Two masked gunmen have been caught on camera beneath the nest of a protected bird of prey in the middle of the night.
The two figures, believed to have been carrying a shotgun and thermal imaging technology, were spotted on Forestry Commission Scotland CCTV just before midnight at a goshawk nest in Moy Forest, just south of Inverness.
Just days later, the nest was found abandoned, with its clutch of eggs cold and dead.
The species was once widespread across Scotland, but became extinct in the UK in the late 19th century due to years of persecution and deforestation.
The predators were reintroduced to the country in the 1960s, and there are now around 420 breeding pairs in the country.
However, it is estimated there are fewer than 10 pairs of the birds in the Highlands.
Police have now released the CCTV, recorded in April, and appealed for anyone with information about the two masked gunmen in the publicly accessible Moy Forest to get in touch on 101.
Inspector Mike Middlehurst, of the Highland Partnership Against Wildlife Crime group, said: “The incident in April was reported to us and fully investigated with no suspects being identified.
“The image was not released into the public domain at that time, as there needed to be an investigative gain to release the image.
“Given the low light conditions and unfortunate pixelation of the image, an identification would not have been possible.
“Inquiries in the local area to identify movements on the night were carried out, and unfortunately there was no positive line of inquiry to follow.
“Although there is a clear inference to be drawn from the position the two persons in the image are in, we need more than just an inference to bring a case to court.”
Similar incidents in Moy Forest were reported to the police last summer, after adults goshawks went missing, clutches of eggs were found abandoned and broods of chicks were found dead.
A Highland conservationist, who did not wish to be named, said: “This isn’t the only bird of prey nest to fail this year, others have been deserted under suspicious circumstances too across the Highlands.
“This is extremely alarming. For someone to go into a public forest, at night, with a gun, and target birds of prey is simply appalling.”