Dead buzzard found hanging from a tree in County Down

A dead buzzard has been found hanging from a tree in County Down.

The bird was discovered last Saturday (19th November 2022) in woodland near Clandeboye on the Ulster Way by independent unionist Alex Easton MLA, who was walking his dog. He notified the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) who sent out a forensic team the next day.

Photographs from the scene show the dead buzzard, tied by its neck to the tree by what looks like a plastic bag:

There’s some very odd media coverage of this story in the Belfast Telegraph, where Alex Easton is quoted as saying:

The PSNI forensic guys think it was poisoned and put there to attract other birds of prey who would themselves be poisoned when they fed from it.

They told me they had seen the same sort of incident elsewhere in Northern Ireland. They removed the buzzard and are carrying out an investigation. I hope those responsible are caught.

This beautiful bird should have been left alone to enjoy its life. Other animal life was also put at risk, as the poison could easily have killed a dog.

I’d never seen a buzzard before. I would have much preferred to view this stunning creature in full flight, not hanging dead from a tree. As a wildlife lover, I believe we should be protecting such birds, not poisoning them.”

To be clear, there isn’t any evidence yet that the buzzard has been poisoned and even if it had, hanging it from a tree ‘to attract other birds of prey who would themselves be poisoned when they fed from it’ is the oddest suggestion and demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of how raptors forage.

The statement from a PSNI spokesperson, as quoted in the paper, is much more circumspect and appropriate under the circumstances:

Police in Bangor recovered a dead buzzard from the Ulster Way area, Clandeboye Road, on Saturday, November 19, following a report from a member of the public.

The bird has been sent for a post-mortem examination and other tests to determine its cause of death. Enquiries are ongoing.”

Alex Easton did the right thing by notifying the police to investigate. If anyone has any information that could assist the inquiry the PSNI crime reference number is 695/19/11/22.

RSPB’s 2021 Birdcrime report reveals second-highest figure on record

Last week the RSPB published its latest annual Birdcrime report covering the period Jan – Dec 2021.

The headlines from this rigorously-compiled data can be summarised as follows:

  • Protected birds of prey continue to be illegally killed in high numbers, particularly in relation to land managed for gamebird shooting
  • Birdcrime report reveals 80 of 108 confirmed incidents were in England alone: the second-highest figure for England on record
  • Norfolk is now the county with the worst record, followed by Dorset. North Yorkshire, which has topped the table for consecutive years, is now third.
  • ‘Nothing will change’ without urgent government action

The RSPB published two press releases about the report – one covering the crimes in England (here) and one covering the crimes in Scotland (here).

In 2021, yet again, over two thirds (71%) of all confirmed incidents of raptor persecution took place on land managed for gamebird shooting, where birds of prey are seen by some as a threat to gamebird stocks and illegally killed.

[Infographic from Birdcrime 2021]

Unsurprisingly, representatives from the game-shooting industry, all claiming to have ‘zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution, have dismissed the data and some have gone as far as calling the RSPB ‘liars’.

The funniest response I’ve read so far is that written by the Yorkshire Dales Moorland Group, who published this on Facebook:

‘The RSPB has released its Bird Crime Report and once again it predictably focuses an inordinate amount of attention on the gamekeeping profession. Why is the YDMG not embracing the report and working with the RSPB to improve the fortunes of moorland birds? Well to put it bluntly, the report is pure exaggeration, wordsmithing for self-promotion and simply the unjustified stigmatisation of a rural occupation and craft without basis. YDMG will refrain from using too many emotional remarks about the RSPB report but suffice it to say the moorland gamekeeping community is offended by the report and it’s [sic] misrepresentations…’.

It’s worth remembering that members of the Yorkshire Dales Moorland Group, like so many of the other regional moorland groups, have for years been at the centre of police investigations into the illegal killing of birds of prey. Indeed, raptor persecution is such a problem in this area that the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has had to include the tackling of illegal raptor persecution as an objective in the Park’s official Management Plan (here) and last year was so incensed at the continued killing, the Park Authority was moved to issue a press statement about it (here).

