• County Down saw 19 bird of prey persecution incidents between 2012 and 2017, with five incidents last year • RSPB’s Birdcrime report reveals 68 confirmed incidents across the UK during 2017, but many illegal killings are unreported
County Down is the sixth worst offending region for bird of prey persecutions across the UK, with five known incidents last year and 19 between 2012 and 2017, according to a new RSPB report.
Birds of prey continue to be at risk according the latest Birdcrime report which has revealed a minimum of 68 confirmed incidents of detected illegal bird of prey persecution in the UK in 2017.
Birdcrime 2017 – the only report summarising offences against birds of prey (also known as raptors) across the UK – revealed 48 shooting, nine poisoning, three trapping, four nest destructions and four other incidents of illegal persecution against raptors. However, evidence suggests these figures are just the tip of the iceberg with many illegal killings going undetected or unreported.
Last year, there were five confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents in Northern Ireland. These included three buzzards, two peregrine falcons, a red kite ('Black 5W', the bird shot in Moneyslane in August 2017 and pictured, above) and a sparrowhawk. Two of the incidents occurred in Co Antrim, one in Co Derry/Londonderry, one in Co Down and one in Tyrone.
Red kites were only reintroduced to Northern Ireland in 2008 and there still isn’t a stable population here, yet between 2012 and 2017 nine red kites were illegally killed in Co Down. Buzzards, peregrine falcons, a sparrowhawk and a merlin were also killed over those five years. In the rest of Northern Ireland in the same period, there were 13 persecution incidents in Co Antrim, five in Co Derry/Londonderry, five in Co Armagh and four in Co Tyrone.
And it’s not only detection that is a problem. There were just four raptor persecution-related prosecutions in 2017 and only a single conviction (all of these were in Scotland).
Among the victims found across the UK were both rare species such as peregrine falcons, hen harriers and marsh harriers, and short-eared owls as well as more common species such as buzzards, putting the ongoing recovery of some of these species at risk.
While the Birdcrime report focuses on the figures between January and December 2017, there has already been another high-profile raptor persecution incident in Katesbridge in Co Down this year, with a breeding pair of red kites – with three eggs in their nest - dying from an illegally held poison in April.
Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: “Birds of prey are part of our heritage and inspire us. We should all be able to enjoy seeing these magnificent birds, however illegal activity continues to put species at risk. There are laws in place to protect these birds but they are clearly not being respected or adequately enforced. We need governments across the UK to do more to tackle illegal killing to protect our raptors for us and for future generations to enjoy.”
Roisin Kearney, RSPB NI Conservation Officer, added, “The persecution of birds of prey is a widespread problem in the UK and it’s a grim statistic that Co Down is sixth in terms of persecution incidents from 2012 to 2017. It’s sad that in 2018, which marks the 10th anniversary of red kites being reintroduced to Northern Ireland, we are still seeing red kites and other birds of prey being targeted. But for each persecution incident we hear about, scientific studies suggest there are many more that go undetected and unreported. As such, these figures only scratch the surface of the true extent of raptor persecution.”
The RSPB has also launched the Raptor Persecution Map Hub. This comprises two interactive maps – one which can be filtered by year and incident type, and the other that provides an overview ‘heat map’ of confirmed incidents across the UK for the period 2012-2017 – enabling people to see where this illegal activity is occurring.
For the full copy of Birdcrime 2017 report summarising the extent of illegal persecution offences against birds of prey in the UK, visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdcrime