The RSPB has just issued the following press release:

  • The female bird, named Mary, had been fitted with a satellite tracking device.
  • The bird’s body was found dead beside a pigeon and meat baits laced with poison.
  • Conservationists unite in condemnation of this appalling crime and call for a thorough and transparent investigation.

A rare, protected bird of prey has been illegally poisoned near Drumconrath in County Meath, Ireland.

Mary hatched in the summer of 2019 from a nest on the Isle of Man. Before she left her nest, she was fitted with a lightweight satellite tracking device as part of the EU Hen Harrier LIFE project, allowing the RSPB and Manx BirdLife to monitor her movements. On 2 November, the tag sent a signal showing that the bird was dead in Co. Meath. RSPB Investigations promptly travelled to Ireland and, with help from the Irish National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), found her body on land managed for a pheasant shoot. It was lying beside a pigeon carcass with other chunks of meat nearby.

Tests by the Irish State Laboratory found that the pigeon and meat chunks had been laced with the banned pesticide Carbofuran. This substance was also present in Mary’s liver, showing that she had fed on these and been poisoned as a result.

Conservationists are urging the NPWS and Gardaí (the Irish Police Force) to take the appropriate steps to bring the perpetrators to justice, and offer their assistance in this regard.

Hen harriers are a protected species in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and in Ireland under the EU Birds Directive and under the National Wildlife Act 1976 (as amended). To kill or injure one is a criminal offence. It is also illegal to place a poisoned bait out in the open and doing so presents a significant danger not only wildlife but people and pets.

Yet hen harriers continue to be killed, or disappear in suspicious circumstances, particularly on or near land managed for shooting. Scientific research published in 2019, based on the UK Government’s own data, showed that 72% of satellite-tagged hen harriers in their study were killed or likely killed on British grouse moors, and that hen harriers were 10 times more likely to die or disappear over grouse moor.

Likewise, the RSPB EU Hen Harrier LIFE project (2014-19) found that the main factor limiting the recovery of the hen harrier population continues to be illegal killing associated with management of moorlands for driven grouse shooting. However there hasn’t been a successful prosecution for hen harrier persecution in this time.

Mary being tagged as a chick in 2019

Martin Harper, Global Conservation Director at RSPB said: “Here is another hen harrier which has failed to make it through its first year, thanks to the spectre of illegal persecution. Time and time again, satellite tagging is pinpointing illegal persecution and critically proving that young hen harriers are being killed before they have the chance to breed and bolster the fragile UK population. Bird of prey persecution in connection with land managed for shooting is the number one threat to hen harriers in the UK. This cannot continue, and we are calling for urgent and meaningful changes to address this.”

Neil Morris, Managing Director of Manx Birdlife added: “Despite a great deal of effort by many dedicated individuals and agencies, including the Manx Ringing Group and RSPB, little is known about the movements of Manx hen harriers. We know our young birds have a tendency to wander, in common with other bird of prey species, but none has yet survived long enough away from the Isle of Man to either settle to nest or to return to the Island. We applaud RSPB’s efforts to understand the circumstances of Mary’s premature demise and to demand a full and transparent investigation.”

John Lusby, Raptor Conservation Officer at BirdWatch Ireland said: “It is devasting to learn of the fate of this bird. Each hen harrier in Britain is precious, as their numbers have been decimated by illegal killing. For this bird to travel to Ireland, with so many people invested in its survival and eagerly following its journey, only to suffer the same fate at the hands of wildlife criminals is truly devastating. We are appalled, but sadly not surprised, as this is not an isolated incident. The fact is that, of the small number of birds that have been fitted with tracking devices in Ireland or which travel here from abroad, a high proportion has been killed in similar circumstances to Mary.”

If you have any information relating to this incident, reports can be made in confidence to local Gardaí and the NPWS Navan office at 00353 76 1002636.