Of course, disputing the RSPB’s persecution figures is now an annual pantomime by the game-shooting industry, because doing anything else would mean having to admit that some of their members are still killing these birds, nearly 70 years after it became illegal to do so. It seems it’s far easier for them to attack the reputation and credibility of the RSPB than get their own house in order and self-regulate.

In Scotland, this tactic worked for many years but eventually the weight of evidence against the grouse shooters was so great that the Scottish Government was forced to act and we now see the introduction of new legislation, brought in specifically to take action against those who continue to trap, poison and shoot birds of prey.

In England we still have a Government intent on wilful blindness, largely due to many in power having a vested interest in the game-shooting world. However, I read a tweet by ecologist and author Ian Carter recently, who often has a knack of hitting the nail on the head:

I think Ian is spot on with this and I think he summarises the views of many moderates on this subject, including mine.

The RSPB’s 2021 Birdcrime report can be downloaded below, along with the Data Appendices detailing the crimes:

Raptor persecution crime fighters win national awards

I attended the UK Wildlife Crime Conference over the weekend, where law enforcers, statutory agencies and NGOs gather to hear the latest views, approaches, successes and challenges of combating wildlife crime in the UK. 

A feature of this annual event is the WWF-sponsored awards given to those whose work deserves national recognition.

This year, I was delighted to see two of those awards being won by teams whose work has focused on tackling the illegal persecution of birds of prey.

First up was Dr Eimear Rooney and Dr Marc Ruddock from the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group, who won WWF Wildlife Crime Partner of the Year 2022:

To say their award was richly deserved is a massive understatement. I’ve watched them pour their hearts and souls into raptor conservation in Northern Ireland for many, many years and I can’t think of more deserving recipients.

Without their efforts, providing help, advice and training to an army of raptor monitoring volunteers, as well as doing their own fieldwork, as well as writing grant applications, as well as writing reports, as well as producing educational material, as well as fundraising, as well as hosting conferences, as well as political engagement, as well as engaging in multi-partner initiatives to tackle raptor persecution, often at the expense of spending time with their young families, and still managing to be the most upbeat and fun-loving people to be around, then raptors in Northern Ireland would be in a far more perilous state than they are currently.

I’m thrilled to see their efforts recognised at long last; well done Eimear & Marc!

The second team to win an award for its work tackling raptor persecution was a multi-agency team working on ‘Operation Tantallon’, which is a huge, ongoing investigation into the alleged theft and laundering of wild peregrines in Scotland and northern England.

This investigation team includes Police Scotland, Scottish SPCA, NWCU and SASA, with additional support from members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group. So far three people have been charged with offences, including a serving police officer (see here) and a part-time gamekeeper (here).

Members of Operation Tantallon received the Wildlife Crime Operation of the Year Award 2022 from Megan McCubbin (photo by Guy Shorrock):

The case is ongoing, the defendants are reportedly facing over 100 charges, and a wide range of investigative techniques have been deployed including surveillance, peregrine DNA analysis, searches under warrants, bankers warrants, cyber crime and the Proceeds of Crime Act.

The scale of this effort to bring a prosecution in a raptor persecution case is virtually unheard of in the UK and the ramifications, should the defendants be found guilty, will be huge. Further details of the case will be made available as the case progresses through the courts.

The dedication and determination of those involved in the multi-agency investigation has been outstanding and it’s good to see their hard work recognised. Well done, all!

2020 was ‘worst year on record’ for persecution of birds of prey in UK, says new RSPB report

Press release from RSPB (27th October 2021)

The RSPB’s Birdcrime 2020 report has revealed 137 known, confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution last year – the highest number recorded in 30 years.

Produced annually by the RSPB’s Investigations unit, Birdcrime is the UK’s only full data set on confirmed incidents of raptor persecution – namely the illegal shooting, trapping and poisoning of birds of prey.

