We often say ‘if you see anything suspicious please report it to PSNI’ but what is suspicious?? This can be difficult to determine, especially for people who are unfamiliar with farming practices or countryside sports. For example, there are legitimate traps which can be used to trap certain animals in Northern Ireland under the ‘General Licence’, and if you interfere with these traps you could find yourself subject to a criminal damage prosecution! A really useful resource which covers wildlife law in Northern Ireland is ‘Wildlife Crime and You’ which is produced by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and can be accessed HERE
When it comes to raptor persecution there are several things you should keep your eyes out for;
- Disturbance: Anyone causing a bird of prey to repeatedly alarm at their presence and/or mob (aggressive swooping) is too close to a nest site and disturbing the bird. This is against the law and should be reported to PSNI on ‘101’. Prolonged or repeated disturbance can cause nesting failure and abandonment. This includes disturbance by photographers.
- Nest destruction: All bird of prey nests are protected by law whilst in use, and some species’ nests are protected from destruction all year round (Schedule A1: barn owl, peregrine, red kite, golden eagle, white-tailed eagle, osprey). If you believe an active nest (or a Schedule A1 nest) has been destroyed please report this to PSNI on ‘101’
- Poisoning: Look out for suspected baits placed in the countryside. This could be a dead animal (e.g. rabbit or pigeon) or butchered meat, like sausages, which has been cut open and sprinkled with poison. Baits can also be alive, but maimed or tethered in some way, and have been smeared in poison. Some poisons which have been used are extremely toxic to humans so DO NOT TOUCH THE BAIT OR ANY OTHER DEAD ANIMALS WHICH MAY HAVE EATEN IT. Call PSNI on ‘101’.
- Shooting: Suspicious shooting could be shooting in an area where you know there are birds of prey roosting or nesting, where you are not aware of an alternative explanation (e.g. a pheasant or duck shoot ongoing). If you see a bird of prey being shot, as well as probably being a persecution incident, this is likely to be a firearms offence and you may wish to call PSNI immediately on 999. DO NOT APPROACH SOMEONE WHO IS CARRYING A FIREARM.
If you find an injured bird of prey which cannot fly, you may wish to bring it to a local vet for treatment. The vet may determine that the bird was shot, in which case they should call PSNI on 101.
- Finding a trap: Many traps (e.g. Larsen traps) are legal when used in the correct manner, which includes checking the trap daily, and locking the trap so no animal can be caught if it isn’t going to be checked daily. Legal traps cannot be used to target birds of prey, but can catch them unintentionally. If this occurs the owner of the trap must release the bird. This is not a crime in itself. What is a crime is using an illegal trap (including ANY trap set on a perch), or using a legal trap in an illegal manner, which includes to target birds of prey. If you find a trap and are unsure whether it is legal, or being used legally, call the NIEA Wildlife Team for advice on 028 9056 9558.
If you find a dead bird of prey in a trap (whether legal or illegal), call PSNI on 101.
Finding a dead bird of prey. This is a difficult one: so you have found a dead bird of prey but there is no bait close to it – should you call the police? Remember, birds of prey will die due to other causes (e.g. starvation, disease, collision) so finding a dead bird isn’t automatically a reason to call the police. You must have reasonable suspicion that the bird has been intentionally or recklessly killed, so this is where you will have to trust your instincts.
There are several things you can look out for;
- A) Are there overhead wires or a pane of glass nearby? Is it likely that the bird could have collided with these? Is the bird next to a busy road and could have been knocked down? If there could be a reasonable explanation for the death of the bird then do not call the PSNI.
- B) Don’t touch the bird – but can you see food or blood around its bill, or in its mouth? Are the feet contracted and curled up? Is there no other reasonable explanation for the death of the bird in the locality that you can see? The bird may have been poisoned, call PSNI on 101.
- C) Don’t touch the bird – but can you see a wound which isn’t explained by colliding with anything in the surrounding area? Can you see broken feathers? The bird may have been shot, call PSNI on 101.
How to Report
1. Call PSNI on ‘101’ (or 999 in an emergency).
[You can also report the suspected crime anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, but the information you provide may be handled differently, for example the investigating officer will not be able to confirm additional details with the caller at a later time.
2. Say you wish to report a suspected wildlife crime.
3. Explain why you believe a crime has taken place
4. Provide as much detail as possible, including description of people and where possible a vehicle registration, make and model.
If you have information relating to a historic suspected wildlife crime, the PSNI will still want to hear from you.
Do not touch dead birds / bait, do not disturb the scene of the crime, and do put yourself or others in danger IN ANY CIRCUMSTANCES