Three majestic birds of prey were confirmed poisoned in County Antrim last year, including one in Armoy, according to figures contained in a new report released.
Birdcrime is a unique publication, the only centralised source of incident data for wild bird crime in the UK, focusing on crimes that affect the conservation status of key species.
The report shows that 24 incidents in Northern Ireland were reported to the charity in 2013, with three confirmed poisoning cases in County Antrim.
All birds of prey, are protected under the law but unfortunately this doesn’t always mean that they are safe from poison. They are vulnerable to poisoned bait left out to deliberately target them or with the intention of controlling pests.
A red kite, a buzzard and a rare white-tailed eagle were all found poisoned in County Antrim over the past year.
The dead white-tailed eagle was reported to the PSNI in the Armoy area last April.
Subsequent toxicology reports confirmed Carbofuran poisoning to be the cause of death. Carbofuran is a banned substance which is highly toxic and poses a serious risk to public health and safety.
A re-introduction programme for white-tailed eagles began in the Republic of Ireland in 2007 and the first Irish-bred chicks hatched in County Clare in 2013. Due to the species historical decline here and its European Conservation Status, white-tailed eagles are rated red (the highest level) on the Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland list.
The Birdcrime report also reveals some shocking statistics UK-wide, with 164 reports of shooting and destruction of birds of prey and 74 reported incidents of wildlife poisoning and pesticide-related offences.
However, these figures are believed to represent only a fraction of the illegal persecution in the UK, with many incidents thought to be going undetected and unreported.
In 2013, the RSPB received information on 32 individual prosecutions involving wild birds. Fines for the year totalled £21,285 and four people were given prison sentences. However there were no prosecutions in Northern Ireland.
Michelle Hill, Senior Conservation Officer at RSPB NI, said: “Witnessing birds of prey soaring high in our skies is enough to take your breath away but sadly we are being robbed of the chance to see these beautiful birds flourish because of illegal persecution.
“The RSPB is doing more than ever to help birds of prey, including monitoring and undertaking research, raising awareness among the public and working with other key organisations to stop persecution.”
She added: “We would appeal to the public to report any suspected incidents of wildlife crime to their local police station on 101 to help ensure the perpetrators are caught and birds of prey can live without the threat of persecution.”