A row has broken out between conservationists and land managers after another satellite-tagged golden eagle disappeared in the northern Monadhliath Mountains.
It is the twelfth tagged eagle to go missing in the area in seven years and RSPB Scotland said it points to the illegal persecution of the birds.
But last night, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) hit back, saying there is no evidence of this.
David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land and Estates, said the body was “deeply concerned” at the RSPB’s assumption. He said: “Yet again, we see RSPB acting unilaterally as judge and jury without waiting for those professional experts in the police and the procurator fiscals’ office to reach an informed decision as to the actual facts.”
Data from the two-year old male’s transmitter showed that it had been living in an upland area, mainly managed for grouse shooting, north of Tomatin, since early last year. In mid December the tag stopped transmitting.
An investigation by police has not yielded any clues as to the bird’s fate, and no further data has been received from the satellite tag.
The young bird was paired with a two-year-old female. Data from its tag shows that it left the same area for several days following the male’s sudden disappearance, possibly searching for her missing mate, before returning to the territory.
Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB Scotland’s head of species and land management said: “A report published by the Scottish Government last May, prompted by the regular disappearance of satellite-tagged eagles in this same area, provided unequivocal evidence that the sudden disappearance of these birds is highly suspicious.
“It appears that criminals intent on killing golden eagles continue to target these magnificent birds, especially in areas managed for driven grouse shooting. Patience with self-regulation is at an end and meaningful deterrents are now urgently required.”
A spokesman for the SGA said: “The legal process deserves respect before people automatically jump to apportioning blame.
“It is becoming increasingly impossible to gain full transparency surrounding these incidents when those holding the data are the tag owners who then dictate process and message.
“At the same time, these tag owners are actively lobbying to persuade government to legislate against grouse moors.
“The public deserve to see the hard evidence which exists that the lost signal was down to grouse management and not any other cause such as a faltering tag, natural mortality, eagles fighting over territory or any of the other land uses in the broad general area which include farming, forestry and wind energy.”