There were 137 confirmed incidents in 2020: the highest total since recording began in 1990. The overall rise in numbers can be attributed to the unprecedented number of incidents detected in England (99) during 2020, many of which occurred during Covid-19 lockdown.

The victims included 58 buzzards, 20 red kites, 16 peregrines, six sparrowhawks, three goshawks and other protected birds of prey including rare hen harriers and golden eagles. Based on population studies for significant species, it’s believed that the true number killed is far greater, with many crimes going undetected and unreported.

The crimes took place across a variety of land uses. However, a minimum of 85 (62%) of all confirmed incidents were in connection with land managed for or connected to gamebird shooting. Bird of prey persecution shows a clear link to pheasant, partridge and grouse shooting, with incidents being more widespread in lowland areas and more concentrated in upland areas. In addition to Birdcrime data, peer-reviewed scientific studies based on satellite tagging and bird of prey populations, crime data and court convictions, show that raptor persecution has the most negative conservation impact on driven grouse moors. A Government study in 2019, identified criminal persecution by humans as the main factor suppressing the UK population of hen harriers: a red-listed bird species which nests on heather moorland.

North Yorkshire is the worst place for birdcrime in the UK for the seventh year in a row. Twenty-six of the 137 confirmed incidents occurred in North Yorkshire. Of these two thirds were directly related to grouse shooting and a further four incidents to other types of shooting. Victims in the county included 16 buzzards, two peregrine falcons, two red kites and one goshawk.

All birds of prey are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To intentionally kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail. Yet in 2020, there were only two prosecutions for raptor persecution offences.

The RSPB is calling on the governments of the UK to act now and implement a system of licensing for driven grouse shooting, to create greater accountability and ensure all estates operate to legal and high environmental standards. Failure to comply with licensing requirements should result in licence revocation for a defined period and therefore removal of the right to shoot as a meaningful deterrent to illegal behaviours.

The wildlife conservation charity is also urging for action to end other associated environmentally damaging land management practices, including a ban on burning on deep peat. The RSPB would also like to see a significant reduction in the numbers of non-native pheasants and red-legged partridges, currently millions, released into the countryside each year as there is growing evidence of environmental harm.

Mark Thomas, the RSPB’s Head of Investigations said “Although we have become used to the illegal killing of birds of prey, the figure for 2020 is truly shocking.

We are in a climate and nature emergency. All land must be managed legally and sustainably for people and for nature, and not accelerate the worrying loss of UK wildlife we are already experiencing.

The RSPB welcomes the announcement by the Scottish Government to licence driven grouse moors there, but this has to happen now in England as well. Licensing should be conditional on compliance with wildlife protection laws, and if breached, should result in removal of the right to shoot. Those shoot operators who behave legally and responsibly should have nothing to fear from this sanction”.

Chief Inspector Kevin Kelly, Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) said “Raptor Persecution is a National Wildlife Crime Priority. This report puts an emphasis on why it’s a priority and why it will remain a priority for years to come. I am disappointed in such a significant rise in incidents as the crime figures go a long way to undermine the hard work that’s done daily to tackle raptor persecution. I feel the Priority Delivery Group holds the key to success, this has gone through a period of change, bringing leadership, accountability and some fresh positive partners in. That said, the hard work lays ahead of us and we will be judged on our actions, not our words.”

ENDS

The RSPB 2020 Birdcrime report can be downloaded here:

The Birdcrime 2020 appendices (breakdown of data) can be downloaded here:

So you know when the game-shooting organisations say that raptor persecution is in decline, it was an historical issue but it’s no longer a thing, that the industry has a ‘zero tolerance policy’ towards raptor persecution and it’s now just the work of a rogue keeper or two?

They’re lying.

2020 was the worst year on record.

Just think about that.

UPDATE 16.00hrs: “They all know what is going on, and they cover it up” – police inspector’s view on gamekeepers and raptor killing (here)

Police searches as peregrine confirmed illegally poisoned with Carbofuran

Back in March this year there were reports that two dead peregrines had been found underneath the iconic Samson & Goliath cranes in Belfast. Experts from the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group suspected the birds had been poisoned but there was also a potential issue with Avian Flu in the area which hadn’t been ruled out.

[One of the poisoned peregrines. Photo by the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group]

Fast forward four months and an article has appeared today on the Farming Life website as follows:

Police confirm peregrine falcon poisoned

Police have confirmed that a bird of prey found dead in the Queens Island area of Belfast earlier this year was poisoned.

It was reported in March that a Peregrine Falcon was found dead. The bird was retrieved and underwent testing to ascertain the exact circumstances. Enquiries have been ongoing. Today (July 28th), officers, accompanied by colleagues from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), carried out searches at two premises.

Con. Phelan said: “We can now confirm the Peregrine Falcon was poisoned with Aldicarb and Carbofuran. This is very concerning. These are dangerous substances. We would remind the public if there is a suspicion of poisoning on any bird of prey to leave the bird/s and/or bait in situ and call the PSNI as soon as possible.”

PSNI Wildlife Liaison Officer, Emma Meredith, said: “We have been working with our partner, NIEA, and our enquiries are ongoing. If anyone has information then we would be really keen to hear from you.”

Anyone with information can contact police on the non-emergency number 101 or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

ENDS

There seems to be some confusion here about whether it was one or two peregrines poisoned, but nevertheless, the detection of Aldicarb and Carbofuran in at least one peregrine is a clear indication of criminal activity.

Presumably the police didn’t release the toxicology results until today as they’d have wanted to undertake their searches without alerting any potential suspects, just in case those poisons were still on the premises.

Peregrines have long been persecuted in Northern Ireland, mostly linked to pigeon racing rather than gamekeeping, and the species has suffered population decline as a result (see here). Undertaking searches is a big step forward there so today’s searches are a very welcome move by the police and their partners at the NIEA.

Hopefully there’ll be some progress that’ll lead to a prosecution in this case. The illegal poisoning of any raptor in this day and age is an outrage, but to do this so close to Belfast city centre, with such dangerous poisons, is reckless beyond belief.

Job vacancy: RSPB Investigations Officer, Northern Ireland

The RSPB is recruiting for a brand new position in Northern Ireland – an Investigations Officer to help tackle the ongoing crimes of raptor persecution across the country.

Previous reports (e.g. see here) have documented the scale and extent of raptor persecution in Northern Ireland, where peregrines, red kites and buzzards are the most frequent victims, often as a result of shooting, trapping or poisoning.

[This red kite was found dead on her nest in County Down in 2018 after being illegally poisoned (see here). Photo by RSPB]

The new post of Investigations Officer is initially a two-year contract, based in Northern Ireland, and the RSPB is looking to fill the vacancy ASAP.

For full details of the post and information about how to apply, please click here.

Closing date for applications is 9th August 2021.

Police warn public as suspected poisoned bait found in Co Tyrone

From the Ulster Herald two days ago:

Suspected poison left on bait near Rousky (County Tyrone)

THE Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI) in Omagh are appealing for information following a report of suspected poison being left on bait in the Crockanboy Road area of Rousky.

It is understood that they were notified of the discovery of suspected poisoned bait on Monday morning, May 11.

Following liaison with the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group and our own Wildlife Officers, we believe there may be various species of protected wildlife in the area,” said Constable Collum.

It’s our responsibility to investigate cases of suspected wildlife crime and my appeal is two-fold.

We are keen to identify those responsible and are appealing to anyone with information, or who noticed any suspicious activity in the area, to contact us on 101 quoting reference 466 of 11/05/20.

Also, I would take this opportunity to stress, to those responsible, the broad ranging consequences of such actions.  Not only are you committing a crime and potentially killing precious species of wildlife. You are also presenting a risk to domestic pets and indeed children or anyone coming into contact with the poison or poisoned animal.”

Information can also be provided to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, which is anonymous and gives people the power to speak up and stop crime.

ENDS

The illegal poisoning of birds of prey is still very much an issue in Northern Ireland, as described in a recent ten year review published by the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime Northern Ireland last winter (see here). Carbofuran, a highly toxic banned pesticide, remains the poison of choice.

