Archive for the 'Persecution Incidents in Irish Republic' Category

31
Dec
16

Our year in review: July – December 2016

Our Year in Review: January – June 2016 can be found here.

Here’s part two.

JULY

An horrifically injured buzzard was found on a grouse moor in North Yorkshire (here). Illegally set traps were found on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park, with a critically injured common gull found caught by its legs in two of them. We were able to establish that the grouse moor was part of the Invercauld Estate (see here and here). Invercauld Estate issued a bizarre statement, via GWCT, denying that any crime had taken place or if it had, it was probably the work of someone trying to discredit the grouse shooting industry (here). The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association issued a statement saying they would launch their own investigation (here).

In the courts the vicarious liability prosecution against Andrew Duncan (Newlands Estate) was adjourned, again (here), as was the case against Scottish gamekeeper Stanley Gordon, accused of the alleged shooting of a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate in 2013 (here). Scottish gamekeeper Billy Dick’s appeal against his 2015 conviction for killing a buzzard was dismissed and his conviction upheld (here).

Hen harriers bred successfully on the Mar Lodge Estate in the Cairngorms National Park for the first time in decades (here) and some MSPs were taken for a ride up the Angus Glens (here) where presumably they weren’t shown how to light exploding banger ropes (here).

Glanusk Estate issued two statements (here and here) trying to downplay the mass poisoning of raptors that had taken place there in 2012/2013, and after a series of FoIs we learned that there would be no subsidy withdrawal by Rural Payments Wales as a result of this crime, the most significant wildlife poisoning incident ever recorded in Wales and the 2nd biggest recorded in the UK for 40 years (here).

Working with Chris Packham, Mark Avery and a crack film crew, we began to publish a series of videos aimed at educating the general public about driven grouse shooting. In the first video, Chris had a message for retailer Marks and Spencer about the unsustainability and toxicity of red grouse (here). The grouse-shooting industry reacted to this video with furious outrage (here, here) and accused Chris of ‘celebrity bullying’ and then set about on (another) campaign to have him removed from the BBC.

In Scotland the Scottish Raptor Study Group launched a petition calling for the Government to introduce a licensing scheme for all gamebird hunting (see here) and in England, the Government’s conservation agency Natural England issued a licence to a gamekeeper allowing him to kill buzzards to protect pheasants (here).

The RSPB grew a pair and announced the very welcome news that they were withdrawing their support for DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Inaction Plan due to the ongoing incidents of raptor persecution (see here). The grouse shooting industry reacted with comical aplomb (here).

North Yorkshire Police did the decent thing and admitted they’d made a mistake by not charging the pole-trapping gamekeeper from Mossdale Estate (see here). They said they’d used the wrong guidelines but had now revised their procedures.

We blogged about the Bowland Brewery in Lancashire, who were supporting the RSPB’s Hen Harrier conservation efforts but as a result had become the victims of a vile and vicious online hate campaign by some within the grouse shooting industry (see here). This backfired spectacularly when the general public, in support of the brewery, bought up ‘hen harrier’ beer by the caseload.

AUGUST

A buzzard was shot dead in Richmondshire, North Yorkshire (here), a buzzard was poisoned in Ayrshire (here), and satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Elwood’ ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths just a few weeks after fledging (here).

The RSPB reported that 8 young satellite-tagged golden eagles had ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths in the last five years, including three this year (see here). We updated our ongoing eagle death blog to: 40 eagles, 10 years, 0 prosecutions. In response to the news of these latest eight ‘missing’ golden eagles, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham ordered a review of all golden eagle satellite tag data to ‘look for patterns of suspicious activity’ (see here). This review was later upgraded to include data from hen harriers and red kites (here) following the ‘disappearance’ of hen harrier Elwood.

The grouse shooting industry tried to explain away these ‘disappearances’ with a number of desperately implausible excuses. First it was non-existent windfarms (here), then it was claimed ‘bird activists’ were responsible as part of a smear campaign against driven grouse shooting (here, here). But best of all was the claim by the Scottish Countryside Alliance of ‘faulty tags’. The SCA published a statement that claimed scientific research had shown that ‘tag failure rates could be as high as 49%’. We managed to track down this scientific research and discovered it referred to satellite tags that had been fitted to Olive Ridley turtles off the coast of India, where a saltwater switch was a known problem (see here).

In the courts a December trial date was eventually set (here) in the vicarious liability prosecution of Andrew Duncan (Newlands Estate). The case was continued against Scottish gamekeeper Stanley Gordon, accused of the alleged shooting of a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate in 2013 (here).

We were able to reveal the location of a coordinated hunt and shooting of a hen harrier in 2013 – turns out to have taken place in Glen Gairn, on the border between Invercauld and Dinnet Estates in the Cairngorms National Park (here), not a million miles away from where the illegal traps had been discovered at Invercauld earlier this summer. And on that subject, Police Scotland issued a vague statement about what had been found at Invercauld (here).

Hen Harrier Day took place for the third year running with events across the UK (here) and the following week, Mark Avery’s e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting passed 100,000 signatures (here), the amount needed to trigger a parliamentary debate at Westminster.

The harassment and intimidation campaign against one of our bloggers continued when her mobile number was published by someone in the grouse shooting industry, resulting in threatening text messages being sent in the middle of the night (here).

The Scottish petition calling on the Government to introduce a licensing scheme for gamebird hunting came to a close and was submitted to the Public Petitions Committee (here), and Marks and Spencer announced that they had abandoned grouse sales again (here).

After a series of FoIs, more detail emerged about the individual licences that SNH had issued to Raeshaw Estate to allow the estate gamekeepers to continue their trapping/killing activities as though the General Licence restriction order didn’t even exist (see here), and Natural England revealed that their licensing policies relied on a flawed assumption that gamekeepers don’t illegally kill raptors (here).

We lost a good friend, Richard Evans (here).

SEPTEMBER

A young peregrine was shot in Devon (here), 3 poisoned buzzards were found in Ireland (here), a peregrine was found shot shot next to a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here) and a shot marsh harrier was found next to a pheasant pen on the Sledmere Estate in East Yorkshire (here).

Young satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Brian’ ‘disappeared’ in the Cairngorms National Park (here). The Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham issued a bland holding statement in response, and the Cairngorms National Park Authority published a non-statement that wasn’t worth the paper it was written on (here).

We blogged about the long-term persecution of raptors in the Cairngorms National Park (here) and suggested ways of how to bring it to an end (here). The CNPA convener issued a statement of the bleedin’ obvious when he said ‘raptor persecution in the Cairngorms National Park was a PR disaster’ (here).

In the courts a December trial date was set for Scottish gamekeeper Stanley Gordon, accused of the alleged shooting of a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate in 2013 (here) and a November hearing date was set for Raeshaw Estate’s ongoing judicial review of SNH’s decision to impose a General Licence restriction (here).

A raptor conference took place in Sheffield with Angela Smith MP saying that illegal raptor persecution has to stop (here) and Philip Merricks of the Hawk & Owl Trust saying…..well, we’re not sure what he said (here).

Sticking with Philip Merricks, we had asked whether the HoT would remove itself from the hen harrier brood meddling plan in light of the pole-trapping crimes uncovered on Mossdale Estate – it turned out that the Hawk & Owl Trust’s ‘immoveable provisos’ were actually moveable after all (here). Rod Leslie, a prominent member of the HoT sent an open letter to Philip Merricks advising him to get his act together if he wanted to save the Trust’s reputation (here).

The Heads up for Hen Harriers charade continued (here) and we learned that tackling raptor persecution featured in the Scottish Government’s 2016-2017 work plan (here).

Compelling evidence on the reliability of satellite tags (94%!) was provided by a researcher involved with the long-term sat tagging of Montagu’s harriers (here).

The BBC stuck two fingers up to the nasty brigade when they ruled that Chris Packham’s involvement in the ban driven grouse shooting campaign had not breached any BBC regulations (here).

It emerged that the Royal family was using soldiers to work as private beaters on a driven grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (here) and after a series of FoIs, we discovered that Invercauld Estate had taken ‘action’ in relation to the illegally set traps that had been discovered on their grouse moor in the summer. However, the details of that ‘action’ were not made public – it was a closely guarded secret between Invercauld Estate, the Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Scottish Government (here).

We reached the two year anniversary of the Scottish Government’s consultation on increased powers for the SSPCA and still a decision hadn’t been made (here).

OCTOBER

Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Rowan’ was found dead in suspicious circumstances in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here), a buzzard was found with shotgun injuries near Thirsk, North Yorkshire (here), a peregrine was found shot dead in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here) and a baited pole trap was found set next to a pheasant pen in Devon (here).

Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Hermione’ was found on Mull but the death was not thought to be suspicious (here).

There was extensive fire damage at Moy Estate after the heather had been treated to a ‘hair cut’ (here, here) and an investigation by Friends of the Earth revealed that driven grouse shooting was costing the taxpayer millions of pounds (here).

RSPB Scotland denounced SNH’s General Licence restriction on Raeshaw Estate as ‘farcical’ (here) and we exposed the partnership-working sham of SNH’s Heads up for Hen Harriers scheme (here).

Mossdale Estate in the Yorkshire Dales National Park came under fire from local residents (here).

A new report showed that the illegal persecution of red kites in northern Scotland was at the same level as it was 25 years ago (here) but another report suggested a bright future for white-tailed eagles in western Scotland (here).

Members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group gave compelling evidence on raptor persecution to the Public Petitions Committee at Holyrood (here) and we wrote a review blog about mountain hare massacres on Scottish grouse moors as charity OneKind announced a public protest would take place at Holyrood in November against mountain hare culling (here).

An evidence session on the issue of driven grouse shooting took place at Westminster (here, here) in preparation for the debate at the end of the month, and we also reviewed the written evidence that had been published in advance on the Parliamentary website (here).

Chris Packham received an Outstanding Achievement Award (a ‘Green Oscar’) at the 2016 Wildscreen Festival (here) and we paid tribute to Mark Avery on the eve of the Westminster debate on driven grouse shooting (here).

NOVEMBER

Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Tarras’ ‘disappeared’ in the Peak District National Park (here), Cumbria Police issued a vague statement saying that satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Rowan’, whose body had been found in the Yorkshire Dales National Park last month, was ‘likely to have been shot’ (here). This is yet another cover up and we’ll be blogging about it in the New Year.

The shot marsh harrier that had been found next to a pheasant pen on the Sledmere Estate, East Yorkshire in September was successfully rehabbed and released back to the wild by Jean Thorpe (here).

In court the vicarious liability prosecution against Andrew Duncan (Newlands Estate) continued to drag on, with the December trial date now dumped and the case was continued (see here, here). The case was also continued against Scottish gamekeeper Stanley Gordon, accused of the alleged shooting of a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate in 2013 (here).

We blogged about the Westminster debate on grouse shooting which had descended in to a pantomime with more than its fair share of comedy villains (here) and contrasted the performance with a debate in Holyrood where a series of MSPs stood up to speak with sincerity about being Species Champions (here).

The results of the 2015 national golden eagle survey showed an increase in the overall population but it was revealed that the species is still ‘missing’ from many driven grouse moors in the Eastern Highlands (here).

The 2014 annual report on wildlife crime in Northern Ireland was published (here), as was an annual report on wildlife crime in Scotland, although raptor persecution data was deliberately withheld from the Scottish report, for unknown reasons (here).

Mull Eagle Watch won another award (here) and we were told that the Scottish Government’s commissioned review on gamebird hunting licensing systems in Europe would be published shortly (here).

More Parliamentary Questions on mountain hare culling were posed by another MSP from the Scottish Greens (Alison Johnstone), and the Cabinet Secretary responded by saying that ‘more evidence’ was required before mountain hare culls would be regulated (here).

Meanwhile, OneKind held a successful protest rally at Holyrood against mountain hare culling and we revealed that a Cairngorms National Park board member had told Scottish gamekeepers to literally ‘cover up’ dead mountain hares so that embarrassing photographs couldn’t find their way on to social media (here). This cover up was later denied, rather unconvincingly (here).

A series of FoIs revealed what DEFRA’s hen harrier brood meddling team had got planned (here, here, here, here) as well as a little bit about the proposed ‘reintroduction’ of hen harriers to southern England (here). We’ve since got some more FoI responses on this that we’ll blog about in the New Year.

DECEMBER

Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Beater’ was ‘lost, presumed dead (here).

An RSPB Investigations blog revealed that in 2015 a gamekeeper had been filmed with a poisons cache on the East Arkengarthdale Estate, next to the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The CPS had decided not to prosecute but North Yorkshire Police revoked his firearms certificates. The gamekeeper appealed this decision and the judge reinstated this man’s firearms, even though it was accepted in court that he had indeed been involved with the illegal poisons cache (here). We asked some questions of the grouse shooting community about this case (here) – yet to receive a response. We also asked some questions about a potential subsidy penalty for this estate (see here) – we’ll be following up on this in the New Year.

arken

Also in the courts this month, yet another trial date was set for Andrew Duncan (vicarious liability prosecution) – the third time a trial date has been set for this case. It is now due to take place in April 2017 (see here). Stanley Gordon’s trial date was also dumped – the case has been continued until Feb 2017 (here). And yet another trial date was set in the case against Angus Glens gamekeeper Craig Graham – now scheduled to take place in May 2017 (here).

