Raptors Frown Upon County Down

Northern Ireland. Home to many a mile of dramatic coastline, towering hills and old ruined castles. This wonderful land boasts amazing attractions including the mysterious Giant’s causeway, or, if you want to get mystical, legends of fairies and leprechauns. However, underneath this fascinating and magical exterior, lies something more sinister, which has became particularly prominent over recent years. This last year has particularly highlighted this darker side, with 15 birds being illegally persecuted in Northern Ireland. Those that have fallen victim to this persecution include: buzzards, red kites, and a peregrine falcon. County Down is thought to be the main area where persecution is most prevalent, with 7 out of the 15 being killed here. According to the RSPB, over half the incidents were as a result of poisoned baits.



Such findings have been described as ‘very concerning’ by the RSPB, as County Down is one of the areas that has been involved in trying to reintroduce the red kite. Lately, aside from obvious problems, things have not been going so well. For in order for the population to be considered sustainable, at least 50 pairs of red kite would be required to breed in the area. However, currently, there are only 12 breeding pairs. But 2015 is not the only year that has experienced this threat of persecution. In 2014, the reintroduction program hit a major snag when a nest in Katesbridge was found to contain two poisoned chicks and a female. In addition, in May of this year another female red kite, named Fawkes who was brought over from Wales, was found shot dead. But these poisonings have been very thorough indeed, with one of the buzzards poisoned having traces of not one, but three different poisons in its body: aldicarb; carbofuran and isofenphos.



However, this year’s figures are not isolated incidents and have been following on from a trend of poisonings and shootings in Northern Ireland. Between the years of 2009 and 2013, 33 birds were illegally killed and included specimens of rare species such as golden eagles and white-tailed eagles.  Smaller species including merlins and sparrowhawks have also been poisoned.

The Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group has been ‘devastated’ by these crimes and have branded such acts as reckless. After all, poisoned baits are not just a threat to raptors, but can also pose as a threat to pets, livestock and children.

Overall, those species that experienced the most frequent persecution are buzzards, with 19 individuals killed, followed by the red kite, with 7 killed and then the peregrine falcon, with four birds being killed. The reasons for the high numbers of red kites and buzzards is due to their susceptibility to poisoned bait as they regularly feed on carrion.

Now, we know that these are birds of ‘prey’. So, they are considered by some as a threat to a number of animals. The larger species such as the white-tailed eagle and golden eagle are mainly targeted due to the perceived threat to livestock. Such large raptors are capable of taking lambs and small mammals and have therefore experienced considerable persecution over the years. However, incidences of lambs been taken are very few and far between. Red kites and buzzards are more of a threat to upland areas where they are likely to snatch game species such as grouse and pheasants. Whilst our peregrines are seen as a threat not only to game, but also to the sport of pigeon racing.  As of yet, there have been no charges brought against anyone for these crimes.





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Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard
I have been a bird enthusiast since I was a child and have just completed my MSc at Newcastle University on 'Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Management.'
Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard

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1 Response

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