Open season on birds of prey
Anger as 33 of the protected animals shot, poisoned or snared in five years
More than 30 protected birds of prey were illegally killed across Northern Ireland in five years, shocking figures have revealed.
A new report has revealed that 33 of the animals died by illegal poisoning, shooting or trapping between 2009 and 2013.
Many of the incidents were concentrated in two major persecution hotspots in south Down and Co Armagh, taking in the area surrounding Jerretspass and Poyntzpass and the countryside round Rathfriland, according to the report published by the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime Northern Ireland (PAWNI).
Wildlife criminals claimed the lives of 19 buzzards, seven red kites and four peregrine falcons. Red kites were recently reintroduced to Ulster after being persecuted to extinction here more than 200 years ago.
A golden eagle, sparrowhawk, merlin and white-tailed eagle were also victims.
Police have warned that use of illegal poisons to kill protected birds could also affect children, pets or livestock.
The report cites another four probable raptor crimes, including an incident in which three dead buzzards were photographed by a member of the public, but were removed from the scene before the PSNI arrived.
Meanwhile, a satellite tag with shot marks on the aerial was removed from the carcass of a white-tailed eagle and supplied to police, but the carcass was not recovered.
In another eight incidents, secondary rodenticide poisoning was reported, including a dead barn owl. The report is the result of the work of the raptor subgroup of PAWNI, facilitating co-operation between the PSNI, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group, Royal Society for Protection of Birds, and National Wildlife Crime Unit.
It analyses the results of post-mortem and toxicology testing carried out by Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute and as reported via the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme.
Environment Minister Mark H Durkin, who is chair of PAWNI, said: "It is a great shame people here are poisoning these wonderful, majestic creatures which brighten up our skies and countryside.
"I very much condemn the reckless and illegal actions of the minority in our midst who destroy beauty with painful death, leading to the loss of such iconic species.
"I urge the public to be vigilant and report offenders."
PSNI Superintendent Brian Kee, the officer who leads the fight against rural and wildlife crime here, said "This report highlights the continued disregard for public and wildlife safety displayed by a small number of individuals.
"These actions, which destroy our native wildlife, are illegal and the indiscriminate use of such toxic poisons may affect not only raptors but also children, pets or livestock."
The report's lead author, Dr Eimear Rooney, said: "I cannot bear to think about the deaths of these individuals, in particular the losses of both golden and white-tailed eagles and red kites, which may have a devastating impact on the survival of these populations."