Police are investigating allegations that an eagle’s nest was destroyed in Angus, the BBC has learned.
Conservationists said it was the first nest made by white-tailed eagles in the east of Scotland in about 150 years.
Officers are looking into claims that a tree containing the nest was felled on the Invermark Estate in January.
White-tailed eagles, and their nests, are protected by law. It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly damage or destroy nests being built or in use.
RSPB Scotland claimed the estate had been warned that eagles were nesting in the tree. It was also claimed the nest was lined with moss and fresh down.
The organisation said the loss of the nest meant there would be no breeding pairs of white-tailed eagles in the east of Scotland this year.
Duncan Orr Ewing, of RSPB Scotland, said:
“I was totally appalled and I think most right-minded people would have the same reaction.
“Here is a species that is being brought back as part of international conservation efforts, and we appear to have one individual or a couple of individuals who are undermining that conservation effort.”
Invermark Estate has rejected the allegations, and insisted it is proud of its conservation record.
A spokesman said:
“Any suggestion that the estate or its employees, who are highly trained and implement extensive conservation programmes, would jeopardise or disrupt species that have made this estate their home, is disputed in the strongest possible terms.”
A spokesman for the landowners’ organisation, Scottish Land and Estates, said: “There is a worrying trend in these matters that certain people take the irresponsible view that accusations can be made anonymously through the media, in the middle of police investigations, with the objective of hoping that mud sticks and an estate can be portrayed as being guilty until proven innocent.”
In a separate development, Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP, told BBC Scotland he is set to introduce new measures designed to tackle the persecution of birds of prey.
“Even those stakeholders who represent landowners and the sporting interests recognise that there are those who seem hell bent on ignoring the law and the clear will of parliament and the people of Scotland to protect our natural environment.
“We are reaching the point where we do have to take further steps to reinforce that message and ensure that while we don’t want to punish those that are doing good things, we target our efforts at those who are clearly ignoring their responsibilities.”
Read the full statements from RSPB Scotland, Invermark Estate and Scottish land Estates.