The buzzard that had been found in October with shotgun injuries near Thirsk, North Yorkshire, was successfully rehabbed and returned to the wild by Jean Thorpe (here).

We raised more questions about the Invercauld Estate illegal traps fiasco (here) – there appears to be something dodgy going on here and we intend to revisit this in the New Year.

RSPB Scotland denounced SNH’s general Licence system as a cover for the illegal destruction of birds of prey (here) and we learned that Scottish gamekeepers want to see white-tailed eagles, red kites, buzzards, sparrowhawks and ravens added to the list of species that can be killed under the remit of a General Licence (see here).

The Scottish Moorland Group and BASC ducked and dodged some awkward questions when they appeared in front of the Public Petitions Committee who are considering a petition to introduce licensing for gamebird hunting in Scotland (here).

We were told that giant buzzards are eating dogs in Tipperary (here) but even this unbelievable nonsense was eclipsed by the Gift of Grouse who claimed that ‘raptors are thriving on driven grouse moors (here). RSPB Scotland responded by dismissing it as ‘risible, make-believe tosh’ (here).

The Gift of Grouse propaganda machine was further exposed when a report was finally published about the breeding status of birds on Invermark Estate – it turned out that that the claims made by the Gift of Grouse weren’t true after all (see here) – who’d have guessed?

We published (much to the SGA’s annoyance) the minutes of a meeting between the Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, which provide an endless source of entertainment (here).

The Scottish Justice Committee is examining the performance of the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service and heard damning evidence from Scottish Environment LINK about questionable procedures (here).

Mark Avery won Birdwatch magazine’s Conservation Hero of the Year Award (here).

The Scottish Greens continued to ask excellent Parliamentary Questions when it was discovered that VisitScotland would be match funding a marketing campaign for Scottish country sports. Andy Wightman MSP asked whether public money would be given to landowners or managers where wildlife crime had been uncovered (here). We also raised the point that the partner agency in this scheme (Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group) was actively promoting a convicted wildlife criminal on its website and questioned why this group was afforded a Parliamentary reception (here).

It’s been an eventful year. Thanks for all your support!

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06
Dec
16

‘Giant buzzards’ eating dogs, warns Tipperary newspaper

The following article was headline news last week in the Tipperary Star, a local rag in the Irish Republic:

ATTACKING BUZZARDS TARGET TERRIERS

By Noel Dundon

A call to have the protection orders on buzzards lifted has been made following a number of incidents in which the birds of prey have taken terriers and other animals in deadly swoops through mid Tipperary.

Buzzards are causing major problems in the mid-Tipperary area at the present time with a number of terriers having been taken, leading to a call for protection orders to be lifted.

Two families have been left in distress after their dogs were preyed upon and killed by giant buzzards in the Templetuochy area where hares, rabbits, cats and other small animals have also been taken.

However, it has also been revealed that are birds of prey circling overhead Deputy Michael Lowry in Glenreigh, Holycross, while Moyaliffe, Drombane, Inch, Clonmore and Castleiney are also areas where buzzards have been spotted on the attack.

There is one report of a Yorkshire terrier having been attacked, but survived and was patched up by a veterinary surgeon, only to be attacked again and killed a short time later – all by the same buzzard which can have a wingspan of up to three feet with very powerful and strong claws used to take prey.

Forested areas which afford cover are the best hunting ground for buzzards and dog and cat owners are being advised to be on the watch out for their pets which could be taken at the blink of an eye.

There are also concerns that with the increase in buzzards, the spring lambing season after Christmas could be an ideal hunting ground for them – but a very costly one for sheep owners.

ENDS

The online version of the article was illustrated with this photograph, entitled ‘A buzzard on the rampage’.

Is this ‘journalist’ having a laugh? Since when did ‘giant buzzards’ (or even normal-sized buzzards) start killing dogs, and since when did the sight of soaring buzzards above a politician’s head become a cause for alarm?

