Ireland publishes its first persecution report, with interesting results

94f6f996ec3a866ce6d587d28bd5b809_LThe Irish National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has published its first national raptor persecution report, relating to reported incidents in 2011.

The NPWS issued the following press release:

“33 poisoning or persecution incidents affecting birds of prey were recorded in Ireland in 2011, according to a report published today by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. 

15 birds of prey were confirmed poisoned, and four more suspected cases were recorded. 8 birds of prey were shot.

Some of the deaths were accidental, but many were deliberate. The most frequent casualty was the red kite, a native species that was recently re-introduced to Ireland. It is believed that seven of the ten kites found dead were poisoned by eating rats that had themselves been poisoned. As well as red kite, other raptor species that were deliberately targeted included peregrine falcon, buzzard, sparrowhawk, and kestrel.

The report is the result of cooperation between the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine’s Regional Veterinary Laboratories and the State Laboratory, and also involves An Garda Síochána, the Golden Eagle Trust and BirdWatch Ireland. 

The report notes that the use of tracking devices on birds has enabled dead birds to be found, but this also means that the true levels of mortality are likely to be significantly higher.

The use of poison has been greatly restricted under EU law in recent years. It is illegal to poison any animal or birds other than rats, mice or rabbits in Ireland and only then using certain registered products. The Campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Use has recently been set up with funding from industry. This campaign aims to promote best practice so that rat poison in particular should not get into the wildlife food chain where it harms owls, kites and other birds of prey.

The poisoning of golden and white-tailed sea eagles has been a particular problem in recent years, but fortunately in 2011, no poisonings were recorded. Records of poisoning and persecution in 2012 are currently being analysed and the second annual report is due for release shortly.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Mr Jimmy Deenihan, T.D., welcomed the report. ”This gives us at least a partial view of the scale of the problem in Ireland”, he said. ”It is simply not acceptable for majestic birds of prey and other wildlife to be persecuted or poisoned. First it is illegal, but just as important it harms our reputation as a clean, green country. I would urge anyone to report such incidents to the National Parks and Wildlife Service in my Department. There are alternatives to poison which can be successfully used when control is essential ” he said.”

Here is a copy of the report: Persecution Report Ireland 2011

The publication of this report, and the anticipated future annual reports, demonstrates a basic but very important step forward, allowing the authorities and NGOs to monitor and record raptor persecution incidents in a coordinated effort, to help tackle the issue as well as to improve public awareness and education.

The report includes the usual list of victims and the substances that were used to kill them (Alphachloralose, Carbofuran etc) although we did notice one particular substance that was less familiar – Nitroxynil (also called Nitroxinil). As far as we understand, Nitroxynil is an active ingredient in the veterinary treatment of cattle and sheep, for example in sheep dips. According to this report, Nitroxynil  was detected in the carcases of three poisoned white-tailed eagles and one golden eagle, as well as in several recovered baits, including an egg and two lagomorphs (rabbit or hare).

It would appear, given that it was detected in different baits, that Nitroxynil has been used deliberately in Ireland to target any animal that might scavenge from a bait. It’s also possible that some of the deaths were from accidental poisoning, although fallen stock should not be left out on the hill.

We’re not certain, but we don’t recall seeing Nitroxynil listed in any recent toxicology reports published in Scotland by SASA. We don’t know if SASA tests for this substance when they’re presented with a potentially poisoned animal – it would be fair to say that SASA can’t test for every known poison due to resource constraints, and it’s reasonable for them just to test for the more commonly-used poisons. However, we have noticed in recent SASA reports that there are quite a number of birds for which SASA have been unable to establish the cause of death (i.e. the poisons they regularly screen for have not been detected) even though the circumstances of the bird’s death may have been suspicious. If SASA are not already testing for Nitroxynil, we hope that they pay attention to the frequency of detection in Irish cases and consider including it in the list of poisons for which they routinely screen.

Well done to the Irish NPWS and their project partners for getting this report published.

In Scotland we’re still waiting for the promised 2012 wildlife crime report from the Scottish Government. Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse told the Police Wildlife Crime Conference in March 2013 that his staff were working on the report. Earlier this month, we asked him if he could tell us when we might expect to see it published (see here). According to our calendar (he has to respond within 20 working days), Mr Wheelhouse is due to provide a response to that question, and the other questions we posed, by this coming Wednesday…..

UPDATE 29th July: SASA are on the ball – they’ve recently started to test for Nitroxynil – see here.

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