SCOTLAND’s most prestigious shooting estate has been raided as part of a major animal cruelty investigation.

The Scottish SPCA, backed by police, last week swooped on two properties on the £17.5 million Millden Estate in the Angus Glens, widely regarded as the “holy grail” of grouse moors.

Investigators were looking into allegations of organised animal fighting but are also understood to have found the carcases of protected birds of prey.

Their raid was carried out with background support from wildlife crime investigators at the RSPB, a bird charity campaigning against the persecution of raptors.

SUBSCRIPTION EXTRA: Analysis: ‘Holy Grail’ for grouse shooters divides opinion

The Scottish SPCA and police operation came after the man leading a Scottish Government review of the future of grouse shooting, Alan Werritty, visited Millden as he looked at best practice for managing moors.

According to multiple sources familiar with the raid, Scottish SPCA and serious crime officers from Police Scotland, among other evidence, recovered computer equipment and dead buzzards.

There is no official confirmation that birds of prey were discovered in the raid, nor is there any suggestion of how they might have died.

The estate said it was co-operating with the investigation, which centred on one of its employees rather than the business itself.

A spokesman said: “The estate understands that the investigation by Police Scotland and the Scottish SPCA relates to alleged animal fighting. The estate is not the focus of that inquiry.

“It understands that the inquiry is at a very early stage and is carrying out its own internal investigation.

“In the interim, an estate employee was immediately suspended in accordance with our procedures.

“The estate will continue to liaise with the appropriate authorities.

“It has a robust system of compliance with the law including a zero-tolerance approach to any wildlife offences or animal welfare issues.”

The Scottish SPCA earlier this week issued a formal statement saying it had carried out raids in both Angus and Aberdeenshire as it investigated animal fighting. It did not say exactly where the raids were but did say it had rescued dogs. An undercover officer in the charity’s special investigations unit said: “We uncovered intelligence to suggest illegal animal fighting was taking place at these locations.”

“With serious concerns about the welfare of both the dogs and wild animals being subjected to this, we worked with the police and external partners to raid both addresses.

“We’ve seized several animals and will be checking on their condition.”

The officer added: “Offences such as this are incredibly difficult to investigate as they are very well-guarded by those involved.

“Our expertise, in conjunction with the police, has proven to be invaluable to tackling these underground crimes.

“This is the latest in a string of animal fighting cases. The society is taking the fight to anyone engaging in this barbaric practice and sending out a clear message that it is not acceptable.”

Police Scotland confirmed it had supported the operation. A spokeswoman said: “Officers supported the Scottish SPCA in relation to search warrants at an address in Angus and an address in Aberdeenshire.”

So did the RSPB, though its officers did not attend the Millden raid.

READ MORE: Business: Commercial grouse shooting ‘unlikely to return to Langholm Moor’

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations, said: “We provided background information to the Scottish SPCA to assist in their planning of this operation, and we have been kept up-to-date with recent developments.”

A spokesman for Scottish Land & Estates, an umbrella body representing large landowners, said: “We are aware of an investigation by Police Scotland and the SSPCA, focusing on allegations of animal fighting.

“These are, of course, disturbing allegations and any such activity is both appalling and wholly unacceptable. An estate was contacted by investigators but is not the subject of the investigation. The estate has taken appropriate action in relation to an employee and is liaising with the authorities.”

Green MSP Andy Wightman has long campaigned against the persecution of birds of prey and wants to see grouse hunting in its current form banned.

This spring a juvenile eagle he named after ecologist Adam Watson went missing in Perthshire.

Mr Wightman said: “I wrote to the First Minister this summer, after Adam the Golden Eagle vanished, to ask her to step up and show some leadership on tackling wildlife crime and legislate to outlaw driven grouse shooting.”