Drop in crimes against birds of prey in Scotland
The number of crimes targeting birds of prey has dropped slightly in the last year, new figures have revealed.
There were 19 crimes in 2014, down from 23 the previous year, according to data published by the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (Paw) Scotland.
They included one of the country's worst-ever poisoning cases involving 12 red kites and four buzzards found dead in Ross-shire last spring.
Other species targeted last year include peregrine falcon and goshawk.
Also golden eagle, hen harrier and tawny owl.
There were six reported bird-of-prey poisoning incidents in Scotland in 2014, the same number as in 2013.
Two of the cases remain under live police investigation and are not included on maps showing the distribution of crimes around the country which have been published.
There were eight shooting incidents, two trappings, one disturbance and two other unspecified incidents.
Aileen McLeod, minister for environment and climate change, and chairwoman of Paw Scotland, said: "It is good to see that there has been a reduction in the overall number of crimes in 2014 compared to 2013.
"However, there is no room for complacency, 2014 saw one of the worst-ever poisoning cases with the discovery of 12 dead red kites and four buzzards in Ross-shire, which is why the Scottish government is continuing to take action to tackle raptor persecution."
She said the government had started a scheme to get rid of illegal pesticides which could be used to poison wildlife.
Arrangements have also been put in place by the government to restrict the use of general licences where there is evidence of wildlife crime.
Ms McLeod said: "In the last few months, we have seen the first-ever custodial sentence for the killing of birds of prey and the first conviction of a land owner under the vicarious liability provisions, for crimes committed in 2012.
"This sends out a clear message to those who continue to pursue these illegal and cruel practices against Scotland's birds of prey that this will not be tolerated."
The first jail sentence for crimes against birds of prey came in January this year when an Aberdeenshire gamekeeper was sentenced to four months in prison for killing a goshawk and other offences.
RSPB Scotland said crime involving birds of prey remains an ongoing problem.
Tim Baynes, moorland group director for Scottish Land and Estates, said the organisation strongly supported the government scheme to get rid of illegal pesticides.
He added: "The land management community can never take its eye off this issue but we hope that there will be recognition of the efforts that have been made to ensure a continuing downward trend in incidents related to land management."
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has also welcomed the fall in the figures.