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A row has broken out about the fate of two satellite-tagged birds of prey.
RSPB Scotland has raised concerns about two young hen harriers which were fitted with the tags before they fledged their nests in in 2018.
The charity said the tags last transmitted signals on grouse shooting moors in the Cairngorms National Park.
The landowners said they “emphatically deny” any involvement in the birds’ disappearance and had a “zero tolerance approach” to raptor persecution.
“There are a whole variety of reasons why a satellite tag may have stopped working,” they added in a joint statement.
Hoolie’s last transmission was on 5 April over an area of moorland near Newtonmore, according to RSPB Scotland.
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The charity said the bird disappeared close to where another tagged hen harrier was found dead in 2015, with “injuries consistent with being shot”.
Marlin’s tag stopped transmitting near Strathdon on 8 April not far from where another hen harrier disappeared suspiciously, according to the RSPB.
Police Scotland carried out searches for the birds but neither the tags or the bodies were found, and neither tag has transmitted further data.
Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations, said: ”Scotland had only just been put into lockdown in early April and yet protected birds of prey equipped with highly reliable technology have disappeared on land managed for driven grouse moors.
“The fact that these two birds have disappeared very close to where other similar incidents have occurred only heightens suspicions that these birds can be added to the very long list of protected birds of prey killed on grouse moors.”
The estate near Newtonmore said it was a signatory to the Heads Up for Harriers project which promotes hen harrier nesting success and public awareness.
And a spokesperson for the estate near Strathdon said its head gamekeeper helped with a search of the area where the bird’s last transmission was recorded but they found nothing.
In their joint statement, they criticised RSPB Scotland: “We condemn any form of raptor persecution, but we also condemn the prejudgement of innocent people both in the absence of evidence and without due process of law.
“We would remind the RSPB that the police have not cautioned or charged anyone in relation to this incident and there is no indication that they are going to”.
Scottish Land & Estates said the owners of moorland involved had assisted police in searches for the birds, but nothing was found on either estate “to warrant further investigation”.
Moorland director Tim Baynes said: “We have contacted Police Scotland to ask for further information and asked that the matter is raised through the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Scotland.
“Our members are out rightly opposed to any form of wildlife crime and there is an urgent need for greater transparency and collaboration over satellite tag data which could help in finding out what happens to birds that disappear.”
BBC Scotland’s Landward programme has more on the story from 20: 00 Thursday