THE RSPB has clashed with gamekeepers over the hunt for a missing sea eagle. Blue T’s satellite tag was last recorded transmitting near the River Dee on an estate in Aberdeenshire last Saturday.

On Wednesday night a PR company contracted to the estate sent out a press release saying gamekeepers were working hard to find the one-year-old eagle.

But the RSPB accused the estate of ignoring “agreed protocols” by telling press before police.

It suggested the PR firm was engaged in a “damage-limitation exercise” to try to stop questions being asked about how the raptor vanished.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations, said it was “thoroughly depressing” to hear of Blue T’s vanishing, just weeks after another sea eagle, Blue X, had also disappeared.

Thomson suggested Scotland’s white-tailed eagle population could be in jeopardy.

“This bird fledged from a nest in Strathspey last year, and was one of only a handful of chicks successfully fledged by adults originating from the east of Scotland reintroduction of this species.

“The publication of the Scottish Government’s review of the fates of satellite-tagged golden eagles last May, provided unequivocal and damning evidence of the link between the highly suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged raptors and criminal activity associated with grouse moor management.

“We believe that the Scottish Government-supported project designed to deliver the population expansion of white-tailed eagles in the east of Scotland will be put in jeopardy if this situation persists.”

He added: “We are very disappointed that premature public statements have been made about an incident without any apparent reference to either the investigating authorities or to Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Scotland organisations, in contravention of agreed protocols, and as part of what many people may consider to be a damage-limitation exercise.”

Green MSP Mark Ruskell said Blue T’s disappearance should encourage the Government to hurry up and properly regulate and license shooting estates.

The estate said the politician’s call was “premature”.

Ruskell, who is the Greens’ environment spokesman, said: “We need to see a licensing scheme put in place to set clear standards for driven grouse moor estates, if eagles continue to disappear over estates without any plausible reason then licenses to operate should be revoked.

“The satellite tagging scheme has laid bare the extent of wildlife crime, there needs to be decisive action and leadership from the Scottish Government rather than weak attempts to nudge landowners into better practice.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Moorland Group said: “The satellite tag of a sea eagle in Aberdeenshire has recently stopped transmitting and gamekeepers in the area have been searching for the bird.

“As in other cases of satellite tags which have stopped working, there is no evidence that it has died or of any connection with any grouse moor, so Mr Ruskell’s comments are purely speculative.”