A hen harrier found dead earlier this year had previously been shot, according to a post-mortem examination.

The dead female bird was discovered by a member of the public on a grouse moor near the village of Wanlockhead, on the Dumfriesshire/South Lanarkshire boundary, on June 7.

Vets at Scotland’s Rural College examined the creature and said it had died as a result of “penetrating trauma” injuries of unknown cause, with shooting a possibility.

READ MORE: Killer packs of 'alien' house mice eating world's biggest birds alive

The examination also showed the bird had previously been shot, with a shotgun pellet recovered from its left breast muscle.

It comes as two other birds fitted with satellite tags – under licence by the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project team this summer while they were still in the nest – have also disappeared in recent months.

Project manager Dr Cathleen Thomas said: “We’re devastated to have lost more young birds in suspicious circumstances.

“The UK’s hen harrier population is in such a precarious position it means that every bird really does count and to have these ones disappear at such a young age is really concerning.

“Sadly incidents such as this have become commonplace for our project with tagged hen harriers disappearing at alarming regularity every year, and it’s really worrying that a young female bird has been shot.”

HeraldScotland:

Romario, a young male, fledged from a nest on National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate and was last recorded on September 11 on a grouse moor between Tomintoul and Grantown-on-Spey.

The last transmission from Thistle, who was tagged on an estate in Easter Ross, was received on October 12 from another grouse moor in east Sutherland.

Studies suggest there are only around 575 pairs of hen harriers remaining in the whole of the UK and Isle of Man.

The vast majority (460) are in Scotland, with sudden stops in transmission giving the charity cause for concern.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, said: “The project satellite tags don’t stop transmitting if a bird dies of natural causes.

“To have them go offline suddenly and without warning strongly suggests the hen harriers have been the victims of crime, as in the case of the shot bird.

“Scotland is leading the way in the UK in terms of legislation to tackle bird of prey persecution, but continuing incidents such as this show that existing measures are not enough.

“There needs to be robust regulation of driven grouse shooting if crimes against some of this country’s incredible wildlife are to be brought to an end.”

While supporting the appeal for information, the new chief executive of Scottish Land and Estates, Sarah Jane Laing, was critical of the RSPB’s statement.

She said: “Today’s appeal from RSPB should be seen for what it is – a blatant attempt to put pressure on Government ahead of a forthcoming independent report on grouse moor management.

“Months have now passed since the two harriers have stopped transmitting.

“This is not good enough when there is widespread concern about the lack of independence and transparency on satellite tagging as well as serious questions being raised about the reliability of tags.

“It cannot be stated with certainty that each time a tag fails a crime has been committed.

“There is evidence to the contrary, where birds have reappeared or in one case where one bird of prey was killed by another.

“What is happening – and is deeply regrettable – is that information is being manipulated to inflict as much damage on grouse shooting as possible rather than being timed to gather the greatest level of information about what has happened.”

READ MORE: Sperm Whale washed up on Scottish beach had 100kg 'litter ball' in stomach

Ms Laing added: “In the case of the hen harrier found shot near Wanlockhead, our organisation publicised this case in July of this year and raised it with the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime at that time.

“The bird was found on a estate which has hosted several successful harrier nests and Police Scotland conducted an investigation.

“This is hugely disappointing at a time when partnership between Government, police, land managers and conservation groups could tackle incidents of wildlife crime much more effectively.”