FUR is flying in a fight between hunters and naturalists after gamekeepers reported the RSPB to the police over the charity's cull of stoats on Orkney.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association alerted Police Scotland to what it believed to be a case of illegal trap setting carried out by RSPB contractors working on the multi-million pound project.

RSPB Scotland has resolved to wipe out all the stoats on Orkney in order to conserve native wildlife. But the five-year Orkney Native Wildlife Project has caused controversy, not least within the charity’s membership, with a section opposed to any killing of animals. Despite this, the cull programme has received almost £7 million of taxpayer’s money from EU Life, Heritage Lottery and Scottish Natural Heritage.

SGA chiefs believe the project's architects may now have to rethink their plans, following concerns about the way stoat traps were being deployed. After seeking expert opinion, SGA officials insisted that the metal 'DOC 200' spring traps, built in New Zealand, did not appear to be set in a way that conforms to new animal welfare guidelines under the 2018 Spring Traps Approval (Scotland) Amendment Order. The illegal setting of traps carries a criminal sanction in Scotland, with RSPB officials themselves actively encouraging members of the public to report illegal traps as a potential wildlife crime.

SGA chairman Alex Hogg said: “The traps were brought to our attention because a land manager, having a break with his family, was intrigued by way they had been set. Some were located in very open areas, close to public car parks.

“It was after looking at the images that one of our members, who had been taking advice on DOC trap models himself, noticed the ones being used by RSPB raised questions about the legal dimensions of the inner baffle and excluder aperture. We had this checked out and felt it was best to alert the Police so the traps may be removed and investigated further.

“If an SGA member was to set a non-conforming trap, they could have their guns taken away and their job and home threatened by court action, not to mention the public and political outcry," noted Mr Hogg. “We understand some individuals brought in by RSPB to do the trapping may not have a lot of field experience with these traps, so mistakes can happen. However, so much tax payers’ money is being thrown at this work. It should at least be carried out legally and humanely.”

Police Scotland said in a statement: "Police Scotland can confirm that a report has been received and inquiries are at an early stage."

However, RSPB Scotland said the traps being used by the Orkney Native Wildlife Project 'complied with all relevant legislation'.

When fully operational later this year, the stoat eradication project will see thousands of traps – baited with fish, meat or eggs – placed around the island to kill stoats, which arrived in Orkney in 2010.

Some local farmers have already refused access to project staff to set traps due to a long-running dispute over the management of greylag geese on the island.