Raptor Mortality & Persecution
Raptors are predators at the top of the food chain and are an important component of our ecosystem. They are also important indicators of the general state of our biodiversity and health of our environment. Raptors are extremely sensitive to many environmental changes in an ecosystem and can indicate when something is wrong with our environment and when we need to take action.
Raptors can be disturbed or die due to a variety of causes, unfortunately many of which are caused by humans. Often adult raptors and chicks can die naturally from diseases or disorders and they can die during extreme weather events or starve as a result of poor food supply. Sometimes they can accidently collide with vehicles, as many of them hunt along our road and motorway verges, particularly owls, buzzards and kestrels. Some are reported each year as electrocuted, hitting wires or as collisions with windows when chasing their prey or occasionally as colliding with wind turbines. Several species, particularly kestrels, red kites, barn owls and buzzards can be affected or killed by secondary poisoning from second-generation rodenticides which may be ingested when they consume dead or dying rodents. More information on this is available from the Campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Use (CRRU) which operations across the UK & Ireland.
However illegal wildlife crimes against birds of prey remain a significant threat to the conservation of a number of species in the UK and Ireland. Populations of birds of prey are particularly vulnerable to wildlife crime due largely to their slow reproductive rates; that is when birds are killed they are only slowly replaced in the overall population. Persistent killing of birds of prey can therefore result in local population extinctions, and if carried out more widely, in regional and national extinctions.
The Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group (NIRSG) is part of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) which is a body comprising representatives of the government agencies and non-government organisations involved in wildlife crime detection and law enforcement in the UK. It provides opportunities for people with a range of skills and experience to work together to combat and reduce wildlife crime by raising awareness and promoting effective enforcement.
Locally, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is responsible for investigating a possible breach of the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 and the Wildlife & Natural Environment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 legislation.
It is against the law to intentionally or recklessly:
- Kill, injure or take any wild bird
- Take or destroy wild bird eggs
- Take, damage or destroy a nest of a wild bird whilst it is in use or being built
- Disturb a wild bird when it is building a nest or is in, on or near a nest containing eggs or young or disturb dependent young.
- Obstruct or prevent any wild bird from using its nest or roost site
- Take, damage or destroy a nest of a golden eagle, white-tailed eagle, osprey, barn owl, peregrine or red kite at any time of the year.
These acts of persecution may be subject to custodial sentences or fines (up to £5,000 per offence) if carried out against any bird of prey in Northern Ireland.
It is likely that the victims of wildlife crime that are found each year are only a very small proportion of the actual deaths caused. That is why we need the public to remain vigilant and to report any suspected wildlife crimes.
The most common crimes committed against raptors are poisoning, trapping and shooting. The setting of poison baits in the open is illegal because it is indiscriminate, can be lethal to humans and has the potential to kill many birds of prey as well as other wildlife, pets and livestock and/or people.
In Northern Ireland if you suspect that a wildlife crime has taken place contact your local PSNI on 101 with the following details if possible:
- That you suspect a wildlife crime
- Suspected activity, location, date and time
- Description of the person(s) involved
- Vehicle registration number, colour, model
- Whether there has been a use of firearms
If you wish to provide information anonymously about a raptor crime contact the Crimestoppers charity on 0800 555 111.
The PAW NI group has produced a leaflet advising the people what to do if they suspect a raptor or indeed any wildlife crime has taken place. Please click here to download the leaflet (PDF).