Buzzard shot & wounded in Co Tyrone

From the Belfast Telegraph (14/11/19):

BIRD OF PREY FOUND SHOT THREE TIMES ON MEND, SAY OMAGH VETS

A bird of prey is recovering after being shot three times in Co Tyrone.

X-rays performed by Omagh practice Corry & O’Hare Vets revealed that the buzzard had received a fractured bone following the attack in Newtownstewart.

Three round pellets were also found lodged in various parts of the female bird’s body.

It is unclear whether or not the buzzard – a species afforded the highest level of wildlife protection – was shot deliberately.

As it is illegal to hunt protected birds, the incident has been reported to the PSNI.

The penalty for committing a wildlife crime in Northern Ireland – including shooting, poisoning, trapping and nest destruction of a bird of prey – is a fine of up to £5,000 and a six-month custodial sentence.

Louise O’Hare from Corry & O’Hare Vets said the injured bird was brought to them last week after being found unable to fly by a member of the public.

ENDS

It’s good that this shooting has been reported in the media but the quality of reporting is pretty poor. If those ‘three round pellets’ found in the buzzard’s body were shotgun pellets it’s likely the bird was hit once and sprayed with shot, not ‘shot three times’. And does it matter whether the buzzard was targeted deliberately or not? If it wasn’t, then shooting it was reckless and is still an offence.

Last week the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Northern Ireland published a ten-year review of raptor persecution (2009-2018) which highlighted buzzards as the most frequently reported victims (followed by red kite then peregrine). Technology such as satellite tags and nest cameras are now being deployed in an attempt to crack down on the criminals. You can follow this project on the Hawk Eyes website (here) and read our commentary on it here.

Raptor persecution in Northern Ireland: ten year review and new strategies to tackle these crimes

Press release from the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Northern Ireland (PAW NI):

Birds of prey to be safeguarded by new technology

Satellite tracking devices are to be fitted onto birds of prey and nesting site surveillance installed, in the latest fight against wildlife crime.

‘Hawk-Eyes’, an advanced technology project, is being launched by the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Northern Ireland (PAW NI), alongside their ‘10 Years of Persecution’ Report.

The report reveals that from 2009-18, there were a total of 72 incidents of confirmed raptor persecution in Northern Ireland, resulting in the death or injury of 66 birds of prey and the destruction of two nesting sites.

Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Wildlife Officer Dr Jon Lees said buzzards and red kites are amongst the most common victims of persecution: “Sadly, a small proportion of our population still seem to think it’s ok to destroy these magnificent birds at the expense of the environment and the rest of the community.

“Raptors such as buzzards, red kites, peregrine falcons and Sparrowhawks, have been illegally targeted right across Northern Ireland to such an extent some areas are at risk of losing their natural top predators,” explained Dr Lees.

The methods these criminals use, such as poisoned bait, are often highly dangerous, putting livestock, pets and people at risk. These offenders care little for people’s safety. We rely heavily on the vigilance of the public to report these crimes and any evidence to the police or Crimestoppers,” Dr Lees added.

The “Hawk-Eyes” project, is funded and supported by the Department of Justice, – Assets Recovery Community Scheme (ARCS) and run through PAW NI, which brings together government Departments, PSNI and other enforcement agencies, environmental organisations, animal welfare groups and country sports associations with the common goal of combating wildlife crime through publicity, education and campaigning.

Some of the birds’ tracking information will be publicly available on the project website at http://wildlifecrimeni-hawkeyes.com, which will allow people to help protect these special birds by reporting such crimes.

PAW NI encourages people across Northern Ireland to be vigilant. If anyone sees or knows of any wildlife crime, report it to the PSNI by calling 101 or, in an emergency, 999. Crime can be reported anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

ENDS

The ten year review report (2009-2018) can be downloaded here: PAW NI Raptor Persecution Report 2009 – 2018

The use of technology (nest cameras and satellite tags) in the Hawk Eyes project is very interesting, especially as it’s being funded by the Department of Justice’s Assets Recovery Community Scheme, where proceeds of crimes are distributed to help community projects. It would be great to see this approach repeated in England, Scotland and Wales.

