Police, gamekeepers and conservationists are all under fire for failing to work together to tackle wildlife crime in a new report by MSPs.

There is “clear distrust” between gamekeepers and conservationists over the persecution of birds of prey, and “gaps” in the work of Police Scotland, according to the Scottish Parliament’s environment committee.

The committee has today written to the Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham MSP urging her to strengthen the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Scotland (PAWS) set up by the Scottish Government.

The illegal killing of birds of prey such as eagles, hen harriers and red kites has long been the cause of bitter argument. Wildlife groups say that gamekeepers managing grouse moors for sport escape prosecution, though this is fiercely denied.

Ministers established PAWS to bring all sides together to tackle wildlife crime. But an investigation by the environment committee has concluded that the group is beset by deep divisions.

MSPs were “alarmed at the clear distrust between some stakeholders”, said the committee. “Wildlife crime is everyone’s problem and while it welcomes the public condemnation of such crimes by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and others it is of the view that more must be done by all concerned in terms of reporting to and co-operating with Police Scotland.”

The committee accused the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in Scotland of ignoring PAWS protocols by failing to contact landowners when investigating the disappearance of birds. RSPB Scotland, however, insisted this was permissible under the protocols, which it followed “to the letter”.

The committee criticised Police Scotland for having inadequate information. It lacked intelligence on whether reductions in wildlife in specific areas were due to natural change or illegal persecution, the committee said.

It added: “The committee appreciates that this may require the application of resources but believes that this must be prioritised in order to get a clear picture of wildlife crime in Scotland.”

The committee’s convener, SNP MSP Graeme Dey, called for “zero tolerance” of wildlife crime. “Tackling this issue effectively requires genuine, collaborative working and the committee was disappointed to see the clear distrust and tension which exists between some of those whose participation is so essential,” he said.

“The committee is calling for greater partnership working, between all organisations - including Police Scotland, the RSPB and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association - operating within PAWS.”

RSPB Scotland stressed that it was fully committed to PAWS, and adhered to its protocols. “There are tensions between some PAWS partners over the scale and impact of crimes against some raptor populations,” said the wildlife group’s head of land management, Duncan Orr-Ewing.

“This is despite the fact that overwhelming corroborative facts have been presented over many years of a serious and persistent problem. Changes in illegal practices on the ground will not be implemented unless acceptance of what may be an unpalatable truth is agreed by all PAWS partners.”

Orr-Ewing pointed out that RSPB Scotland always followed police advice when searching for missing birds of prey. “We will always work through the police, and not through other third parties who may be suspects in any case,” he said.

The Green MSP Mark Ruskell, who is a member of the environment committee, criticised Police Scotland. “It’s clear the police are leaving gaps in their investigatory and reporting work which is increasing frustration,” he said.

Police detective chief superintendent Sean Scott said: "Police Scotland is aware of the content of the committee letter to the Cabinet Secretary. We continue to work with partners to tackle wildlife crime in Scotland."

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association declined to comment.