New wildlife crime unit to tackle illegal hunting and destruction of habitats

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A new Wildlife Crime Unit to be set up in the National Parks and Wildlife Service next year will improve protection for Ireland’s wild mammals and birds and their habitats.

The new unit will seek to increase effectiveness in tackling illegal hunting, habitat destruction, and the killing of protected birds and animals. It will involve improved training for wildlife rangers working closely with gardaí, said Junior Minister for Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan.

Birds of prey, deer, song birds, badgers, hares and other creatures continue to suffer the effects of illegal activity.

A wildlife crime committee within the National Parks and Wildlife Service has been spearheading the protection of wildlife for a number of years and has signed a memorandum of understanding for closer cooperation with gardaí.

Mr Noonan told the Sunday Independent that more training and resources will be made available to wildlife rangers and other staff in detecting wildlife crime and in working with gardaí to prosecute those who violate regulations protecting wildlife.

The new unit will be modelled on a world-class wildlife crime unit in the UK and new legislation may be necessary to fully establish the Irish unit, he said.

Garda investigations are ongoing into a number of incidents this year, including the poisoning of 22 buzzards in West Cork in January.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service and biodiversity measures received €29m in the Budget, a 63pc increase on last year.

It reflected a growing public appreciation, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, of the value of the natural environment, Mr Noonan said.

He added the vast majority of farmers were doing the right thing in protecting the environment and biodiversity and it was important that farmers were rewarded and supported for enabling more biodiversity and conservation.

Noel Bugler – an inspector in the National Parks and Wildlife Service who is involved in the further training of wildlife rangers – said the rangers seek to emulate the highest standards globally in an effort to protect Ireland’s wildlife.

There has been significant liaison with experts in the UK on best practice.

There was a “staggering” increase this year in the number of detected violations of cutting and removing of vegetation during the bird nesting season from March to August.

Hedges and ditches are vital for nesting birds such as blackbirds, robins, wrens, blue tits and finches, but there was a big increase in the illegal cutting and the removal of large areas of vegetation during that crucial period.

Last year, 300 incidents of illegal cutting were detected, but this year there were 700 reports, Mr Bugler said.

The increased reporting may have happened because perpetrators had spare time to cut down vegetation during lockdown. It also may have been the result of the general public becoming far more aware of what was happening in their local environment during the lockdown.

Mr Bugler said the poisoning of birds of prey such as falcons, red kites, buzzards, owls and kestrels was a very serious matter.

Poisons and pesticides banned in recent years were still being used, resulting in the deaths of many magnificent birds.

Sunday Independent

Source: Irish News