This type of sensationalist, ignorant, scare-mongering would be funny if it didn’t have consequences. Unfortunately, this baseless demonisation of birds of prey does have consequences, and serious ones at that. As we see all too often, there are still people clinging on to 19th Century attitudes who think that raptors are ‘vermin’ and should be destroyed. Articles like this one above will only fuel their prejudice and lead to the illegal persecution of these birds.

Tipperary is no stranger to raptor persecution – in the last few years the following crimes have been recorded:

July 2015: shot buzzard

May 2014: poisoned peregrine

January 2014: shot white-tailed eagle

July 2013: shot peregrine

June 2013: shot peregrine

June 2013: shot peregrine

Raptor persecution is a serious issue in Ireland, and the latest official report shows the trend is pointing upwards with 35 confirmed persecution incidents in 2015 – the highest number since recording began in 2011 (see here).

We’d encourage strong (but polite) words of complaint to the Tipperary Star:

Email journalist Noel Dundon: nd@tipperarystar.ie

Email editor Anne O’Grady: aog@tipperarystar.ie

UPDATE 6/12/2016: BirdWatch Ireland has issued a strong statement in response to the Tipperary Star (see here).

11
Sep
16

Three poisoned buzzards found in Co Laois, Ireland

The National Parks and Wildlife Service in Ireland is appealing for information after the discovery of three poisoned buzzards.

The buzzards were discovered in a field in Cappakeel, Emo, County Laois over the August Bank Holiday weekend. Toxicology tests have revealed they’d been poisoned with Carbofuran.

Full details from the Leinster Express here

poisoned-buzzards-laois

10
Apr
16

Pigeon racing men convicted of poisoning peregrines & sparrowhawks

Four men associated with a pigeon racing club in County Waterford, Ireland, have been convicted of illegally poisoning peregrines and sparrowhawks, and other associated wildlife crimes.

The convictions are the result of surveillance and investigation by conservation rangers from the Irish Republic’s National Parks & Wildlife Service at three quarries in March and April 2014: Cappagh Quarry, Keereen Quarry and Carroll’s Cross Quarry. Live pigeon baits, smeared with poison and tied to stones or stakes had been found on a number of occasions at the top of the quarry cliffs, designed to lure in raptors. Four poisoned peregrines and two poisoned sparrowhawks had also been found.

pigeon poison wales 2012

On March 9th 2016 at Dungarvan District Court, the following individuals were convicted:

Stephen O’Brien, of 58 Congress Villas, Dungarvan, was convicted of 20 offences, including the use of a live decoy on five separate dates. He was fined 1500 Euros for each of the five dates (7,500 Euros in total) and the other 15 charges were recorded as ‘proven’.

Kevin Crotty (Chairman of Dungarvan Premier Pigeon Club) of 16 Lismore Avenue, Dungarvan, was convicted of 10 offences on five separate dates. He was fined 600 Euros for two offences and the remaining eight charges were recorded as ‘proven’.

John Crotty, of 23 Congress Villas, Dungarvan, was convicted of four offences. He was fined 700 Euros for one offence and the remaining three charges were recorded as ‘proven’.

Christopher O’Brien, of 79 Congress Villas, Dungarvan, was convicted of obstructing an Authorised Person during a search of his premises and with the illegal possession of protected wild finches. He was convicted of 16 offences. He was fined 700 Euros for one offence and the remaining 15 charges were recorded as ‘proven’. He was also ordered to forfeit a stuffed peregrine that had been found at his house.

The National Parks & Wildlife Service believes raptor persecution is a significant problem in Co Waterford and said peregrines had been a particular target, resulting in reduced breeding success. They encourage farmers and members of the public to report suspicious incidents, in confidence, to: Tel (01) 888 3242 or email nature.conservation@ahg.gov.ie

The photo shows a live pigeon decoy, smeared in poison and tied to a rock in a similar poisoning case in Wales in 2012 (photographer unknown).

17
Apr
15

White-tailed eagle found poisoned on nest

WTEpoisoned Connemara April 2015

Press release from Golden Eagle Trust:

A White-tailed Eagle has been found dead in its nest at Connemara in south-west Ireland. The six year old female eagle was discovered on 1st April by Conservation Ranger Dermot Breen and recovered by a team from the National Parks & Wildlife Service on 2nd April. Subsequent post-mortem at the Regional Veterinary Laboratory in Athlone and toxicology analysis at the State Laboratory, Celbridge revealed the bird had been poisoned.

