Poisoned Hen Harrier was found at pheasant shoot, says Birdwatch Ireland

Published by Niall Sargent on

January 30th, 2020

New information released by Birdwatch Ireland (BWI) reveals that the death of a poisoned Hen Harrier currently subject to a National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) investigation is linked to a pheasant shoot in Co Meath in November.

Earlier this week the NPWS issued a statement that the harrier was found on land near Drumconrath in the north of the county beside meat baits treated with a toxic substance.

According to new information released by BWI, the harrier’s body was found on land managed for pheasant shooting, alongside a dead pigeon laced with the banned toxin Carbofuran and poisoned chunks of meat.

Pieces of poisoned meat were also found in the harrier’s body, according to BWI, with the use of both of Carbofuran and poisoned meat bait serious criminal offences. The species is fully protected in Ireland under both national and EU law due to a decline in the breeding population

The national population of the medium-sized raptor has declined for the last 40 years as the ground-nesting bird that breeds in bogs and upland areas is threatened by hunting, conifer plantation expansion, agricultural land reclamation, peat extraction and wind farm development.

The female harrier, named Mary by the EU Hen Harrier LIFE project team tracking her movements, hatched in the summer of 2019 from a nest on the Isle of Man.

According to tracking data, she had flown westwards from the Isle of Man to Co Meath last autumn before the data from her tracking device revealed that she had died suddenly on 2 November.

Devastating news

John Lusby, the raptor conservation officer at BWI said that he was devastated when he learned of Mary’s fate. “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,” he said.

“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.”

The conservation charity said that it was appealed to the NPWS and Gardaí to take all steps necessary to bring the perpetrators to justice and has offered its assistance.

“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,” Mr Lusby added.

According to BWI’s Niall Hatch, Mary was a “particularly special bird” with many people in the conservation community “invested in her survival”, intently following 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,” Mr Hatch added.

Last April, a female harrier was killed on a wind farm in Co Kerry in April after colliding with a wind turbine, leading the IRSG calling on the Government to bolster post wind farm construction monitoring measures.

Permission was granted last year for two wind farms in Barna in Co Kerry and Meenbog in Co Donegal despite conservation groups warnings of their proposed locations beside earmarked breeding areas for Hen Harriers.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London