I have read with interest the first-ever report on the poisoning and persecution of birds of prey in Ireland. For those who have not read it, in 2011 five poisoned baits were found, eight birds of prey and three non birds of prey were found deliberately poisoned (as distinct from those that were indirectly poisoned after eating rodents that had been killed by rodenticides); eight birds of prey were found shot and another – a peregrine – was found with a wing cut off. The birds of prey included buzzard, red kite, kestrel, sparrowhawk and peregrine. As in the UK, the victims found will only be a small proportion of those that were actually shot, trapped or poisoned.
Though no golden eagles or white-tailed eagles were found in 2011, in County Kerry alone, between 2007 and 2010, eight white-tailed eagles were found poisoned. In the same period, in County Wicklow, five red kites and two peregrines were found poisoned. What really made the hairs on the back of my neck tingle was the poisoning of a golden eagle with paraquat in Donegal in 2009. I was involved in the murder investigation of a woman poisoned by paraquat, which was laced into a glass of alcohol, and remember that she had a terrible death, with her insides almost being on fire. Man’s inhumanity to man – and birds!
Most deliberate poisonings of birds of prey in the UK relate either to game rearing interests or, to a lesser degree to racing pigeon interests. Few seem related to farming. I suspect, however, that farming interests claim a large proportion of the victims in Ireland, though crows in some cases may be the intended victims. This demonstrates clearly how indiscriminate the setting out of poisoned baits in the countryside is, with dogs sometimes as victims and unsuspecting humans as potential victims. Though golden eagles and white-tailed eagles may occasionally take farmers’ lambs, buzzards, red kites and kestrels benefit farming by removing rabbits and rodents. Peregrines are no threat at all to agriculture, only taking birds, but living in the countryside does not necessarily gift a person with either a good knowledge of nature or ecology.
I was pleased to see that the report includes a protocol for the investigation of the deaths of birds of prey and other wildlife, with the main partners being the Veterinary Laboratory Service (Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and the Marine), the State Laboratory (Dept. of Finance) and National Parks and Wildlife Service (Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht). The first of seven key aims is the collection of evidence to support prosecutions for illegal poisoning. So where does the Gardai feature in all of this? The National Parks and Wildlife Service does a tremendous job but they lack all of the policing powers. I don’t think I’m being unfair to them when I suggest that the interviewing skills of their officers are not as finely honed as those of the Gardai. These two organisations each have a responsibility for enforcing wildlife law in Ireland. The Gardai has been dragging its feet with its share of the enforcement responsibility. Joined-up investigations, utilising the different skills of each of these organisations, might just begin to get results.