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Widespread revulsion at the illegal poisoning of rare, protected Hen Harrier in Co. Meath
Conservation groups in Ireland, UK and Isle of Man unite to condemn this heinous crime.
30th January 2020

BirdWatch Ireland, Ireland’s largest conservation charity, is utterly appalled by the illegal killing of yet another protected bird of prey in Ireland. The victim this time was a female Hen Harrier called Mary, who hatched in the summer of 2019 from a nest on the Isle of Man and met her tragic end in a field in Drumconrath, Co. Meath. She was fitted with a tracking device as part of the EU Hen Harrier LIFE project, which Manx BirdLife and the RSPB, our UK BirdLife International partner, had been using to monitor her movements and survival.

There was great excitement when the tracking data revealed that Mary had flown westwards from the Isle of Man to Co. Meath. Unfortunately, on 2nd November the data from her tracking device revealed that she had died suddenly. RSPB Investigations and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) found her body on land managed for pheasant shooting. The NPWS investigation revealed that she had been illegally poisoned: a dead pigeon, which had been laced with the banned toxin Carbofuran, which is dangerous to animals and humans, along with poisoned chunks of meat were also found at the scene. Pieces of poisoned meat were also found in Mary’s body, proving that she had eaten some of the bait and succumbed. The use both of Carbofuran and of poisoned meat bait, are serious criminal offences.

Hen Harriers are fully protected in Ireland under the EU Birds Directive and under the national Wildlife Act 1976 (as amended), to kill or injure one is a criminal offence. Despite this, Hen Harriers and other protected birds of prey continue to be killed, or disappear in suspicious circumstances.

John Lusby, Raptor Conservation Officer at BirdWatch Ireland, said, “It is devastating to learn of the fate of this bird. Each Hen Harrier is precious, and particularly those from the Isle of Man and from Britain, where their numbers have been decimated by illegal killing.
“For this bird to have travelled to Ireland, with so many people invested in its survival and eagerly following its journey, only to suffer the same fate at the hands of wildlife criminals is truly devastating. We are appalled, but sadly not surprised, as this is far from an isolated incident. The fact is that, of the small number of birds of prey that have been fitted with tracking devices in Ireland or which have travelled here, a high proportion has been found in similar circumstances to Mary. We urge the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Gardaí to take the appropriate steps to bring the perpetrators to justice, and we offer our assistance in this regard.

NPWS is responsible for recording and investigating incidents of wildlife crime, and established the RAPTOR (Recording and Addressing Persecution and Threats to Our Raptors) protocol for this purpose, to which Lusby commented, “The NPWS has recently stepped up efforts to record incidents of illegal killing of birds of prey, but there needs to be more effective investigation and enforcement of wildlife crimes, and better liaison with the Gardai, otherwise we should expect that the horrific killing of protected birds of prey, such as this one, will continue”.

“Mary was a particularly special bird,” said Niall Hatch, Public Relations, Branches and Development Officer with BirdWatch Ireland. “So many people were invested in her survival and followed her journey from her nest on the Isle of Man to her arrival in Ireland. That she was illegally killed is incredibly damaging to Ireland’s reputation, and highlights that the illegal poisoning of raptors remains a disgusting and sinister element in our countryside and continues to affect our wildlife.”

Neil Morris, Managing Director of Manx Birdlife, said, “Despite a great deal of effort by many dedicated individuals and agencies, including the Manx Ringing Group and RSPB, little is known about the movements of Manx Hen Harriers. We know our young birds have a tendency to wander, in common with other bird of prey species, but none has yet survived long enough away from the Isle of Man to either settle to nest or to return to the island. We applaud efforts to understand the circumstances of Mary’s premature demise and to demand a full and transparent investigation.”

Martin Harper, Global Conservation Director at RSPB, said, “Here is another Hen Harrier which has failed to make it through its first year, thanks to the spectre of illegal persecution. Time and time again, satellite-tagging is pinpointing illegal persecution and critically proving that young Hen Harriers are being killed before they have the chance to breed and bolster the fragile British population. Raptor persecution in connection with land managed for shooting is the number one threat to the Hen Harrier in Britain.”

The Hen Harrier population is under significant pressure in Ireland too, and the species’ population declines here have been well documented. Conservation efforts to protect Hen Harriers and restore their populations have been established, funded by taxpayers’ money. The actions of the criminals responsible for the illegal killing of this bird compromise such efforts, damage Ireland’s reputation internationally and have a devastating effect on our wildlife: they cannot be tolerated.

6th April 2019, BirdWatch Ireland has secured funding from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine to coordinate a citizen science led breeding Lapwing survey this spring.

We are calling on the public and farmers alike to submit records of any breeding Lapwing they know of, in their area or on their farms. The press release reads:

"Calling on citizen scientists to help record breeding Lapwing BirdWatch Ireland's Project Lapwing is calling for the public's help to collect breeding Lapwing records from around the country. If you know of Lapwing nesting in your area, we want to know about them. The survey, funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, will be collecting observations of breeding Lapwing from around the country. The Lapwing which is sometimes called the Peewit or Green Plover is in trouble in Ireland suffering huge declines in their breeding numbers over the past number of decades. Declines in breeding Lapwing mirror those experienced by other ground nesting species such as the Curlew who's dwindling status has been well documented. The most recent nationwide study: Bird Atlas 2007-11, reported a 53% decrease in its breeding range in Ireland in the last 40 years whilst numbers at previous strongholds such as the Shannon Callows have declined by more than 80% in recent decades. Project Lapwing coordinator Ricky Whelan said: "It's possible to see huge Lapwing flocks in winter time in Ireland, which gives a false impression of their numbers. In fact, breeding pairs are scarce which is cause for real concern." Whelan added, "Lapwing however, are still relatively widespread so we have an opportunity to intervene before they are at the brink of breeding extinction in Ireland such as where Curlew have found themselves in recent years." As a result of these serious and ongoing declines, the Lapwing is now red-listed on the Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland list and has been highlighted as a conservation priority in the Government's Prioritised Action Framework 2014-2020. BirdWatch Ireland are appealing for your records of breeding Lapwing this spring and summer. This will help build a more accurate and updated picture of breeding Lapwing numbers and distribution in Ireland and give further insight into the types of farmland habitats in which Lapwings are nesting.

To take part and start submitting records follow the link to the National Biodiversity Data Centre survey page https://records.biodiversityireland.ie/record/project-lapwing#7/53.455/-8.016

BirdWatch Ireland are running a free Project Lapwing workshop at Lough Boora, Co.Offaly on Tuesday, April 16th. This morning workshop aims to get attendees familiar with Lapwing, their ecology and breeding behaviour. For more information email rwhelan@birdwatchireland.ie "

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© BirdWatch Galway 2019