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Bird expert and son, 7, drown in loch

Father and son killed as their canoe capsizes during day trip to Loch Maree

A leading ornithologist and his seven-year-old son have been named as the victims of a double drowning when their canoe capsized on a remote loch in the Scottish Highlands.

Dr Michael Madders, who was a well-known expert on birds of prey and specialised in monitoring the effects of wind farms on birdlife, died after setting out with his son Daniel on a planned 20-minute trip around Loch Maree in Wester Ross on Sunday afternoon.

The alarm was raised when Christine Cain, the partner of Dr Madders and Daniel's mother, found their empty upturned canoe on the shore of the lake. A coastguard helicopter rapidly spotted the bodies of the father and son in the water wearing fluorescent life jackets.

They were airlifted to the Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway but declared dead on arrival.

Residents said that conditions on the lake, which is close to the family's home in Poolewe, Ross-shire, were notoriously changeable and had been particularly poor on Sunday with driving rain and waves that could easily overwhelm a small vessel such as a canoe.

Nick Thompson, manager of the Loch Maree hotel, said the lake was ill-equipped to deal with large numbers of inexperienced kayakers using the beauty spot. Despite the absence of a dedicated rescue boat, the loch is increasingly popular with visitors who hire canoes.

He said: "I warned off three other kayakers on Sunday – the waves were 3ft high. It was dangerous conditions, there were white caps everywhere. A lot of people just don't know the loch. It can change quickly and become very treacherous suddenly."

The hotelier said that a father and daughter had been lucky to escape with their lives three weeks earlier when their canoe capsized but they had been able to swim to the shore.

It is thought that Dr Madders, who was 52, had been using his own canoe when he and his son got into trouble.

The wildlife researcher was a respected authority on birds of prey and played a leading role in the reintroduction of white-tailed eagles to Cumbria in the 1980s. He was also responsible for supervising studies of harrier species in Kazakhstan alongside his work in Britain, which included writing a popular book, Where to Watch Birds in Scotland.

More recently he had worked on the hazards caused to bird populations by wind farms and devised one of the first techniques for measuring the impact of turbines on wildlife. He had appeared as an expert witness at numerous public inquiries into the siting of wind farms.

The headteacher at Daniel's school said he had been "a polite, happy and enthusiastic wee boy".

Margaret Young, of Poolewe Primary School, said: "He had a unique way of expressing himself and a fantastic sense of humour. We will miss him terribly. This is the start of a very painful process as the news begins to sink in. It has been a privilege for us all to have known Daniel."

Police said a file on the tragedy would be passed to the Procurator Fiscal Service but underlined that there did not appear to be any suspicious circumstances.

Chief Inspector Michael Coats said: "This is a tragic accident and at this time our thoughts and sympathies are with the family."