RECORDED CRIMES against Scottish birds of prey decreased from 23 in 2013 to 19 in 2014, according to the latest bird of prey crime maps published this week.

Species targeted included the red kite, buzzard, peregrine falcon, goshawk, golden eagle, hen harrier and tawny owl.

The figures published by the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Scotland show six reported bird of prey poisoning incidents in Scotland in 2014, the same number as in 2013. Two of these cases are not included on the maps as they remain under live police investigation and no further details have been released.

The maps show that other methods of persecution in 2014 included shooting, trapping and disturbance - what PAW described as a 'clear reflection' that birds of prey are continuing to be persecuted in the Scottish countryside, whether by deliberate or accidental means.

Although the well-publicised case of multiple birds poisoned in Ross-shire resulted in an increase in the number of confirmed poisoning casualties, the figures show an overall reduction from 2010, where the five year figures were at their highest level of 28 birds poisoned over 22 separate incidents.

Scottish Minister for Environment and Climate Change, and chair of PAW Scotland, Aileen McLeod 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 4 buzzards in Ross-shire, which is why the Scottish Government is continuing to take action to tackle raptor persecution.

"I recently launched a scheme to get rid of illegal pesticides which could be used to poison wildlife. The scheme allows those who know, or suspect they are in possession of certain pesticides which are illegal, to dispose of them safely and confidentially. I have also put in place arrangements to restrict the use of general licences where there is evidence of wildlife crime.

"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," added Ms McLeod. "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."

Commenting on the latest bird of prey crime maps, Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg said: "We, as an organisation, are delighted to see the figures falling. This is certainly not by accident but down to a lot of hard work, frank talking and education. As an organisation, we will continue to work with PAW partners and move towards fairness and equal access to sensible legal options for dealing with species conflict, in whatever form that takes. If this can be progressed in a mature way, we feel wildlife crime can be reduced even further, and faster."

Scottish Land and Estates moorland group director Tim Baynes said: "SLaE is delighted that 2014 has seen a fall in bird of prey crimes. 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.

"We strongly support the scheme to get rid of illegal pesticides which will help to minimise the risk of any more incidents such as the one in Ross-shire in 2014," he added.

However, RSPB Scotland's head of investigations Ian Thomson was less upbeat. He said: "While we acknowledge that numbers of detected poisoning incidents continue to be at relatively low levels, this is only part of the story. While occasionally there are high-profile incidents such as that on the Black Isle, there continues to be a campaign of illegal killing against our protected birds of prey in some areas, as evidenced by the recent film released by Police Scotland showing the systematic targeting of a goshawk nest, and the absence of successfully breeding hen harriers, peregrines and golden eagles in many areas of our uplands."