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Destruction of osprey nest condemned as ‘wildlife crime’

A Highland councillor and numerous local bird enthusiasts have united to condemn the “wanton destruction” of an osprey nest in the Dorrery area.

Thurso and Northwest Caithness councillor Matthew Reiss was contacted by Michael Thain, a trained zoologist and keen birdwatcher who lives close to Brawlbin Forest, where he watched trees being felled recently.

“I was appalled to learn recently that a conifer that has successfully housed an osprey nest for the past few years was felled after the young had fledged this year,” Mr Thain wrote in an email to Councillor Reiss.

He continued: “Whether or not this is an illegal act, and I very much hope such vandalism is illegal, those who perpetrated it should be publicly shamed.

“I understand from a friend that Scottish Forestry gave him assurances that this block of forest with its nest, close to Brawlbin Farm and Loch Calder, would not be felled. So much for those assurances.”

Mr Thain urged the councillor, formerly a police officer investigating wildlife crime, to “pursue this utterly insensitive incident vigorously” and demand a “public apology” from the contractors. He hopes that those responsible will fund an osprey platform to be built in the area for when the birds return next year to use as an alternative nesting site.

The osprey is listed as an Amber List species by the RSPB because of its historical decline – due to illegal killing – and low breeding numbers. They are listed as a Schedule 1 species in the Wildlife and Countryside Act. It is believed that there may be only four breeding pairs left in Caithness.

On Monday, Councillor Reiss contacted Police Scotland about the matter as he believes that felling the nest was illegal even though the fledgling birds had flown from it.

“Nests are protected after they have left and it seems, from the comments on social media, that the birds had only just fledged,” Councillor Reiss said.

“They [ospreys] sometimes return to the nest for a few days after they’ve fledged as they need time to prepare for their huge flight to Africa. I’ve contacted NatureScot [formerly Scottish Natural Heritage] who recommend a buffer zone of 350 to 1000 metres around active nests.”

Councillor Reiss further said he was informed of tree-felling occurring close to the nest when the young were still in it.

In a letter he received from Valerie Wilson, area officer with NatureScot, he was told that “Scottish Forestry have standing guidance for species protection which they expect forest managers to adhere to”.

Ms Wilson wrote: “Ideally the nest tree should have been retained along with other trees around it and they could have been classed as ‘long-term retention’. However, if that wasn’t possible it is good practice to put up a nesting platform nearby, and preferably in an area of long-term retention or broadleaved trees which would not normally be felled.”

Rod Foster, who lives at Forss, has been involved with recording birds of prey for many years and said that he initially came across the nest several years ago with a fellow birder, Geoff Bates.

“We first saw the birds four seasons ago displaying over the territory. Then the following season they built a nest and we watched it until eggs were laid and eventually fledging two young,” he said

Mr Foster, who took the images reproduced in the article, said that the birds fledged young from the same nest over three seasons and he sent records of all the pertinent details to Brian Etheridge of the Highland Raptor Study Group (HSRG).

“We haven’t got details of who is responsible for this but I believe the area was cleared for a wind farm,” Mr Foster said. “It used to be Forestry Commission land but they sold it on. A fortnight ago they were cutting within 25 metres of the nest and we reported it [to HSRG].

“We really didn’t think they were going to cut the nest down. I couldn’t believe it when I turned up to take some photographs and the whole forest was gone.”

Mr Foster says he feels “let down and devastated” by the actions of the contractors. “When there’s a wind farm involved everything seems to go out the window,” he added.

Another keen birdwatcher is Keith Banks from Wick who described the actions of the contractors as “an abomination”.

“Ospreys are protected in the UK by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981,” he said. “They are accorded the highest level of protection as a breeding species. Those responsible should be held to account for their unlawful actions, prosecuted, with a robust penalty levied, to send out a clear message to others not to engage in similar reckless behaviour as it will not be tolerated.”

It is unclear, at the time of writing, who the contractors involved in the tree-felling were and whether the trees were cut down to accommodate a wind farm.