DUP's Shannon 'wrong to blame birds of prey'

By Conor Macauley
BBC NI Agriculture & Environment Correspondent

image copyrightBen Hall (rspb-images.com)
image captionThe RSPB said birds of prey were not to blame for the decline of songbirds

A DUP MP is wrong to suggest the decline of songbirds in NI is due to an increase in the population of birds of prey, the RSPB has said.

Strangford MP Jim Shannon called for a Commons debate around the dilution of licensing arrangements for the shooting of raptors.

He said the numbers of birds of prey has "risen astronomically" across Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Mr Shannon said it had done so to "the detriment of songbirds".

He said a licensing arrangement which allowed for the legal culling of raptors was "off-putting" for those who wanted to get such a licence in order to "achieve a balance in the countryside".

image copyrightBen Hall (rspb-images.com)
image captionBuzzard numbers are on the increase in Northern Ireland

He told MPs that, on occasion, people were not able to get such a licence.

However, the RSPB in Northern Ireland said it was a "misconception" to suggest that bird of prey numbers were linked to the decline of songbirds.

It said that while buzzard numbers were on the increase, other species were continuing to decline and birds of prey were not the problem.

"It is a misconception that that these are responsible for the decline in songbirds. Scientific evidence shows that it is primarily changes in land use that have led to these declines."

image copyrightBen Hall (rspb-images.com)
image captionA 2016 report by the RSPB showed that birds of prey across the UK are under considerable pressure from persecution

A spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) said the NI Environment Agency has never issued licences to shoot birds of prey in Northern Ireland.

"Whilst the department technically has the power to issue such licenses, the process would require a significant level of consideration with confirmation that there was no other satisfactory solution," he said.

"NIEA has never received any such license applications for consideration."

The 2016 Birdcrime report by the RSPB shows that birds of prey across the United Kingdom are under considerable pressure from persecution.

Eighty-one birds of prey were persecuted in 2016 including six in Northern Ireland.

They included three buzzards which had been poisoned; 2 peregrine falcons one of which had been poisoned and one shot; and a sparrowhawk which had been shot.

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