FEATHERS are flying in a bitter row between gamekeepers and the RSPB over alleged raptor deaths at wind farms.
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) is demanding comprehensive monitoring of turbine collision incidents.
The bird charity agrees but has accused the SGA of "trying to deflect attention from widespread wildlife crime on grouse moors".
A leading Highland anti-wind farm campaigner says she warned the gamekeepers’ body years ago that it would be blamed for so-called bird strikes at wind farms.
The SGA has revived a long running debate, hoping to address what it calls a "blame culture" over the issue.
It is angry that grouse moors were implicated in a recent report that concluded up to 41 out of 131 satellite-tagged eagles in Scotland may have disappeared over 12 years.
Independent data found that sea eagles and golden eagles were among species at greatest risk of collision with turbines.
SGA chairman Alex Hogg says his organisation has no issues with renewables, with many estates combining sport shooting with wind and hydro schemes but it wants monitoring codes reviewed.
"Checks are inconsistent and organised by operators themselves. There’s no statutory duty to report bird collisions," he said.
The SGA has expelled six of its members in five years for wildlife crime convictions but disagrees with "a report assumption that there would be little motive for wind companies not to report downed birds".
Mr Hogg said the report suggested turbines could not be seen as a major cause of missing eagles "because no final tag signals were within a kilometre of a turbine".
RSPB Scotland agrees that better monitoring is needed.
But a spokeswoman added: "This is another attempt by the SGA to deflect attention away from the ongoing persecution of Scotland’s birds of prey, crimes that continue to be widespread particularly on land managed intensively for driven grouse shooting."
She claimed an increasing weight of peer-reviewed scientific evidence had shown conclusively that "deliberate illegal killing of birds of prey has a vastly greater impact than accidental wind farm casualty".
She alleged that the SGA "continue to ignore or dispute the findings of the Scottish Government-commissioned study of the fate of satellite-tagged golden eagles which clearly documented that while none were casualties of turbine collisions, almost a third were illegally killed or disappeared in highly suspicious circumstances".
The SGA responded, saying: "We’ve never denied persecution exists."
It said the "vast majority" of its members "are wholly law abiding and do not deserve their name to be blackened by charities with an increasingly anti-shooting agenda."
A spokesman for Scottish Natural Heritage said some species were "prone to colliding with turbines".
Beauly-based anti-wind farm campaigner Lyndsey Ward warned the SGA years ago that its members would be blamed for turbine deaths of raptors but that her concerns "were dismissed".
She said: "The shoddy monitoring of turbines by the wind industry is pathetic. Struck birds will not all fall within 50m of the towers.
"If injured, they’ll crawl into undergrowth to die, never to be found, or be removed by the predators that have learned turbines mean easy fast food – as fox tracks show."
According to the Scottish Government, a planning condition governing offshore turbines "typically requests" that developers provide a monitoring programme.
In terms of onshore wind farms, "ministers impose stringent conditions to mitigate impacts on species and habitats where appropriate".
A spokeswoman for SSE, which owns and operates wind farms, said: "We always engage with stakeholders with respect to our environmental obligations – which include long-term habitat management plans and associated bird monitoring at our wind farms."
Stephanie Conesa of the trade body Scottish Renewables, claimed the planning process had "helped steer wind farm development away from the most sensitive bird locations".
SNH wants to hear from anyone wishing to report turbine casualties via firstname.lastname@example.org