An Idea Becomes Reality!

Guest Blog by Dr Eimear Rooney

Hi all, I am the Raptor Officer with the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group (NIRSG). We monitor birds of prey across Northern Ireland and try to find out more about them, and their interaction with other animals and their environment (‘ecology’) – and their interaction with humans. One of my roles is to pull together fieldworkers’ data and make sense of it, and to use this to report about the fates and fortunes of the various species to the governing body, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

Back in 2013 I completed my PhD research on the Common Buzzard in Northern Ireland – 3 ½ years of finding nests, monitoring birds and their behaviour in summer and winter, looking at what they eat, where they nest, where they move and how they fit into the wider environment and the food web generally. As part of this work several worrying things became strikingly obvious;

  • Lots of people do not notice buzzards, and when they do see one for the first time many people are shocked by their size and assume that they will harm livestock or pets, or even children
  • Due to misconceptions many people intentionally kill buzzards
  • There is a widespread use of banned poisons being laid in the Northern Ireland countryside, for whatever reasons.

When I started working for NIRSG I was given the role of sitting as a representative on the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime Northern Ireland (PAW NI). This is a huge group of representatives from statutory bodies, government agencies and non-governmental organisations (often voluntary) who are working together to stamp out ALL wildlife crime, whether it be deer poaching, badger baiting, hare coursing, bat roost and bird nest destruction, fish poaching or raptor crime. I took on the role of compiling all of the details of crimes against birds of prey, and mapping these, to give us a picture of how widespread or not the practice is.

To say I was shocked is an understatement. We started compiling records in 2009 and between then and 2018 there have been 58 confirmed persecution incidents involving birds of prey in Northern Ireland, and hundreds more reported cases of dead birds of prey in suspicious circumstances, which cannot be conclusively recorded as ‘confirmed’ persecuted for various reasons, including being too decomposed for meaningful testing.

Adult female Red Kite found dead on her nest in 2014, was confirmed poisoned

Within the NIRSG we all agreed that something pro-active needed to be done and we came up with the idea of Hawk-Eyes. We brought this idea to the PAW NI Raptor Subgroup and we were given the go-ahead to try and get some funding. Myself, my colleague Dr Marc Ruddock and Dr Jon Lees from the NIEA submitted an application to the Assets Recovery Community Scheme (ARCS) and on 11th Dec 2017 we received the letter of offer.

Hawk-Eyes will;

  • Promote awareness of wildlife crime and how to report it by purchasing printed awareness materials and leaflets
  • Monitor nest sites of vulnerable species, in areas where we know wildlife crime takes place, to deter criminals from carrying out persecution.
  • Satellite track birds in known persecution areas so we can deter persecution and recover carcasses for testing immediately after tags are stationary.

I look forward to sharing all the details and updates with you over the coming years. In the meantime, ‘Watch Out for Wildlife Crime’ and report suspicious activity to the PSNI!