A PERTHSHIRE country estate has hit out at Scotland's nature agency after being slapped with three years of restrictions after being accused of wildlife crime.

The estate seen as one of the finest places to hunt grouse in Scotland had been slapped with restrictions after police were alerted to wildlife crime on its property.

The Lochan Estate had been allowed a “general licence”, which allowed them to kill common birds in certain circumstances.

NatureScot restricted the use of general licences on the estate, known for grouse shooting, based on "evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds".

The agency said evidence included a satellite-tagged hen harrier, found dead on the estate in an illegally set spring trap.

NatureScot said it has suspended the use of general licences to trap or kill wild birds on Lochan Estate because we have "good reasons" to believe that crimes against wild birds have taken place.

The restriction does not apply to the shooting of game birds.

The estate owners have said they will now be contesting the decision.

A spokesman for Lochan Estate said: “The estate categorically rejects any suggestion of wrongdoing in relation to the welfare of wildlife.

"We made very robust representations five months ago and only received the notification this week, which we found surprising given the material we produced. We will therefore be appealing this decision.”

NatureScot said the move will prevent people from using the general licences on the land in question for three years. This period can increase if more evidence of offences comes to light.

HeraldScotland:

NatureScot's Inverness HQ. Source: NatureScot

General licences allow landowners or land managers to carry out actions which would otherwise be illegal, including controlling common species of wild birds to protect crops or livestock.

Donald Fraser, NatureScot’s head of wildlife management, said in imposing the restrictions: "We are committed to using all the tools we have available to tackle wildlife crime. In this case, there is clear evidence that crime involving a wild bird occurred on this property. Because of this, and the risk of more wildlife crimes taking place, we have suspended the general licences on this property for three years. They may still apply for individual licences, but these will be closely monitored.

“This measure will help to protect wild birds in the area, while still allowing necessary land management activities to take place, although under tighter supervision. We believe this is a proportionate response to protect wild birds in the area and prevent further wildlife crime."

The estate's promotional material describes itself as having been "renowned as one of if not the finest place to shoot grouse in Scotland".

It it consists of 10,000 acres of high ground for grouse while on low ground there is pheasant, partridge and duck.

Mr Fraser added: “We work closely with Police Scotland and will continue to consider information they provide us on cases which may warrant restriction of general licences. The detection of wildlife crime can be difficult but new and emerging technologies, along with a commitment from a range of partners to take a collective approach to these issues, will help us stop this from occurring in the future.”

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 protects all wild birds and general licences allow for their control to prevent damage to crops or livestock, preserving public health or air safety, and preventing the spread of disease.

They cover situations which are seen as relatively commonplace and where there is unlikely to be any great conservation impact.

They are subject to strict conditions, and abuse of them or failure to comply with the conditions could constitute an offence.