Birdwatch Ireland (BWI) has called on An Garda Siochána to launch an immediate investigation following the recent shooting of a hen harrier at a winter roost site in County Kerry.
Hen Harriers are a species of high conservation concern in Ireland and are listed on Annex I of the EU Birds Directive. They are protected under Irish and European law, and the loss of even one individual is described by BWI as “a cause of great concern”.
The NGO acknowledged the harrier conservation work carried out by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) over recent years, but went on to express concern at the handling of serious wildlife crime in Ireland, and the apparent lack of formal investigation into the persecution of protected species. It is calling on An Garda Siochána to investigate the crime with a view to securing a conviction in this case.
“Ireland already has legislation in place to protect our birds of prey but for that to be effective we need to see rigorous enforcement of the law,” said John Lusby, Raptor Conservation Officer with BWI. “At present Ireland’s record of achieving prosecutions leaves something to be desired. Such illegal persecution of birds of prey, particularly when not addressed by the authorities, impacts on our countryside but also on our international reputation and in turn on the impression gained by potential visitors to our country expecting to see wildlife”
NPWS Ranger Dr Barry O’Donoghue, who coordinates the NPWS Hen Harrier Winter Roost survey, has urged volunteers monitoring winter roost sites to keep the location of harrier roosts to themselves.
“In an ideal world, all the public would all be able to go and watch a harrier roost, providing the watching itself did not disturb the birds,” said Dr O’Donoghue on the Kerry Birding blog. “But when roost sites are occupied by the birds for 99% of evenings, there is always the chance of persecution incidents if a place becomes known as a harrier roost.
“Please always bear in mind the need for utmost confidentiality with regard to the roosting place of a threatened Annex I species… this goes for publishing details on websites also.”
Birdwatch Ireland re-iterated that warning, asking anyone who knows of winter roost sites for hen harriers to be “very cautious” about disclosing their locations.
“It is very unfortunate that cases like this mean that we have to keep the location of one of Ireland’s most amazing natural spectacles secret,” said Alan Lauder, Alan Lauder, BWI’s CEO. “We would like to see a day when members of the public can experience for themselves the magnificent sight of these iconic birds of Ireland’s uplands coming together in the winter months.”
The national population of hen harriers in Ireland appears to be stable, but there have been reports of severe regional declines. The causes remain unclear at this stage, but suggested factors include habitat loss, illegal persecution, unsympathetic development and other activities that could cause disturbance.