Of most interest to us is that these tags are being deployed primarily to aid the detection of wildlife crime. Typically, up until now the main reason for deploying satellite tags has been as part of an ecological research project – the subsequent detection of wildlife crime hotspots (through the discovery of poisoned/shot/trapped sat tagged birds or the suspicious disappearance of tagged birds) has been a by-product of that research and not its primary aim. This is a very clear change of approach from the PAW NI and its also very pleasing to see that the police are key partners in it. Good stuff.

Will the use of satellite tag technology help to identify the criminals as well as the hotspots? Quite possibly. It doesn’t work in England, Scotland or Wales where there are large game shooting estates and where evidence can be quickly destroyed with relative ease (no witnesses around and thousands of acres in which to hide corpses/tags) and where multiple gamekeepers can hide in the crowd (a prosecution isn’t possible unless an individual suspect is identified) but the situation in Northern Ireland is quite different.

Raptor killing in Northern Ireland isn’t such an ‘organised crime’ as it is in the rest of the UK because there are very few large game shooting estates. It seems to be more localised and opportunistic in Northern Ireland, so the perpetrators aren’t so clued up on how to avoid detection. The deterrent effect of simply knowing that these birds might be tagged may also be significant in Northern Ireland because the raptor killers there won’t have wealthy employers prepared to fork out thousands of pounds for legal defence as they do on the game shooting estates in England and Scotland. The risk of getting caught and being afraid of the consequences might just do the trick in Northern Ireland.

Well done and good luck to the PAW NI team – a lot of people will be watching this project with interest.

Poisoning suspected after discovery of dead peregrine & tethered pigeon ‘bait’

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is investigating a suspected poisoning incident after raptor workers found the body of a dead young peregrine and the remains of what had probably been a live tethered pigeon close to the peregrine’s nest site. An adult peregrine is reported as ‘missing’ from the site.

The gruesome discovery was made by members of the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group (NIRSG) in the Scraghey area of Castleberg, Co Tyrone, on 10 July 2018. Toxicology results are awaited.

[Photo of the dead young peregrine, by NIRSG]

[Photo of the rock, baler twine & remains of a pigeon leg found at the site, by NIRSG]

Smearing a live pigeon with poison and then tethering it close to a peregrine breeding site to act as a flapping ‘bait’ is a barbaric yet all too common crime. We only blogged about a similar case a few weeks ago (see here).

Jim Wells from the NIRSG said: “The vigilance of several members of the Raptor Study Group and the very quick response by the PSNI have revealed what is likely to be one of the most serious incidents of peregrine persecution in Northern Ireland for several years.

This is nasty, very cruel and callous. We don’t know what the suspected poison is, but if someone had come along and tried to help the pigeon it could have hurt them too.

This has happened on several occasions in areas of Co Tyrone. There are around 15 sites in Tyrone, it’s an important breeding ground. But in some areas there is still a culture of poisoning birds, which is very damaging to the overall population.

All of the peregrine sites in Co Tyrone are monitored on a regular basis every year. This research has revealed that illegal persecution remains a problem in some parts of the county“.

Dr Eimear Rooney of the NIRSG and a representative on the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime NI said there are between 80 and 90 breeding pairs of peregrines across the whole of Northern Ireland, of which around 55 pairs are successful in producing young. She said:

The population of peregrines in Northern Ireland is limited by available nest sites and thus has remained fairly stable for several yearsHowever, illegal killing could result in serious implication for the viability of the species here. Peregrine falcons are primary predators and removal of such predators from our ecosystems can have serious consequences on a wide range of species.

It’s deeply frustrating to think that someone went out of their way to target these birds in such a heinous manner“.

Anyone with information about this suspected crime is encouraged to contact the PSNI (Tel: 101) quoting incident number 1550.10/7/18.

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