Local newspaper story claiming Buzzards kill pets blasted as ‘irresponsible’, ‘misleading’, and ‘pure ignorance’

Published by Ian Carey on

Image: Shay Connolly

December 12th 2016

Local newspaper the Tipperary Star has come under a wave of criticism for publishing a front page story claiming Buzzards have taken pets.

The story which was run on November 30th claimed that two terrier dogs had been killed by the bird of prey but failed to give any substantial information to verify the account.

The article failed to give the names of any witnesses to the attacks, it did not contain direct quotes from anyone who saw the alleged attack, it failed to give the name of a vet it claimed treated an injured dog, it did not contain any comment from a bird or wildlife expert and had no timeline or account of the supposed attacks.

Despite the scant details or attribution the article went on to advise people should ‘keep an eye’ on their pets and suggested there are calls to have the protection order lifted.

This led to serious criticism online. Commenters on the Facebook page of the Tipperary have described the story as “hysterical sensationalism”, “misinformed” and “pure ignorance”.

BirdWatch Ireland raised serious concerns in relation to the story describing it as “irresponsible” and “misleading”.

John Lusby, Raptor Conservation Officer with BirdWatch Ireland, said, “These issues extend far beyond how we view birds of prey.  As top predators, Buzzards are excellent indicators of a healthy countryside.  Their presence in an area should be viewed as a positive indication of a well-functioning ecosystem, as well as a benefit to local agriculture.  Their re-colonisation has restored a natural balance, filling a vital ecological niche which has been empty for decades.  Our treatment of birds of prey reflects our level of respect for the environment.

Oonagh Duggan, BirdWatch Ireland’s Acting Head of Policy, Communications and People Engagement, commented, “To take a positive from this otherwise negative story, it has been hugely heartening to witness the level of public outcry over the sentiments expressed in the article.  From the messages we have received, it is obvious that people are appalled and simply will not tolerate these ill-informed views.  This shows that in many ways we have come a long way in our attitudes towards birds of prey and nature generally, but when we see an item like this on the front page of an Irish newspaper it is obvious we still have some way to go.

The environmental group said in a statement: “Such misinformation and negative sentiment towards birds of prey is unfortunately nothing new. The particularly sensationalist piece in the Tipperary Star warns owners of pet dogs and cats to be on high alert from “giant Buzzards” which are “causing major problems in the mid-Tipperary area”.  This article has succeeded in attracting significant attention for all the wrong reasons.  There are far-reaching consequences from fostering such misguided fear of birds of prey, which threaten to drag Ireland back into a darker past.

“To be absolutely clear: Buzzards pose no threat to sheep or lambs.  This is a myth which refuses to die in some quarters, and it needs to stop.  By preying on crows, rats and other pests, Buzzards in reality bring a number of clear benefits to our sheep farmers.  Buzzards will sometimes feed on dead or stillborn lambs, but there is no evidence of them killing or harming living lambs.

“Buzzards also prey on rabbits, but are incapable of killing prey larger than this.  Contrary to claims in the article, Buzzards pose no threat whatsoever to the survival of Ireland’s hare population.

“BirdWatch Ireland would also point out that most other European countries, including the UK, have far higher Buzzard population densities than Ireland, yet there does not seem to be any comparable scaremongering or media-induced panic and misinformation about threats to pets there.

“Driven to extinction in Ireland by the early part of the 20th century, the Buzzard’s natural re-colonisation after a significant absence has been one of the most positive success stories for Irish wildlife in recent decades.  The population recovery is continuing, with an expanding range and increasing numbers.  Unfortunately, the illegal threats responsible for the Buzzard’s initial disappearance in Ireland have still not disappeared.

“The illegal poisoning and shooting of birds of prey remains prevalent in our countryside.  A recent spate of particularly sinister persecution incidents in County Tipperary targeting Buzzards, as well as Peregrine Falcons and White-tailed Eagles, proves just how divisive and dangerous the incorrect and inflammatory statements presented in the recent article in the Tipperary Star can be.

“By feeding readily on carrion, and through directly hunting them, Buzzards help to keep numbers of crows, such as Hooded Crows and Magpies, and rodents, in check.  However, despite this, a small minority of people still view the Buzzards’ presence in our countryside in a negative light.  The scare-mongering and fostering of a culture of fear towards birds of prey, as demonstrated in the Tipperary Star article, helps to fuel and falsely justify the sentiments of a minority.



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Ian Carey

Ian is the editor of the Green News. He works as Communications Manger with the Irish Environmental Network.