AN INVESTIGATION is underway after a protected hen harrier was killed by an illegal trap on a Scottish grouse moor.

Police Scotland and the Scottish SPCA are looking into the death of the raptor after the trap was discovered in the Leadhills Estate, in South Lanarkshire. Experts claim the bird endured ‘immeasurable unnecessary suffering’.

Despite attempts to save the bird, its injuries were severe and it was later euthanised and a Scottish SPCA special investigations chief inspector, who cannot be named, said: “We can confirm we have been assisting with a Police Scotland investigation into an illegally set trap on a grouse moor in Lanarkshire. A hen harrier was caught in the trap and the wound was so severe, the leg had almost been severed.

“Another trap was set beside a nearby hen harrier nest with eggs. We took the bird and eggs to our National Wildlife Rescue Centre, but unfortunately, the eggs didn’t survive.

The hen harrier was discovered by members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group, who were undertaking routine monitoring in the area on May 11.

The group contacted the police and the Scottish SPCA. Police Scotland have since led a search of the estate, which spans around 18,500 acres, including the villages of Leadhills and Elvanfoot.

Leadhills Estate said the event is the latest in a series of suspicious activities on its land, much of which has been reported by the estate to police. A spokesman said: “We condemn all forms of persecution against birds of prey. The manner in which this hen harrier has died is sickening and we want the police to get to the truth of what has happened.

“We have provided the police with detailed evidence to support their inquiry including evidence of someone we consider to have acted suspiciously on the estate on the date in question. Our gamekeepers are trained to the highest level and know their responsibilities under the law and the standards we expect of them.

“The estate has conducted a full investigation into the circumstances of this incident and is satisfied that no one from the estate was involved in the illegal setting of these traps. Employees have been individually interviewed by lawyers. This comes in addition to the full co-operation the estate has offered in the police investigation.”

It continued: “On the day the hen harrier was found, legally set cages and traps were checked in the morning without incident. Some of the traps require to be checked on a 24-hour basis and when gamekeepers carried out further checks on May 12, they discovered a number of Fenn traps vandalised, a number of traps had been stolen and two crow cages had been damaged with the decoy birds let out.

“This was reported to the police and photographic evidence and grid point references were recorded by the estate.”

The estate added that it was under intense scrutiny from third parties and recognised the ongoing controversy surrounding moorland management and bird of prey activists. The spokesman added: “It is beyond belief that anyone associated with the estate would be both naïve and reckless enough to perpetrate a crime such as this.

“Leadhills Estate, along with the rest of the grouse management sector, is looking to work constructively with all parties who want to see continuation of the important public benefits of sustainable moorland management.”

A Scottish Land and Estates’ spokesman added: “We utterly condemn all forms of wildlife crime including persecution against birds of prey and we are committed to working with police and other partners to find out what has happened. We would urge anyone with information regarding the death of this hen harrier to make it known to Police Scotland as soon as possible.”