The latest technology is being harnessed to help fight raptor crime in Northern Ireland.

The Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Northern Ireland (PAW NI) has launched ‘Hawk-Eyes’: a new project involving the tracking and surveillance of red kites, buzzards and peregrine falcons.

‘Hawk-Eyes’ is about raising awareness about the illegal activity affecting birds of prey in Northern Ireland, including poisoning, shooting and disturbance to the birds. It’s hoped the campaign will make it easier for the public to report and detect these crimes.

The main part of the project involves attaching small satellite tags to a number of raptors, allowing their movements to be remotely tracked. Using the mobile phone network, information on the bird’s whereabouts will be sent to researchers. Crucially, the tags also alert the researchers if a bird dies and where it was last known to be. Excitingly, some of the birds’ tracking information will be publicly available online at: 

Surveillance cameras are also being used at raptor nest sites within hotspot areas to remotely monitor activity and survival during the breeding season.

This project is being launched in conjunction with PAW NI’s 10 Years of Persecution Report, released on 8 November. It shows the scale of raptor persecution over the last 10 years.

A red kite poisoned on a nest in County Down, (photo credit: Alan Ferguson/RSPB NI)

The report shows that buzzards, red kites and peregrine falcons are the most common victims of persecution and have all been illegally targeted by criminals at several locations across Northern Ireland. Over the study period 2009-18, there were a total of 72 incidents of confirmed raptor persecution which resulted in the deaths of 66 birds of prey with a further two nests destroyed.

The most common method of killing was poisoning, with the illegal poison Carbofuran still being used widely. In 14 cases, a poisoned bait and/or other poisoned wildlife was found in circumstances which could have killed a bird of prey. Carbofuran was banned in 2001 due to its high toxicity towards both wildlife and humans.

The report shows that a quarter of the 10km squares in Northern Ireland have recorded raptor persecution incidents. However, evidence suggests these figures are just the tip of the iceberg with many illegal killings going undetected or unreported. PAW NI has used this data to identify hotspot locations across NI where bird of prey persecution is more prevalent.

Red kites were persecuted to extinction across the UK and Ireland 200 years ago, except for a small population clinging on in Wales. In 2008 they were re-introduced to Northern Ireland. However these majestic, fork-tailed scavengers have not taken off as well as was hoped, and in 2019 there were only 20 territorial pairs fledging 11 chicks. Persecution is likely to be one of the main factors limiting their population growth.

NIEA Wildlife Officer Dr Jon Lees said: “A small proportion of the population still seem to think it’s ok to destroy these magnificent birds at the expense of the environment and the rest of the community. Some areas of Northern Ireland are devoid of their natural top predators because of greed and/or tradition. 

“Detection of these crimes relies on the vigilance of the public reporting the evidence to the police or Crimestoppers. The methods these criminals use are often highly dangerous, putting livestock, pets and people at risk and the offenders care little for people’s safety.” 

Read the report at: