Belfast Telegraph

Owls cannot survive in wild after being found in captivity, judge told

By Nevin Farrell

Seven barn owls seized by police will never be able to fly free again after they were kept in captivity by their previous owner, it has been claimed.

The distinctive birds of prey, which are some of the most beautiful and dramatic flying creatures in Northern Ireland, would simply be unable to survive in the wild.

They were seized by the PSNI who have now successfully applied to a court to send them to a licensed owl keeper to be looked after properly.

Since March, it has cost the police more than £4,500 to care for the owls at a cost of £6 per owl per day.

When the application was made at Coleraine Magistrates Court, District Judge Liam McNally asked if the owls could just be released into the wild.

Judge McNally said he could order the birds to be "liberated" but the lawyer said the birds would not survive in the wild and a police officer added they would die because they had been in captivity.

A lawyer making the application said the man the owls were seized from was told of the court application.

The man did not appear in court.

The court was told information received by the police's wildlife liaison officer led to eight barn owls being recovered in March. One of the birds has since died.

The judge granted the order for the birds to be handed over to a specialist keeper who is an approved licence holder.

It wasn't stated in court where the owls were seized.

In the last year a number of barn owls have been seized by police across Northern Ireland in areas including Lurgan, Co Armagh and Annalong in Co Down.

Owls are subject to the Wildlife (NI) Order. To keep a barn owl you must apply for a licence from the appropriate authorities, including the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

Last year it was reported four barn owls were seized by police amid suspicion they were going to be illegally sold on the internet.

A PSNI spokeswoman said at the time: "Officers conducted a search of a property in Lurgan on November 21, after it was reported that barn owls were being held and sold on the internet.

"Four barn owls were seized due to a suspicion that they were being held and sold without the appropriate licences.

"When a report is made to PSNI an investigating officer will investigate accordingly and if an offence is disclosed this will be reported to the Public Prosecution Service.

"PSNI work closely with partner agencies and on this occasion it included the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and bird experts."

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