A PROTECTED bird found dead on a Scottish grouse moor had previously been shot, a post-mortem shows.

The female hen harrier was discovered by a member of the public in southern Scotland in June.

Vets at Scotland’s Rural College found it died as a result of “penetrating trauma” injuries of unknown cause, with shooting a possibility. The examination also showed the bird had previously been shot, with a shotgun pellet recovered from its left breast muscle.

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Two other birds fitted with satellite tags by the RSPB have also disappeared in recent months. Named Romario and Thistle, their transmitters stopped working over separate grouse moors in undetermined circumstances in September and October, and the RSPB says more must be done to drive down the persecution of the raptors.

The species is among the UK’s rarest, with around 575 pairs remaining. Most of these – 460 – are in Scotland.

Dr Cathleen Thomas, RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project manager, said: “Sadly, incidents such as this have become commonplace for our project with tagged hen harriers disappearing at alarming regularity every year, and it’s really worrying that a young female bird has been shot.”

The news comes as the grouse season ends today and Sarah Jane Laing, the chief executive of industry body Scottish Land and Estates, accused the RSPB of “a blatant attempt to put pressure on the government ahead of a forthcoming independent report on grouse moor management”.

The country sports sector is said to be worth £155 million to the economy and Laing says shooting businesses are not to blame for the persecution of protected species.

She said: “Months have now passed since the two harriers have stopped transmitting.

“This is not good enough when there is widespread concern about the lack of independence and transparency on satellite tagging as well as serious questions being raised about the reliability of tags.

“It cannot be stated with certainty that each time a tag fails a crime has been committed.

“There is evidence to the contrary, where birds have reappeared or in one case where one bird of prey was killed by another.

“What is happening – and is deeply regrettable – is that information is being manipulated to inflict as much damage on grouse shooting as possible rather than being timed to gather the greatest level of information about what has happened.”

Scottish Land and Estates said interest had been “healthy” from America, Scandinavia and the rest of Europe and that bookings for next year are “excellent” so far.

The body claims demand is outstripping supply in some instances.

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On the hen harrier losses, Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, said: “The project satellite tags don’t stop transmitting if a bird dies of natural causes.

“To have them go offline suddenly and without warning strongly suggests the hen harriers have been the victims of crime, as in the case of the shot bird.

“Scotland is leading the way in the UK in terms of legislation to tackle bird of prey persecution, but continuing incidents such as this show that existing measures are not enough.

“There needs to be robust regulation of driven grouse shooting if crimes against some of this country’s incredible wildlife are to be brought to an end.”