A hen harrier found dead on a grouse moor was illegally shot, analysis has shown.
The news the young female bird of prey "Annie", who was satellite tagged as a chick, was illegally killed in Scotland, is likely to worsen the dispute between conservationists and the shooting industry ahead of the "Glorious 12th" start to the shooting season.
Rare hen harriers are protected by law but conservationists say they are shot because they prey on red grouse, with some wildlife lovers even calling for a ban on grouse shooting.
But the industry says grouse estates spend millions of pounds a year on conserving rare moorland habitat which supports wildlife, while shooting provides jobs and boost to upland economies, and have called for other steps to boost hen harrier numbers.
Annie was tagged as part of the Langholm Moor demonstration project, which aims to resolve the conflict between moorland management for grouse and birds of prey, but scientists became concerned in March when data from the tag showed she had stopped moving.
Extensive searching by RSPB Scotland investigations staff, liaising with government conservation body Natural England and Police Scotland, found the body of the bird on a grouse moor in south west Scotland at the end of April.
Results from analysis by the SAC Veterinary Centre laboratory near Edinburgh which have just been received confirm the bird was shot, RSPB Scotland said, as it called for anyone with information about the case to contact Police Scotland by calling 101.
Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, said: "This case shows very clearly what happens to some of our hen harriers when they leave protected nesting areas and move around the UK's uplands.
"This is just the latest incident of criminal persecution of this species, following the confirmed shooting of birds in Aberdeenshire, Moray and Ayreshire in the last two years.
"It is little wonder these magnificent raptors continue to be absent from large areas of our uplands."
But there has been some good news for hen harriers in England, with the endangered bird having its most successful breeding season for five years. There were six successful harrier nests fledging 18 new chicks, Natural England said.
Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, whose members manage around half the suitable habitat for hen harriers in England, said: "Four of the six successful nests on or adjacent to grouse moors and involved grouse moor managers protecting and ensuring they breed.
"There's been a big shift within the grouse moor community, we want to see more hen harriers."
She said grouse moor managers wanted to see a recovery plan for hen harriers which included measures to prevent illegal persecution, but also mechanisms to spread hen harrier populations to prevent colonies forming that would damage grouse numbers.
This would include rearing some chicks in aviaries and releasing them into suitable habitat, a process known as brood management, which the RSPB opposes until hen harrier numbers have recovered and other approaches have been tried.
Police Scotland said it had received confirmation from RSPB Scotland that the hen harrier, which was found on remote moorland near the Daer Reservoir in Clydesdale, South Lanarkshire, on April 27, had been shot.
Police are currently carrying out enquiries, and have urged anyone with information or concern about wildlife crime to contact Police Scotland or anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Scottish Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Dr Aileen McLeod said: " It is extremely disappointing to hear the news that Annie, one of the satellite tagged hen harriers from the Langholm Moor demonstration project, has been shot.
"The Scottish Government remains absolutely committed to working with law enforcement and others to bring an end to this outdated criminal activity.
"I expect all right minded people involved in the countryside, including with shooting, to agree that wildlife crime has no place in a modern Scotland. I would urge anyone with any information on the latest incident to contact Police Scotland as soon as possible."