Wildlife campaigners and farm bodies say fines for poisoned meat baiting are an “insufficient deterrent”.
In the wake of this month’s prosecution of a Wicklow farmer who poisoned two buzzards, John Lusby, BirdWatch Ireland’s Raptor Officer, said the conviction of farmer Christopher Thomas Noel Doyle, who was fined €500 and ordered to pay expenses totalling €1,500, was insufficient.
“It’s just not enough to stop people from using these methods,” he said.
“The illegal persecution of raptors is still quite widespread. Unfortunately, we typically only know about the tip of the iceberg in terms of the incidents that actually occur.”
Mr Lusby pointed out that occurrences in remote areas are virtually impossible to prosecute due to lack of evidence. The only known incidents are occasions where the carcass was retrieved, tested and the poisons that were used were determined.
Tom Byrne, the IFA’s County Chair for Wicklow and member of the Wicklow Uplands Council, echoed Mr Lusby’s sentiments about the reputation of birds of prey, while also highlighting the damage done to the reputation of farmers by a “tiny minority”.
“I don’t receive any complaints coming into me, or anyone for that matter, about the birds of prey doing damage to livestock,” said Mr Byrne. “I watch and feed them regularly — they’re beautiful birds, yet there is still a bad image issue among a small pocket of farmers.
“Listen, all true farmers respect nature. While some of us might disagree on how to get to the final product, none of us would ever condone the use of poisons. We shared the general public’s disgust at that recent case. Poison is a serious business. Anything that affects the food chain is just not on.”
Mr Byrne recalls growing up in the late 1960s, when strychnine was the preferred method of fox control, a time when the indiscriminate use of the poison wreaked havoc on Irish wildlife. Thankfully that era is long gone and, in Mr Byrne’s words, “good riddance to it”.
“It’s not like there aren’t other options for pest control,” he said. “The crow banger, or agricultural bird scarer, is the farmer’s first line of defence. It’s very commonly used and it’s effective. It doesn’t do any harm to birds and works equally well on foxes too.
“I would encourage anyone who knows someone engaged in this outmoded practice of meat bait poisoning to speak up and report it. Genuinely, IFA won’t back these people under any circumstances.”
Selena Mackenzie, the Wicklow representative of the IFA’s Sheep Committee, concurred but also added that some forms of pest control are absolutely necessary.
“We as sheep farmers are blighted by the hooded crows or ‘hoodies’ as they are known locally,” said Ms Mackenzie. “They’re a very aggressive bird, they’ll pluck the eye out of a live sheep, so we have to pay to control the crows with shotguns and Larsen traps. The crows are a cost on our enterprise and, if left unchecked, decimate the sheep.
“But to use poison, which can indiscriminately chain from animal to animal, causing untold destruction, it’s a madness.”