put on Lochan Estate in Perthshire, where a satellite-tagged hen harrier was found dead on the grounds in an illegally-set spring trap. The protected species is amongst the most persecuted raptors and the young female, named Rannoch, was discovered by the RSPB in 2019.

Lochan Estate said "categorically rejects any suggestion of wrongdoing in relation to the welfare of wildlife" and said it would appeal the decision.

A spokesperson for Invercauld Estate said it "abhors wildlife crime in any form and condemns such activity in the strongest possible terms".

A statement went on: "NatureScot makes clear in its decision notice that the general licence restriction does not imply responsibility on individuals or the estate itself. No accusation of wildlife crime has been made against the estate or any of its staff. A number of parties other than the estate itself will be affected by the licence restriction. 

"The Micras area where the eagle was discovered last year has not been managed for grouse shooting since autumn 2020 and farming and woodland management are the current priorities there. We are conservationists and the estate takes its care of wildlife and nature as inherent in the wide range of activities we undertake and facilitate. A survey in 2020 identified 1,117 pairs of breeding pairs of red and amber listed birds, the most endangered, across 37 different species – and including 33 pairs of raptors – on Invercauld land.  

 "The estate encompasses a wide area and the restriction notice applies to a corner amounting to less than 18% of the estate. We are actively considering whether to appeal NatureScot’s decision for the benefit of all parties who will be impacted."