A total of 15 magnificent birds of prey were persecuted in Northern Ireland last year, including one red kite which was deliberately shot in Katesbirdge, a new report from the RSPB has revealed.
The female bird, which was discovered near Katesbridge on May 20, had been adopted by Ballyclare High School in 2011 and given the name Fawkes.
The figures contained in Birdcrime are believed to represent only a fraction of illegal persecution across the UK, with many incidents thought to be going undetected and unreported.
Almost half of the cases reported in Northern Ireland relate to poisoning, with three buzzards, three red kites and a peregrine falcon all falling victim. Due to these birds’ scavenging behaviour, they are vulnerable to the indiscriminate use of illegal poison in the countryside.
One of the buzzards had traces of three different poisons in its body – aldicarb, carbofuran and isofenphos.
However, of the 15 cases reported in Northern Ireland, the highest number of incidents involving birds of prey were recorded in County Down.
The charity has said this trend is ‘very concerning’, as County Down is where its red kite re-introduction scheme is located.
RSPB NI co-ordinated the re-introduction of the species to Northern Ireland between 2008 and 2010 and continues to monitor their progress.
However, the project has faced real challenges over the past seven years due to persecution.
The current population of red kites stands at 12 territorial pairs but in order for the population to be considered sustainable, this needs to increase to around 50 pairs.
The project suffered a real blow in June 2014 when a member of the public contacted RSPB NI with concerns about a possible poisoning incident.
Examination of a nest in the Katesbridge area sadly revealed a dead female and two dead chicks.
Michelle Hill, Senor Conservation Officer at RSPB NI, said: “The public perception of birds of prey is often divided – from those who love to see these awe-inspiring creatures soaring high in our skies, to those who mistakenly think they pose a danger to humans and livestock.
“The problem of illegal persecution is a constant battle and will only be won through raising awareness and concerted efforts to identify and penalise the minority of people who threaten these birds’ very existence.”
She added: “We would appeal to the public to report any suspected incidents of wildlife crime to their local police station on 101 or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”