Birds of prey face poison threat as 11 confirmed dead
Eleven birds of prey are confirmed to have been poisoned in Northern Ireland last year, according to new figures released by the RSPB.
Yet there were no prosecutions here in 2013 for wildlife crime targeting birds, the charity's new bird crime report has revealed.
It said 24 suspected poisoning incidents were reported last year, with the highest proportion - nine cases - in Co Down.
Half of the birds confirmed to have been poisoned were red kites, the first species to have been reintroduced to Northern Ireland.
Over a three-year period from 2008 the RSPB released around 90 captive-bred red kites in Co Down, 200 years after they were persecuted to extinction here.
The RSPB said the worrying level of poisoning reflects the ongoing challenges facing red kites, which like all birds of prey are protected under the law. The birds remain vulnerable to poisoned bait left out to deliberately target them or with the intention of controlling pests.
"This was the cause of the death of one red kite in April 2013 in Co Down, after it ingested rabbit bait that was laced with the illegal pesticide Aldicarb," a spokesman said.
"With a relatively small breeding population here in Northern Ireland, every death is a blow."
Michelle Hill, senior conservation officer at RSPB NI, said: "Witnessing red kites soaring above the Mournes 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."
The PSNI said Northern Ireland had the lowest number of incidents of this type of crime compared to the rest of the UK but they can be hard to detect as they usually occur in isolated circumstances with few witnesses. A DOE spokesman said poisoning any wild bird was an offence and appealed to the public to immediately report any suspected incidents of wildlife crime to PSNI.