September 5, 2008

Charity Asks Minister to Get Tough on Wildlife Crime


Convicted wildlife criminals are getting away with what amounts to a fine and a slap on the wrists, Environment Minister Sammy Wilson has been warned.

The threat of jail terms is needed to act as a deterrent to those who would harm Northern Ireland's wildlife, he was told by the RSPB in a meeting this week.

As well as calling for tougher sentencing for wildlife criminals, the group also asked the minister to introduce legislation protecting nest sites outside breeding season for species such as the peregrine falcon which returns year after year, restrictions on releasing non-native species into the wild here.

The group also wants the minister to make it an offence to possess highly toxic pesticides without lawful excuse, especially those used to poison rare birds of prey. Four buzzards were recently found poisoned in south Armagh.

Northern Ireland's wildlife laws are currently being reviewed and are "light years behind the rest of the UK" in providing adequate protection for wildlife, the RSPB warned.

NI director Aidan Lonergan said: "We have supported most of the Department of the Environment's proposals to reform this legislation so that it gives full protection to our wildlife.

"However, it is unacceptable that custodial sentences for wildlife crimes are an option for the courts across GB, but not in Northern Ireland.

"The RSPB believes that the threat of custodial sentences would act as a deterrent to many of those who would seek to harm wildlife.

"At present, convicted criminals are effectively given a fine and a slap on the wrists.

"The Northern Ireland Government must send out the message that wildlife crime will not be tolerated.

"The RSPB submitted a comprehensive response to a consultation on the Wildlife Order earlier this summer, and we have urged the Minister to seriously consider the recommendations put forward by our organisation, especially the introduction of custodial sentences for wildlife crimes."

The group also warned that waterbirds are being accidentally poisoned by swallowing lead shot which has fallen onto wetlands.

"The poisoning of waterbirds from lead gunshot pellets occurs when they mistakenly ingest pellets for grit to aid digestion.

"This cause of bird deaths is avoidable, and the long-term accumulation of lead pellets in sediments is a concern for the future," Mr Lonergan said.

"Effective, safe and reasonably-priced non-toxic alternatives to lead are now widely available following the introduction of regulations in the rest of the UK.

"The Department of the Environment has provided a series of options which would help reduce the risk, and we advised the Minister that the model adapted in England and Wales would provide the greatest protection for our waterbirds."

Originally published by LINDA McKEE ENVIRONMENT CORRESPONDENT [email protected]

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