NI raptor deaths rise, new report reveals
A report into the illegal killing of Northern Ireland’s native birds of prey has been published by the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime. It reveals there were nine confirmed illegal poisoning or persecution incidents, affecting 11 protected birds of prey, in Northern Ireland in 2014. This report follows on from the 2009 – 2013 Persecution Report published last year. Between 2009 and 2014 there is now a total of 44 confirmed reports of native birds of prey being illegally killed, plus one confirmed incident of illegal nest destruction.
The report examines occurrence and trends in persecution of these birds, which has allowed PAW to produce ‘hot-spot’ maps to identify areas where crimes against birds of prey are occurring. Of the nine confirmed cases in 2014, four of these occurred in County Down, two in County Tyrone and one in each of counties Londonderry, Armagh and Antrim. The report shows that the most frequent casualties were buzzards and the recently re-introduced red kite, with four of each of these species killed. Red kites and buzzards are particularly susceptible to poisoned baits as they will scavenge on carrion routinely. There were also two peregrine falcons and a sparrowhawk killed.
Four of the incidents involved the use of the highly toxic pesticide ‘Carbofuran’, which has been banned across the EU since 2001. The poison has often been laid illegally to target ‘pest species’ and the birds of prey have fallen victim to its indiscriminate use. However some species or nests have been specifically targeted. Seven birds also tested showed detectable levels of secondary poisoning by rodenticides (bromadiolone, brodifacoum, difenacoum, and/or flocoumafen) – suggesting that these birds have eaten rodents that have ingested rodenticides. The levels of these chemicals were not deemed to have been the primary cause of death of these birds but highlight that there is misuse of ‘over the counter’ pesticides across Northern Ireland. Users must always read and adhere to the label instructions of the pesticide; they should collect and correctly dispose of any rodent carcasses daily.
Commenting on the report, Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Michelle McIlveen MLA, said: “This report highlights the ongoing disregard for the safety of people and animals in our countryside through the illegal use of highly toxic poisons.
“The loss of vulnerable birds of prey to acts of persecution is extremely worrying, as they are a keystone species in our ecosystem and play an important role in the natural order. Maintaining and enhancing biodiversity is a central objective of my Department. I call on those responsible for these reckless acts to cease doing so and I urge anyone who may have information about these crimes to contact the PSNI or Crimestoppers.”
Superintendent, Brian Kee, PSNI service lead for rural and wildlife crime added: “It isn’t acceptable for birds of prey or any other wildlife to be killed in this way. These actions are illegal and the use of toxic poisons is indiscriminate as they put children, pets and livestock at risk too. I would urge anyone with any information on these types of crimes to report this to the PSNI on 101 or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 and be assured of PSNI continued efforts in the tackling of wildlife crime.”
The report lead author, Dr Eimear Rooney (Raptor Officer for NIRSG) commented: “This is the second report which maps the confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents in Northern Ireland. It is great to have the partner agencies working closely together to combat raptor persecution. This report helps us all to understand the scale and distribution of the problem. It is heart-breaking to think of the deaths of these birds but it is particularly shocking to see the continued usage of highly toxic Carbofuran.”
The raptor persecution and poisoning report for 2014 can be downloaded at the following link: 2-paw-rs-persecution-report-2014_final
- Raptor Persecution is one of the UK Government’s top six Wildlife Crime priorities. Raptor crimes typically comprise illegal poisoning, shooting or trapping events and may occur at any time of the year. It is also illegal to cause disturbance to all breeding raptors or damage their nests or eggs.
- The Raptor Priority Subgroup comprises Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI); Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA); National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU); Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group (NIRSG); the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB); Agri-food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSE NI). The Raptor Priority Sub-Group is acting on behalf of and reports back to the main PAW NI steering group currently chaired by the NIEA
- Wildlife legislation, namely the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 as amended by the Wildlife and Natural Environment (NI) Act 2011 protects birds of prey from disturbance and/or destruction by special penalties. Penalties can include a custodial sentence and/or up to a £5,000 fine per offence. All raptors are listed on Schedule 1 of the order and there are six raptor species which receive additional protection on Schedule A1 which protects their nests from disturbance or destruction at all times of the year. Schedule A1 includes peregrine falcon, red kite, barn owl, golden eagle white-tailed eagle and osprey.
- In March 2016 the PSNI, in partnership with the PAWNI Raptor Subgroup members, launched ‘Operation Raptor’. This campaign was developed as a direct result of the publication of the first Bird of Prey Persecution and Poisoning Report, covering the period 2009 – 2013. The ‘Operation Raptor’ campaign is designed to encourage people to report potential crimes to PSNI and also to warn offenders they could face a custodial sentence and/or a fine (up to £5,000 per offence) if they are caught targeting birds of prey through poisoning, shooting or trapping. Operation Raptor posters are being distributed into ‘hot spot’ areas to highlight the illegal practises to local members if the public, to act as a deterrent to those who seek to kill birds of prey.
- The Campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Use (CRRU) aims to promote best practice so that rat poisons (rodenticides) in particular should not get into the wildlife food chain where it harms owls, kites and other birds of prey. More information on this can be found at www.thinkwildlife.org
- A leaflet outlining the protocol for reporting raptor crimes was previously produced by the Raptor Subgroup and is available for download at the following link: https://www.nirsg.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/PAWNI-Raptor-Crime-Leaflet.pdf
- The Bird of Prey Persecution and Poisoning Report 2009-2013, produced by the Raptor Subgroup in November 2015, can be downloaded at the following link: https://www.psni.police.uk/globalassets/advice–information/animal-welfare/documents/pawni-raptorpersecution–poisoning-report-2009-2013-final.pdf
- More information on the public campaign to ‘Watch Out For Wildlife Crime’ in Northern Ireland can be found at www.wildlifecrimeni.org
- More information on the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS) is available at: http://www.pesticides.gov.uk/guidance/industries/pesticides/topics/reducing-environmental-impact/wildlife