Seven barn owls seized by police will never be able to fly free again without facing death after they had been kept in captivity by their previous owner, it has been claimed.
The distinctive birds, which are some of the most dramatic flying creatures in Northern Ireland, were seized by the PSNI who have now successfully applied to a court to send them to a licensed owl keeper to be looked after.
It emerged it cost over £4,500 for the police to care for the owls since March at a cost of £6 per owl per day.
When the application was made at Coleraine Magistrates Court, District Judge Liam McNally asked if the owls could just be released into the wild but he was told that couldn’t happen because the birds will not survive in the wild after being held captive by their previous owner.
A lawyer making the application said the man the owls were seized from was told of the court application but that he did not appear in court.
The court was told information received by the police’s Wildlife Liaison Officer led to eight barn owls being recovered in March but one of the birds has since died.
The lawyer said the application before the court was to transfer the owls to a specialist licensed keeper.
Judge McNally said he could order that the birds were “liberated” but the lawyer said the birds would not survive in the wild and a police officer added they would die because they had been in captivity.
The judge granted an order for the birds to be kept with an approved licence holder.
It wasn’t stated in court where the owls were seized.
In the last year a number of barn owls have been seized by police across Northern Ireland in areas including Lurgan, County Armagh and Annalong, County Down.
Owls are legislated for under the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985 as amended by the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act (NI) 2011. To hold a Barn Owl you must apply for a licence from the appropriate authorities including the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
Last year it was reported four barn owls were seized by police amid suspicion they were going to be illegally sold on the internet.
A PSNI spokeswoman said at the time: “Officers conducted a search of a property in Lurgan on November 21, after it was reported that barn owls were being held and sold on the internet.
“Four barn owls were seized due a suspicion that they were being held and sold without the appropriate licences.
“The Police Service takes reports of wildlife crime seriously and view a report of a suspected wildlife crime like any other crime.
“When a report is made to PSNI an investigating officer will investigate accordingly and if an offence is disclosed this will be reported to the Public Prosecution Service. PSNI work closely with partner agencies and on this occasion it included the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and bird experts.”