Onshore wind turbines are providing an “alarming” threat to Scotland’s endangered birds of prey, new research has warned.

Some 33 raptors, including ospreys, golden eagles and peregrine falcons, have been killed as a result of collisions with onshore wind turbines in Scotland since 2019.

NatureScot, which compiles the records, confirmed the figures are not a “comprehensive record of bird collisions with wind turbines” and that collecting figures for offshore wind farms also provides “significant methodological challenges”.

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But Scottish Renewables says the Scottish Government’s NatureScot agency advises that well-sited wind farms have limited effects on birds.

Two hen harriers died as a result of wind-farm collisions in 2020. The species is currently on the RSPB’s Red List as its population is in critical decline.

Details from NatureScot show that 2019 was one of the worst years for wind-farm bird collisions with 12 deaths overall, including five ospreys and one white-tailed sea eagle which were found dead on wind-farm sites in the Highlands, Sutherland and Orkney. 

Both species are currently on the RSPB’s Amber List, which means their conservation status is regarded as a moderate concern.

Highlands and Islands MSP Edward Mountain, who has been pushing for details of the fatalities, said the figures might only be the “tip of the iceberg” given the difficulties of collecting accurate and full information on wind-farm collisions at both onshore and offshore sites.

He said: “These new figures are alarming and show the real dangers wind farms present to our endangered and iconic bird of prey species.

“It’s very likely these figures are just the tip of the iceberg, though, as they don’t cover bird collisions with offshore wind farm sites.

“We need to protect our raptors from further population decline and NatureScot has a duty to see what more action it can take to minimise avoidable raptor deaths at wind farm sites across Scotland.”

Mr Mountain, who is convener of the Scottish Parliament’s rural affairs and connectivity committee, fears that the extent of the deaths may even compare with the latest birdcrime death figures.

In its latest Birdcrime analysis, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said protected  birds of prey like the golden eagle continue to be illegally shot, trapped and poisoned in Scotland.

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It showed there were 108 confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution throughout the UK. The animals are protected by law in the UK.

In addition, it found that in 2021, more than two-thirds of all such incidents were linked to land managed for gamebird shooting. 

In Aberdeenshire, a poisoned golden eagle was found lying next to a dead hare laced with a deadly banned pesticide on a grouse shooting estate in the Cairngorms National Park.

At least 68 golden eagles have been illegally killed in Scotland since 1981, the vast majority poisoned.

New data for the past year showed three hen harriers, all from a small breeding population in southern Scotland, had also disappeared, sparking fears they were illegally killed.

The abuse of newer and more toxic rat poisons to target birds of prey is also said to be becoming a big concern. 

It poses a danger not only for the birds of prey but for also other wildlife.

The RSPB described its findings as “depressing” but welcomed the Scottish Government’s bid to tackle bird of prey crime by introducing a licensing scheme for driven grouse shooting.

In the wake of concerns, Trudy Harrison, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was asked what assessment she had made of the potential implications for Government policies of finding that the second-highest amount of raptor persecution incidents occurred in 2021. 

She said: “Raptor persecution is a national wildlife crime priority and there are strong penalties in place for offences committed against birds of prey and other wildlife. 

“Defra supports the work of Bird of Prey Crime Priority Delivery Group, which brings together police, government and stakeholders to tackle raptor persecution. 

“This year, Defra has more than doubled its funding of the National Wildlife Crime Unit from £165,000 per year to over £1.2 million over the next three years to target wildlife crime priorities, in particular crimes against birds of prey.

"We are providing funding to Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) to develop DNA forensic analysis for the police and other organisations investigating crimes against peregrine falcons.”

Morag Watson, director of policy at Scottish Renewables, said: “NatureScot advise that well-sited wind farms have limited effects on birds, while wind energy is one of the key technologies we are able to deploy at scale to reduce the carbon emissions which cause climate change – the greatest long-term threat to Scotland’s wildlife.

“Wind farm developers spend two years collecting detailed data on bird populations prior to submitting a planning application.

"This data is scrutinised by NatureScot to ensure the data is scientifically robust and meets all required national and international environmental legislation as part of the assessment of any planning application for a new onshore wind site.

“The renewable energy industry works closely with bodies including The Scottish Government, NatureScot, the RSPB and others to better understand bird behaviour and make sure that wind developments are sensitive to bird populations.”