A GROUSE estate where a protected bird of prey was found caught in an illegally set trap has condemned the killing and insisted its staff were not responsible.

The Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire said the manner of the male hen harrier’s death – in a trap set close to its nest – was “sickening”.

A spokesman said its staff had cooperated fully with a police investigation and had provided evidence to officers of an individual “acting suspiciously” on the day the bird was found.

Police Scotland said they had led a multi-agency search in the estate and found no evidence to link staff to the wildlife crime.

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Commenting on the incident, the Leadhills Estate spokesman said: “We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, all forms of persecution against birds of prey.

“The manner in which this hen harrier has died is sickening and we want the police to get to the truth of what has happened.

“We have provided the police with detailed evidence to support their inquiry, including evidence of someone we consider to have acted suspiciously on the estate on the date in question.

“Our gamekeepers are trained to the highest level and know their responsibilities under the law and the standards we expect of them.

“The estate has conducted a full investigation into the circumstances of this incident and is satisfied that no one from the estate was involved in the illegal setting of these traps.

“Employees have been individually interviewed by lawyers. This comes in addition to the full cooperation the estate has offered in the police investigation.”

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Leadhills said that a series of incidents, including “theft, vandalism or interference to estate traps” throughout April and May, had been reported to police, along with photographic evidence and grid references.

It added that on May 11, the day the hen harrier was found, “many” estate traps had been removed, stolen or vandalised by an “unknown third party or third parties”.

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A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that the death of this hen harrier was reported to Police Scotland and our inquiries are continuing.

“As part of this investigation, police, along with colleagues from the Scottish SPCA and RSPB, carried out a full search in the Leadhills area.”

The spokeswoman added: “Anyone with information that may assist their investigation should contact Lanark police through 101.”