West Cork incident was largest poisoning of birds of prey in Ireland for decades

A €5,000 reward has been offered for information leading to prosecution of those responsible for the 2019 poisoning of 23 buzzards on West Cork farmland
West Cork incident was largest poisoning of birds of prey in Ireland for decades

A common buzzard of the type in the West Cork case of poisoning of 23 birds with an illegal insecticide. Buzzards prey on small mammals, birds, rabbits, insects, earthworms, and amphibians. Picture: iStock

Heritage Minister Malcolm Noonan will meet with BirdWatch Ireland and other organisations to advance proposals to set up a wildlife crime unit.

Meanwhile, a €5,000 reward has been offered for information leading to prosecution of those responsible for the 2019 poisoning of 23 buzzards on West Cork farmland.

The reward has been put up by the Amica Projects, a registered animal welfare charity.

Anyone with information is invited to come forward in confidence and help Amica Projects bring the perpetrator to justice.

Green Party TD and Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan said there is also a commitment in the programme for government to a comprehensively review the role, function and resourcing of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), which has responsibility for protection and conservation of natural heritage.

Deputy Noonan was responding in the Dáil to Cork South West Fianna Fail TD Christopher O’Sullivan, who said no prosecutions had been brought in the West Cork case, and he understood investigators are no closer to bringing any prosecutions.

“Now more than ever, we need a dedicated wildlife crime investigation unit, because all of the fantastic work and citizen science we are doing, as well as the recreation of biodiversity, is worth nothing unless we can stamp out wildlife crimes.”

Also in the Dáil, Tanaiste and Enterprise Minister Leo Varadkar has said evidence of wildlife crimes usually involves either a witness or a video.

Without those, it is hard to secure a prosecution.

He was responding to Cork South West Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns, who said very few investigations result in prosecutions.

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Catherine Martin recently told the Dáil there have been successful prosecutions in cases including persecution of badgers, illegal hunting of deer, illegal hunting of hares with packs of dogs, poisoning of raptor birds, and illegal hedge cutting and clearance of vegetation.

From 2014 to date, there were 78 successful prosecutions.

According to BirdWatch Ireland, the poisoning of the 23 buzzards on farmland between Bandon and Timoleague about seven months ago is the single largest poisoning of birds of prey in Ireland for decades, and the largest since legislation was amended to ban the use of poison meat baits in 2010.

Former Heritage Minister Josepha Madigan had told the Dáil in May the Garda had specifically asked her department not to raise the matter publicly, because they did not want to jeopardise the chances of a successful prosecution. “That is why, even though the incident occurred in January, it only came to light recently,” said Minister Madigan.

She confirmed the NPWS view that the case is a deliberate poisoning of wildlife, and not related to any agricultural practices in the area, nor to the landowner who reported it. “I am grateful to the landowner for alerting the NPWS to this very serious incident.”

Testing of carcases by the Regional Veterinary Laboratory in Cork confirmed that the cause of death was the insecticide Carbofuran, banned in Ireland since June 2009. “While it is no longer legally available anywhere in Europe, it is known to be illegally procured and used by that minority of people who persecute wildlife, particularly birds of prey,” said Minister Madigan.

“There were therefore two crimes, namely, the purchase of the substance and the deliberate poisoning in such a malicious act.”

Buzzards became extinct in Ireland in the late 19th century.

Having re-established themselves in Northern Ireland in the 1930s, they have steadily colonised many counties in Ireland.

Over the last six years, three people have been prosecuted by the NPWS for illegal poisoning of birds.

The Minister said, “The grey heron in Co Louth was the last one, in 2016, but there was also a case in 2014, where two defendants were poisoning birds in quarries in Waterford, and they were fined €8,000.

In section 74 of the Wildlife Act 1976, one of the penalties on summary conviction is six months’ imprisonment.

There is also a fine not exceeding €100,000 on indictment or two years’ imprisonment, or both.

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