THE killing of Scotland’s rare birds of prey has long been associated with intensively managed grouse shooting estates. In recent years almost a third of satellite-tagged golden eagles have disappeared without a trace on or next to driven grouse moors.

We’ve just heard the sad news that two more golden eagles have gone missing on the same morning, on the same grouse moor. This follows several other cases in recent weeks and months of missing hen harriers, an even rarer raptor species, but this may be just the tip of the iceberg.

The full extent of bird of prey (or raptor) persecution is hard to determine as wildlife crime in general is thought to be drastically under-recorded. Not all raptors are satellite tagged and the huge land coverage of Scotland’s grouse moors (between 12-18% of our landmass) makes discovering criminal activity very difficult.

Successful prosecutions are even harder to obtain.

The huge pressure to maintain unnaturally high densities of red grouse for sport shooting has created a circle of destruction in which almost anything goes, as long as it increases the number of grouse.

READ MORE: Golden eagles ‘vanish’ from same Perthshire grouse moor​

The suspicious disappearance of our iconic birds of prey suggests a widespread culture of illegality but it’s not just the illegal activities that are shocking.

Thousands of legal snares and traps litter Scotland’s countryside to kill hundreds of thousands of animals like foxes, stoats, weasels and crows – while 26,000 of our iconic mountain hares are mass “culled” every year – so that more grouse can be shot for fun.

Beyond the animal cruelty the land is scarred by unregulated hill tracks and patchwork muirburn which is unsightly and damages the environment.

Mass outdoor medication, where high-strength pharmaceutical drugs are dispensed into trays of grit, make the landscape even more artificial in favour of red grouse and actually spread disease in some species, while lead shot from shotguns is sprayed across the landscape.

Intensively managed grouse moors are barren landscapes with so many toxic by-products that they are anything but natural. They are not how Scotland is supposed to look.

You might (or might not) presume that for the cost of our wildlife and environment that the economic benefits for Scotland might be a tempting argument for maintaining this unsustainable industry.

The reality is, according to a report this year for the Scottish Government, for all the land they use up, grouse moors contribute less than 0.05% to Scotland’s economy (GVA).

A recent report from the think tank Common Weal found that the jobs per hectare are tiny compared to alternative land uses.

So what should be done?

The Scottish Government has commissioned a review on grouse moor management, due imminently, which is looking at a number of issues including the licencing of grouse moors, as they are currently very under-regulated.

READ MORE: Concerns after hen harrier 'vanishes' above grouse moor

Strict licensing of grouse moors, including the threat of licence withdrawal, may mean that an estate would, for example, lose its licence if golden eagles are illegally killed – a bare minimum and common-sense suggestion most would agree with.

However, unless we tackle the industry’s circle of destruction – which burns our land, damages the environment, mass medicates grouse, kills hundreds of thousands of competing animals, that scars the landscape and sprays tons of lead shot onto the moors, all so that grouse can be shot in higher numbers – we might be in danger of fighting the (illegal) symptoms on a case to case basis and not the root cause.

To ignore that grouse moors need significant reform is to pretend that this industry is in any way sustainable and we’ll need government action which takes on all the toxic by-products. When the Revive coalition is successful in our calls for radical reform our birds of prey won’t be the only winners.

It will benefit Scotland’s people, our wildlife and our environment.

Max Wiszniewski is the campaign manager for Revive. Revive is a coalition of like-minded organisations working for reform of Scotland’s grouse moors.

Revive is made up by Friends of the Earth Scotland, Common Weal, League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, OneKind and Raptor Persecution UK.