Poison-bait ban gives hope to eagle projects
New legislation due this week should help protect vulnerable birds of prey, reports Hilary A White
The announcement this week of new legislation to protect some of Ireland's rarest wildlife from the threat of poisoning comes not a moment too soon.
The Golden Eagle Trust, which manages the reintroduction of the golden eagle in Donegal, white-tailed eagle in Kerry and red kite in Wicklow, had expressed much frustration over the legality -- or lack thereof -- of poisonings. An anomaly in the law made it illegal to control crows with poisons, but not foxes. Bizarrely, however, no poison was approved for use on foxes.
As of this week, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government makes it an offence to use any type of meat, fish, egg or other animal substance for purposes of poisoned bait to control vermin. At the same time, Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith confirmed that, under the law, no poisons can be used for pest control, except for rodents. The new law will carry fines of up to €5,000 or imprisonment, or both. A conviction would also see the guilty party in breach of the EU's Single Farm Payment scheme, a valuable helping hand for farmers.
Following the announcement, Environment Minister John Gormley said: "I am very concerned that these poisoning incidents could damage the projects to re-introduce the golden eagle, white-tailed eagle and red kite, which are being funded by my department. Such actions are irresponsible as well as illegal and they give a very negative image of Ireland's farming and tourism sectors.
"We now call on everyone to respect the law and protect these birds of prey, which are of real economic value to the rural communities in the release areas," he added.
This year alone, 12 raptors were found poisoned, including red kites, a golden eagle, a peregrine falcon and three white tailed eagles. In the case of the Kerry eagles, the three were found over a four-week period in May, casting doubt over the viability of that project and drawing concern from the Norwegian authorities supplying young birds for the scheme.
The Norwegian ambassador to Ireland, Flyvind Nordsletten, had voiced his country's worries in a letter to Mr Gormley following the May poisonings, but is optimistic in light of this week's announcement.
"We are very happy about this development," Mr Nordsletten said. "We think it's a very good thing that the Minister and the Irish Government have strengthened the rules governing the ban. We trust this will make the three projects success stories."
The fatalities earlier in the year were a widely reported episode that saw farmers demonised across the country.
The Irish Farmer's Association (IFA) feel the farming community has been unfairly persecuted for the eagle deaths, and say that raising awareness of legislative changes is central to changing pest-control methods.
James McCarthy, IFA Kerry chairman, believes it is not the IFA's responsibility to disseminate information on legislative changes.
"Kerry IFA have co-operated with the Golden Eagle Trust in producing an information leaflet but are critical of the trust in not circulating it to farmers," he said in an email. "The Department of the Environment and the Golden Eagle Trust have the primary responsibility of making farmers aware of the changes in legislation relating to poison that have taken place since the eagle was introduced. They must ensure that practical and workable alternatives are readily available to all farmers."
Dr Allan Mee, who overseas the Kerry project, is already looking ahead to the lambing season, when most poisonings occur. While delighted with the ban, he says more needs to be done to prevent another spate of poisonings next spring.
"A real wide-scale awareness campaign needs to happen," said Dr Mee. "It's one thing to bring the legislation in, it's another thing to make it effective."