Reintroduction of sea eagle to continue despite poisonings

DESPITE the recent death of another white-tailed sea eagle after consuming a banned poison, the project to reintroduce the spectacular birds of prey to the south-west is to continue.

A priority, according to project director Dr Allan Mee, is to resolve the poisoning problem — regarded as the only real threat to the eagle conservation scheme.

“Overall, the project has been going very well and if poisoning was taken out of the equation, it would be absolutely successful,” he suggested.

“There will always be losses of birds through natural causes but our losses in this way have been minimal.

“The surviving birds are doing very well and are finding plenty of food for themselves.”

However, sheep farmers are being urged to use alternatives to poisons when dealing with pests such as foxes that prey on young lambs.

There is a huge amount of goodwill for the eagles and a recent series of TV programmes on RTÉ had proved very informative to the public, Dr Mee added.

To date, 75 birds have so far been released in Killarney National Park. Some 15 have died, including nine from poisoning.

The Kerry Sustainable Rural Environment Group — which includes representatives of the Golden Eagle Trust, farming organisations and state agencies — is working on an awareness campaign to highlight the recent legislative changes on poisons.

The eagles died after eating food laced with poisons, of the type put out by farmers to kill foxes and crows but such poisons have now been banned under regulations, in force since October.

The group has been issuing leaflets and posters to highlight the threat of poisons to protected birds.

Group spokesman Kevin O’Sullivan, from Teagasc, said they intended, in 2011, to demonstrate to farmers alternative, poison-free, methods of controlling pests when there are threats to newborn lambs during the lambing season.

Fatalities of eagles from poisoning have generally taken place during the main lambing season, from February to April.

“It is imperative the farming community, especially in the sheep areas of the uplands, are aware of the ban on poisons and the threat they pose to other wildlife,” said Mr O’Sullivan.

“The use of illegal poisons now carries serious penalties, including fines of up to €5,000 and a further risk of up to twelve months imprisonment.

“The group acknowledge the vast majority of farmers act within the law and do not condone any actions outside the law, including the illegal use of poisons.”

Getting rid of poisons is going to take a concerted and sustained effort to raise awareness of the new laws as well as safe alternatives to control foxes, he added.

When the eagle project started in 2007 with 15 birds, the plan was to release 100 birds over a five-year period — a target expected to be achieved in 2011.

The poisoning of birds has been largely confined to two areas close to the release point in national park: four have been poisoned in the Glencar area, four in the Beaufort area and one in the boundaries of the park.

Gardaí, meanwhile, are continuing their investigations into the poisonings.

Under the new regulations, it an offence for a person to use any type of meat, fish, egg or other animal substance as bait to poison or stupefy birds or animals, unless licensed to do so.

The use of certain rodenticides for the control of rats and mice only is still allowed but care must be taken to avoid secondary poisoning of birds of prey such as barn owls.

The group have set up a helpline, 087 3117608, to provide information and assistance to farmers who have any queries or need assistance with predator control at lambing time.

Eagles have travelled widely from Killarney with some going as far as the Orkney Islands in Scotland as well as several parts of the North. Most, however, are still in the general Killarney area.

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