The female White-tailed Eagle was released in Killarney National Park in 2009 as part of a reintroduction programme for the species managed by the Golden Eagle Trust in partnership with the National Parks & Wildlife Service. The female eagle settled in the Roundstone area of Connemara in 2012 where she paired up with a male. In 2014 the pair laid eggs at a nest in a remote site but the eggs failed to hatch chicks successfully. Both birds were on the point of nesting again this year at the same nest when tragedy struck. Indeed the post-mortem found the female to contain two developing eggs, so this female was within a few days of laying eggs.

The loss of this breeding female comes as a serious blow to the reintroduction project. White-tailed Eagles reach maturity and begin breeding at about 5 years of age. Seven pairs laid eggs in nests in the wild in 2014, with one nest near Mountshannon, Co. Clare, successfully fledging chicks in 2013 and 2014. It was hoped that the Connemara pair would be one of a number of successful nests in Ireland in 2015. The loss of a breeding adult has been found to lead to the desertion of breeding sites with potentially serious implications for the long-term viability of the reintroduced population.

This is the 13th confirmed poisoning of a White-tailed Eagle in Ireland since the reintroduction project began in 2007. The use of poisons to control foxes and crows has been banned since 2010 but the illegal use of such substances remains a huge threat to wildlife including birds of prey which consume carrion. Over the five years of the release phase of the project 100 young eagles were collected from nests in Norway and released in Killarney National Park, Co. Kerry. Thirty one of the released eagles have since been recovered dead with illegal poisoning by far and away the greatest threat to the recovery of this once native eagle to Ireland. Despite these losses the number of pairs in the wild rose to 14 in 2014 with most birds now mature enough to breed.

This is a very disheartening incident as the killing of this breeding female has effectively put an end to any breeding attempt of this incredible species in West Galway for at least another five years” said NPWS Conservation ranger Dermot Breen. “To see the female lying dead on her nest was a very sad and sickening sight especially with the knowledge that she would have been due to lay two eggs. Historically up to 14 pairs were known to have bred in the Connemara region up 1838. Connemara lost its White-tailed Eagles shortly after this with the introduction of poison. It’s deeply frustrating to see history repeating itself. I’ve encountered no negative feedback from any local farmers with regard to the presence of the eagles over the last three years. Many landowners would ask how the eagles were doing and would tell me if they had been lucky enough to see them in the locality. The loss of this female is also a great loss to tourism in the area. Connemara is world renowned for being an area of unspoilt beauty. Unfortunately this illegal and irresponsible action is likely to tarnish Connemara’s green image, an area that relies heavily on tourism”.

Although all losses impact the project, the loss of this female is very difficult to take”, said Dr Allan Mee, Project Manager with the Golden Eagle Trust. “She and her mate had been resident in Connemara for the last four years and it was only a matter of time before they produced chicks. It is likely the nest site they chose had been used by White-tailed Eagles in historical times, so losing this pair is devastating. Although the male may remain on his territory for some time, to date we have found that the loss of a breeding adult results in birds deserting the area and remaining some years before they find a mate again. The female’s mate is one of our satellite tagged eagles (male Star) who has travelled the length and breadth of Ireland several times before settling in Connemara. It’s tragic to see him lose his mate just on the point of nesting”.

Over the years we have endured too many losses to illegal and indiscriminate poisoning. We have tried to address this by raising awareness both of the law and the threat posed by poisons to wildlife and farm dogs. While we believe our awareness efforts have been productive it is clear that some individuals are still resorting to using poisons on meat baits such as dead livestock. While their target may be foxes and crows we know to our cost the devastation this causes to our rare and protected birds of prey. We have to continue to get the word out there that this practice is no longer acceptable. We hope that all farmers and farming organisations will rightly condemn this practice which has no place in today’s supposedly more enlightened environment”.

IMAGE COPYRIGHT: DERMOT BREEN, NPWS

02
Feb
15

Another hen harrier shot dead

Heather_dead_(Barry_ODonoghue_NPWS)With depressing familiarity, news has emerged of the illegal killing of yet another hen harrier.

The corpse of the latest victim was found in January at an established roost site in Co. Kerry. The young female, named Heather by local schoolchildren, had been satellite-tracked since 2013 and her progress followed by hundreds of thousands who regularly logged on to the Hen Harrier Ireland blog where movement maps had been posted.

A post mortem has revealed that Heather had been shot.

