An innovative new satellite tag has been designed to help track the fate of birds of prey which die in the Cairngorms.
Over the next 18 months a group of young golden eagles which live in and around the national park will be fitted with the raptor tracker as part of a trial to study their movements and behaviour, such as whether they are feeding or resting.
The primary benefit of the new device is that it will provide an instant fix on any birds which die.
Tags in current use are limited in the types of information they can provide on the exact location of any bird which dies.
The new tag uses a satellite network which ensures signals are always active and has multiple sensors to ensure distress alerts are sent with an exact location if unusual behaviour is detected.
It is hoped this will ultimately reduce wildlife crime because would-be perpetrators will be deterred as they will be easily caught.
Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “This is great news for improving our understanding of eagle behaviours, and in the fight against wildlife crime.
“The tags should make a real difference in deterring would-be criminals, as well as playing a key role in establishing exactly what happened, should any of these magnificent birds of prey disappear or die in unusual circumstances.”
The national park authority and Scottish Natural Heritage have been working on the initiative for more than two years, with the British Trust for Ornithology involved in developing the new tag.
If the trial proves successful, the organisations will look at putting the devices on more eagles as well as developing smaller versions for hen harriers and other species.
Robbie Kernahan, head of wildlife management at SNH, said: “This exciting new technology will give us new information on the movements of these iconic birds.
“This should also be a significant deterrent to anyone thinking of persecuting raptors, as we will have detailed information on birds’ movements in the minutes leading up to their death.”
A report commissioned by Scottish National Heritage previously revealed that 31% of golden eagles tagged under a different scheme had vanished under suspicious circumstances.
The raptors were satellite tagged and tracked between 2004 and 2016.
Of the 131 young eagles tracked, as many as 41 disappeared under suspicious circumstances thought to be connected to illegal persecution. The disappearances occurred mainly in six areas of the Highlands.