GAMEKEEPERS are to ask to be allowed to kill or relocate birds of prey because they say their jobs are at risk.

The 800-strong Scottish Gamekeepers' Association will tell the Scottish Parliament's rural affairs committee this week that common raptors such as buzzards, sparrow hawks and peregrine falcons which kill grouse and pheasants are making shooting estates unviable, threatening their livelihoods. Only last week the law was strengthened by the parliament to introduce powers of arrest and imprisonment for those who poison, trap or shoot raptors.

Gamekeepers want the committee to back them in an attempt to have licences issued for either lethal control of common raptors or for having problem birds captured and relocated until their game birds have bred.

Bert Burnett, an Angus gamekeeper and leading SGA figure who will appear before the committee, said that during one well-known experiment on a grouse moor at Langholm two pairs of hen harriers left unchecked increased to 28 birds in five years. ''The moor went down the tube and five gamekeepers lost their jobs.''

Allan Wilson, deputy environment minister, will give evidence to the committee on behalf of the Scottish Executive, backed by senior advisors from Scottish Natural Heritage. They are likely to oppose any concession.

Mr Wilson said after the new legislation came into force: ''Parliament has demonstrated its will, not just to the wildlife criminals, rogue estates or rogue gamekeepers, but to the police service and the procurator fiscal service as well.''

There have been a number of high-profile prosecutions of gamekeepers in recent years for the deliberate poisoning or trapping of raptors, a practice which the late Donald Dewar labelled ''a national disgrace''.

Alex Hogg, chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers' Association, said: ''The SGA are not asking for people to be allowed to kill protected species willy-nilly but for licences to be available for the removal - lethal or by relocation - of problems birds.''

Mr Burnett said: ''Commercial fishery owners can get a licence to shoot cormorants or goosanders which are eating their young trout or salmon, yet raptors are sacrosanct.

''The executive has granted licences for supermarkets to kill robins which have moved in, yet peregrines have increased, buzzard numbers are soaring and on some moors ravens go about in flocks and we are unable - legally - to protect our stock and our jobs.''