There’s been plenty of news coverage about this latest crime:

Irish Times here

BBC news here

BirdWatch Ireland here

Irish Independent here

Heather’s fate is really no surprise. Had she been allowed to reach an age to begin her first breeding attempt without being gunned down would have been the real surprise.

For context, it’s worth reading about a disturbing incident from 2003, where a shot hen harrier was mailed to a local newspaper in Co. Kerry as a sinister message for those considering designating Special Protection Areas for hen harriers – see here.

Hen harriers, as you all know, are in serious trouble throughout these isles, whether it be in England, Scotland or the RoI. Those vilifying this species may have different agendas (i.e. in England & Scotland the threat is from the grouse-shooting industry; in the RoI it’s more complex and is based on afforestation and farming issues, not helped by the mysterious disappearance of millions of Euros that should have been given to support farmers working in designated conservation areas e.g. read our recent guest blog here) but the outcome for this species (and certain other raptor species) is always the same – certain death at the hands of those who think they’re above the law. Or, more to the point, at the hands of those who know very well that the chances of them being brought to justice are slim to non-existent.

Heather was an Irish bird. She hatched there, she lived her short life there, and she was killed there. But it’s important to recognise that she was part of a wider population whose range includes England, Wales, Isle of Man, Northern Ireland & Scotland. Some Scottish hen harriers travel to England, Ireland, Northern Ireland etc, just as some Irish harriers travel to England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, just as some English harriers travel to Scotland, RoI, Wales etc etc. If there are persecution issues in any part of the range, the impact will eventually affect the population in every other part of the range. Heather’s pitiful death should be felt just as keenly by those of us in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland etc as it is by those in the Irish Republic who today are mourning her loss. Political boundary lines on a map mean nothing to these hen harriers and they should mean nothing to those of us fighting to protect them.

You might think the campaign to end illegal raptor persecution is futile. You might think it’s too big of an issue and too geographically widespread for any of us to tackle it effectively. You’d be wrong. Over the last few years, thanks to the efforts of many organisations, large and small, as well as the efforts of ‘ordinary’ members of the public using social media, illegal raptor persecution has never had such a high media and political profile. There’s still a long long way to go, and the image of Heather’s wretched corpse is a miserable, poignant reminder of the work ahead of us, but we’ve only just got started.

Hen Harrier Day 2015 (Sunday 9th August) is an opportunity for us all, no matter in which part of the harrier’s range we live, to show our unity and intent. More news on that later this spring.

Heather HH shot Kerry Jan 2015

15
Jan
15

“Horrible” raptors are “becoming more aggressive”, says idiot

Prof ONeillYesterday, the Irish radio station ‘Newstalk’ broadcast a discussion on the theme ‘Are the birds going the way of the dinosaur?’

The presenter, Pat Kenny, was interviewing Professor Luke O’Neill, a prominent biochemist from Trinity College, Dublin. This leading academic was introduced as someone who has been studying the depletion of bird populations. According to Professor O’Neill, worldwide bird declines are attributable to “horrible” raptors that “are going up in numbers” and are “becoming more aggressive“. He also said a lot of other really stupid and inaccurate things.

You can listen to the broadcast here.

Is it any wonder that raptors continue to be persecuted when idiots like this are given air-time? His comments have probably set back raptor conservation in Ireland by years.

We were intrigued about O’Neill’s credentials in the field of raptor ecology and biology so we checked out the Professor’s webpage on his university’s website. We couldn’t find any evidence of his academic involvement in bird population studies, or any other ecological expertise for that matter. Have a look at his research publications here.

In response to the Professor’s unsubstantiated and moronic vilification of raptors, Dr Allan Mee, a leading raptor ecologist working with the Golden Eagle Trust in Ireland (specifically, managing the White-tailed Eagle Reintroduction Project) has today written to Professor O’Neill (email reproduced here with Dr Mee’s permission) –

Dear Prof O’Neill,

I was astonished at many of your statements made yesterday during your piece on the Pat Kenny show. I’ve made my feelings known to Newstalk and asked then for a right to reply. I’m not saying everything you said was factually incorrect but much was. Even disregarding the jocular tone of the programme the scene was set by focussing on raptors…..“the raptors, which are the horrible birds of prey, they’re going up in numbers some of those and one reason for the decline is they’re getting more aggressive” (no idea of source for this). This is set out as the centrepiece of your argument for the causes of declines in birds (songbirds, all birds?) and sets the tone for the rest of the piece and the general implications that raptors are the prime cause of bird declines.

Please by all means show me a scientific paper which shows this? No I don’t think you will find one.

Please show me a paper which attributes population declines and/or extinction to raptors? I don’t think you will find any evidence of this either apart from possibly the impacts of hen harriers on grouse on grouse moors in the UK where raptors are persecuted (shot, poisoned, trapped) because they conflict with the grouse moor owners desire to artificially maximise grouse numbers and thus profit. Look at all the evidence for declines in birds worldwide (see for example the data published by BirdLife International referenced below) or even closer to home where all our farmland birds and breeding waders have declined to the brink of extinction in many cases. No you won’t find any discussion of raptors as a causal factor there either because there are NO data to support this, rather the overwhelming evidence of declines due to farmland modernisation, loss of hedgerows, ryegrass monocultures replacing traditional meadows etc. Moreover it’s a long held tenet of ecology that predator populations respond to and are maintained by changes in prey populations, NOT the other way round.

Even your claim that climate change only changes the distribution of birds (they just move elsewhere) is wide of the mark. Birds can and do of course “respond” by changing their distribution/extending their ranges as has recently happened with Little Egrets in Ireland (if the raptors don’t get them first). But in many cases birds can’t just go somewhere else. They may be non-migratory or the habitat in “somewhere else” is already saturated with populations of that species. Or they literally have nowhere to go such as arctic relict species such as Ptarmigan on Scottish montane plateaux. The prognosis for such species isn’t good as climate warms up the montane environment and habitat changes so that the montane zoo moves further up the mountain until there is nowhere else to go. For many endemic species confined to a single island site these changes are likely to mean extinction.

You mention Red Kites increasing. Yes these have recently been reintroduced back to Ireland after being lost to human destruction 200-300 years ago. Their numbers are approx 30-50 pairs largely confined to Wicklow. They eat very few birds being largely specialist on rodents (rats), crows (young from nests), young rabbits and even earthworms. Even if they were to feed only on small birds this wouldn’t explain a decline in songbird numbers given that the numbers don’t stack up: 30-50 pairs or some 100-120 individuals compared to some hundreds of thousands of “small birds”, even if these are declining. Don’t take my word for it. Go to Avoca in Wicklow in winter to witness the stunning spectacle of many of the Wicklow kites roosting together just outside the town in winter. No you won’t find any sitting on garden bird feeders waiting for an easy meal and you’ll probably find lots of small birds feeding away happily.

Funnily enough, just to reinforce the point that raptors and healthy populations of small birds (their prey) do coexist, we once had at least 6 species of raptor in Ireland that became extinct in the last 300 years due to human persecution. Along with all that diverse and much larger raptor population there existed a diverse assemblage of bird species and much greater “small bird” populations in historic times when Ireland was still relatively pristine, lots of native woodland, intact bogs, stunningly rich marshes, healthy unpolluted rivers and lakes, beautiful extensive upland blanket bog and moorland etc. Oddly enough small birds did survive and thrive in the presence of all those raptors!

Over the past 10+ years we have been working hard to spread awareness among the public regarding the vital role birds of prey have in our ecosystem in the face to human persecution such as shooting and poisoning. There are plenty of folk out there who take what they hear on radio as “fact” especially when delivered by a Prof and backed up by a well-known presenter. It is a shame this lack of understanding still abounds even in academic circles and has the potential to damage years of conservation work by reinforcing long-held but misguided beliefs.

Over the past 25 years I have worked on species from golden eagles in Scotland, California Condors in the US and currently White-tailed Sea Eagles in Ireland (as well as being chairman of the Irish Raptor Study Group……at our annual conference in Dublin on 31 Jan we have several talks including one on raptor persecution entitled Natural  Injustice – the failure of wildlife crime enforcement in Scotland) where the common theme has been the destructive effects of human misconceptions regarding raptors and their role in ecosystems. It seems like not much has changed.

Allan

Complaints to Newstalk can be emailed to the Station Editor Garrett Harte: garrett@newstalk.com

Complaints to Professor O’Neill can be emailed to: laoneill@tcd.ie

UPDATE: Complaints from other organisations & individuals have already been made – see here.

Another UPDATE: Commentary on cause of bird population declines, and the valuable role of raptors in the environment, provided by real ecology experts from Trinity College, Dublin, not a pretend one – see here.




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