The SGA stated last week that keepers have identified 55 “active” eagle eyries on grouse shooting moors in east and central Scotland, all of which have been in place since the last census in 2003.

A recent Freedom of Information request also revealed that the majority of the 66 Scottish eagle chicks used in an Irish reintroduction programme, came from “keepered uplands”.

The SGA said eagle numbers were constrained in the west by a lack of small prey, reduced deer numbers and extensive forestry, while there were fears that wind turbines were also affecting eagle territories.

However, Alex Hogg, chairman of the SGA also admitted that illegal persecution had been a constraining factor.

“The conservation work done by many of our members in this area is forgotten because of the actions of a few. As an organisation we, along with the other members of the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime (PAW), continue to address this issue. Recently the organisation expelled four members for wildlife offences, including raptor persecution.”

Management for grouse provides the abundant small prey that eagles need to feed chicks, and in deerstalking areas, keepers leave the grallochs of culled deer on the hills, away from public access, to help sustain eagles.

The SGA called for the desertion of nest sites due to disturbance through nest visits, to be investigated as a possible threat to the eagle population.

Scotland’s golden eagles have recovered from historic lows of 190 pairs in the early 1950s and 300 pairs in 1968 to 442 pairs in the summer of 2003.

The SGA’s statement follows one by Scottish environment minister and chair of Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Scotland Paul Wheelhouse on new measures to tackle raptor persecution.

He has called for a review into how wildlife crime is treated within the criminal justice system, including examining whether the penalties are harsh enough.

He will also ask Scottish Natural Heritage to consider removing the right to use the General Licences on land where wildlife crime has taken place.

The SNP MSP said he wished to avoid anything that places an unfair burden on the majority of shooting businesses that are law-abiding and responsible members of the rural community.

In response an SGA spokesman said: “Any efforts to target those guilty of illegal practices are wholeheartedly welcomed by the SGA.”

“We also welcome the minister’s emphasis on the Scottish legal system to impose the appropriate sanctions. As the minister himself notes ‘trial by leak and accusation’ and trial by media have compromised due legal process too often in recent years.”

BASC Scotland expressed reservations about a proposal to explore the restriction of general licences as a sanction.

A spokesman said: “General licences allow the control of some pest bird species for specific reasons such as the protection of growing crops and for conservation. To impose a blanket ban on their use on an area of land could have unintended consequences.”

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