TWO more red kites were illegally killed in Scotland last year, it has been confirmed, bringing the total to 14.

The deaths of the birds-of-prey, a protected species, have been revealed following a police investigation.

The first of the two red kites was found dead in June 2014, near Beauly in Inverness-shire. A subsequent post-mortem confirmed that it had been shot.

The second bird, a female, was found in September three miles south of the village of Cawdor, near Nairn. She had been poisoned using a banned pesticide and was one half of a successful breeding pair at Cawdor Castle in 2014 - the first breeding record of red kites in the county for more than 100 years.

The crimes came just months after an illegal poisoning incident that killed at least 12 red kites and 4 buzzards on the Black Isle near Conon Bridge.

Research by RSPB Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage, published in 2010, showed that the red kite population is being severely constrained in the north of Scotland by illegal killing.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management for RSPB Scotland said: “Since red kite reintroductions began in Scotland in 1989, over 100 birds have been confirmed as illegally killed, with a significant majority of the victims found poisoned.

"The real figure will be much higher as the finding of these satellite tagged birds demonstrates. Our scientific modelling work has shown that illegal persecution of red kites, particularly in the north of Scotland, is having a significant impact on population growth and range expansion”.

Bill Kidd MSP, the red kite Species Champion urged anyone who could identify the perpetrators to come froward.

He said: “I believe that whoever is responsible for these crimes is bringing a lot of decent law-abiding people in the highland community into undeserved disrepute through their despicable actions.”

Landowners previously criticised the reintroduction programme, warning that the red kites were killing off significant numbers of other species including lapwings, oystercatchers and sand martins.

Alex Hogg, chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, said: “This is the first we have heard of any such incidents and we do not know the possible causes which makes it difficult to comment further.

“The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has a clear and consistent line and does not condone wildlife crime. The use of illegal poison has no place in modern Scotland.”