Following the prosecution this month of a Wicklow farmer who poisoned two buzzards, wildlife activists and representatives of the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) have looked into the outdated and criminal practice of the baiting poisoned meat.
among them is BirdWatch Ireland Raptor Officer John Lusby. He called the conviction of farmer Christopher Thomas Noel Doyle, who was fined €500 and ordered to pay costs totaling €1,500, “insufficient deterrence”.
“It’s just not enough to stop people from using these methods,” John began. “Illegal persecution of raptors is still quite widespread. Unfortunately, we usually only know the tip of the iceberg, in terms of incidents that actually happen.”
John explained that events in remote areas are nearly impossible to prosecute, due to lack of evidence. The only known incidents are occasions when the carcass was recovered, tested and the poisons that were used were determined.
“I’m sure in many cases the farmer is not targeting birds of prey,” John continued. “But the use of poison is indiscriminate. They can target hooded crows or foxes for example, but many wild animals can and will come into contact with them. It’s very damaging to biodiversity.
John is keen to point out that it’s not just wildlife at risk. It’s livestock, pets, and even people. The poison used by Farmer Crehelp, carbofuran, is highly toxic. Even coming into contact with him could lead to the death of a human being.
“There are potentially still stocks of these poisons from when they were more prevalent,” John added. “It’s not just poison, we’ve seen birds of prey show positive results for a wide range of toxins. There are several that show up repeatedly.
“If we go back in time, illegal poisoning really came to the fore at the start of the birds of prey reintroduction projects in Ireland,” he said. “Especially the white-tailed eagle, the golden-tailed eagle and the red kite.
“When they were reintroduced to Ireland, many of them were fitted with satellite transmitters or GPS beacons. When one of these birds suffered from illegal poisoning, it was recovered. The results clearly showed us that a large number of them were poisoned. This gave us a measure of the prevalence of these acts. »
According to John, there must be more appropriate deterrents, as well as a change in the perception of birds of prey. He said: ‘The National Parks and Wildlife Service has gone to tremendous lengths in the recent pursuit, but sadly it’s only a tiny fraction of the incidents that actually result in a successful pursuit. We need to deter, but we also need to change perceptions.
“There is always this idea that they are a threat, but they are very beneficial to have in the countryside,” added John. “They feed on the three Rs: rabbits, rats and crows – all of which are considered pest species. The role they play as a predator is extremely important in maintaining the natural balance.
Tom Byrne, IFA County Chairman for Wicklow and a member of Wicklow Uplands Council, echoed John Lusby’s sentiments regarding the reputation of birds of prey, while pointing to the damage done to farmers’ reputations by a “tiny minority”.
‘I don’t get any complaints coming in to me, or anyone for that matter, about birds of prey damaging livestock,’ Tom insisted. “I watch them and feed them regularly – they are beautiful birds. Yet there is still a problem of poor quality image with a small pocket of farmers.
“Listen, all true farmers respect nature. While some of us might disagree on how to get the end product, none of us would ever condone the use of poisons. We shared the general public’s disgust at this recent affair. Poison is serious business. Anything that affects the food chain is simply not relevant.
Tom remembers growing up in the late 1960s when strychnine was the preferred method of controlling foxes, a time when the indiscriminate use of poison was wreaking havoc on Irish wildlife. Fortunately, those days are long gone and, in Tom’s words, “good riddance”.
When asked what type of farmer would use such methods these days, Tom answered candidly, “Honestly? Brain teaser !
“It’s not like there aren’t other options for pest control,” Tom continued. “The crow, or agricultural bird scarer, is a farmer’s first line of defense. It’s harmful to birds and also works well for foxes.
“I encourage anyone who knows someone who practices this outdated practice of bait meat poisoning to speak up and report it. Sincerely, the IFA will not support these individuals under any circumstances.
Selena Mackenzie, the Wicklow representative on the IFA Sheep Committee, agreed with her IFA colleagues on zero tolerance for poison. She also thought it relevant to add that some form of pest control is absolutely necessary.
“As sheep farmers, we are plagued by hooded crows, or ‘hoodies’ as they are known locally. It is a very aggressive bird, it tears the eye out of a live sheep. So we have to pay to control the crows, with shotguns and Larsen traps. Crows are a cost to our business and if left unchecked will decimate the sheep.
“But using poison, which can chain itself indiscriminately from one animal to another, causing untold destruction, is madness. It amazes me that people are still able to get their hands on it, and I’m baffled that anyone is actually using it.
“I’m sure it’s a very, very small minority that is doing this – indiscriminately killing wildlife and negatively impacting the reputation of the farming community. The sooner they are caught, the better.