Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Birds surviving on wing and a prayer during cold snap

Northern Ireland’s wild birds are living on borrowed time as they struggle to find food in the cold snap, the RSPB has warned.

Yesterday, Environment Minister Edwin Poots launched a 14-day suspension on the shooting of waterfowl to allow the birds to see out the cold snap, backed by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and Countryside Alliance Ireland.

It’s the first such ban in Northern Ireland, reflecting the severity of the prolonged freeze.

The RSPB is now appealing to the public to play their part by steering clear of groups of wild birds so that they aren’t disturbed and don’t expend energy that they can ill afford.

As well as putting out food and water for garden birds, the charity is calling for those that use the countryside, including birdwatchers, walkers, anglers and watersports enthusiasts, to minimise disturbance to groups of ducks, geese, swans and wading birds on lakes, rivers, wetlands and coastal areas.

RSPB NI conservation manager Anne-Marie Devitt said: “During freezing conditions birds use more energy than usual keeping warm, so they have to spend more time fattening themselves up.

“Large flocks of wetland birds such as ducks, geese and waders, can be disturbed by people getting too close to them. This disturbance causes them to expend their energy needlessly and if they can’t find sufficient food to replace their energy levels then these birds are existing on borrowed time.

“We hope everyone who uses the countryside will heed our advice, allowing the millions of birds which visit the UK’s coasts and wetlands during the winter to stand a better chance of survival.”

Mr Poots said the shooting ban will last for 14 days with a review after seven days.

“The recent spell of freezing weather conditions has been particularly hard on wildfowl throughout the UK and I have decided that a temporary suspension of the shooting season for these species should be introduced immediately,” he said.

The ban covers the following bird species — curlew; tufted duck; gadwall; goldeneye; Canada goose; greylag goose; pink-footed goose; mallard; pintail; golden plover; pochard; scaup; teal and widgeon. BASC said waterfowl shooting has also been suspended in Scotland.

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