Raptor death in the Pentlands: a bit of back story

You may already have read news reports of a dead peregrine falcon found in the Pentland Hills. Over the last few years, I have been lucky enough to see peregrines in the Pentlands, which are my Hills of Hame.

I was the person who came across the dead bird while out helping to supervise a group of young people on a hill-walking expedition, in what is indeed a busy, well-travelled area of the Pentlands. The corpse was on a narrow path above the main path, as shown in the photographs taken by Keith Donnelly used on the BBC and other sites.


The scene as I found it looking back up the path. Note GPS on rucksack to help my collect of location information

I have contributed finds of dead raptors, usually roadkill, to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme for several years. However, this scene was rather different than the usual finds. I did not move or touch the body, as I was concerned that a poison might have been involved, as the body looked fresh and in good condition, other than being dead!  I carry a Partnership For Action Against Wildlife Crime in Scotland wallet card to help me recall how to deal such incidents. I immediately donned my nitrile gloves and did what I could to preserve and record the scene to the best of my ability. Should you come across a raptor carcass or an injured raptor and suspect this is the result of persecution guidance about what to do is given at the end of the article.

The next challenge was the lack of phone signal in the Howe area, which lies between the two main northern ridges of the Pentlands. Fortunately I spotted two fellow birders, Keith and  Lawrence, whom I had seen earlier with scopes and bins, coming back down the path. They came up to corroborate the scene and collected the GPS location details and photos to pass over to Police Scotland. They also took the important additional step of contacting RSPB Scotland to record the incident. Police Scotland responded promptly and the body was recovered for autopsy and other forensic work, which confirmed poisoning. 

I’d like to thank Keith and Lawrence for their help and for keeping me updated on developments and the wildlife crime officers I spoke to when I got into phone reception myself clearly did all they could to rapidly retrieve the body and mount an investigation.


Close-up of the body

The aspect of the crime that really troubles me, as a sometime-environmental scientist and first-aider, is the report the bird was killed by one of the eight poisons banned under the Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005. Please note that this order only applies to Scotland, not throughout the UK. 

The eight prescribed ingredients are listed below and the links are to the materials safety data sheets (MSDS) that would form part of a Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) document that would be used by those working legitimately with these substances. Chemicals do have other legitimate uses and it is not the chemicals in themselves that are the issue but the misuse or abuse in wildlife crime.

Aldicarb: MSDS

Alphachloralose: MSDS

Aluminium phosphide: MSDS

Bendiocarb: MSDS

Carbofuran: MSDS

Mevinphos: MSDS

Sodium cyanide: MSDS

Strychnine: MSDS

The last two will be familiar to many readers, but the others are much less well-known to the wider public. Most people will be unfamiliar with the potential human health effects of the first six chemicals on the list, so it is worth following the links. Some are capable of entering the bloodstream through the skin, hence my immediate response to put gloves on. Other people who might have come across this dead bird could have lacked the equipment or knowledge to keep themselves safe, which should always be your top priority. The person(s) responsible for the criminal misuse of whichever of these substances it was put the health, and possibly the lives, of people and other animals in the area at considerable risk. If you are able to provide any evidence  or information to the police about this incident, or any other wildlife crime, it is possible to do so without giving your details via CrimeStoppers. You can use the weblink to a form or call on 0800 555 111.

My thanks go to several fellow scientists from various disciplines who discussed this post with me and reviewed the content and tone and improved the article.


Should you find a raptor carcass found and suspect the death is the result of persecution it be reported to the Police:  http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Environment/Wildlife-Habitats/paw-scotland/what-you-can-do, SSPCA and RSPB Scotland support Police Scotland with the collection of carcasses.

To report a wildlife crime you can call the non-emergency 101 number and ask to speak to the WCLO for your region or a local Wildlife Crime Officer in the division if one is available. The 101 number should be used to contact the police when you don’t need an emergency response. In an emergency always dial 999 – when a life is in danger, a crime is in progress or a suspect is nearby. Don’t put yourself in danger by confronting the person(s) committing the act.

You may also wish to inform the RSPB Investigation Section. Please email: crime@rspb.org.uk

I am a palaeobiologist in my early 40's carrying out research work. I am based in Scotland.

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Posted in Birding, Pentlands, Scotland
One comment on “Raptor death in the Pentlands: a bit of back story

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