Irresponsible and misleading Tipperary Star article about birds of prey could cause untold damage

6th December 2016

BirdWatch Ireland would like to raise its serious concerns in relation to a highly misleading and misinformed article featured on the front page of last week’s edition of the Tipperary Star, which makes outlandish claims that Buzzards, a bird of prey, have been “targeting” terriers in the county.  BirdWatch Ireland was not contacted by anyone from the Tipperary Star ahead of publishing the particular article in question last week.

Buzzard in flight (photo: Shay Connolly)
Buzzard in flight
(photo: Shay Connolly)

Such misinformation and negative sentiment towards birds of prey is unfortunately nothing new. The particularly sensationalist piece in the Tipperary Star warns owners of pet dogs and cats to be on high alert from “giant Buzzards” which are “causing major problems in the mid-Tipperary area”.  This article has succeeded in attracting significant attention for all the wrong reasons.  There are far-reaching consequences from fostering such misguided fear of birds of prey, which threaten to drag Ireland back into a darker past.

To be absolutely clear: Buzzards pose no threat to sheep or lambs.  This is a myth which refuses to die in some quarters, and it needs to stop.  By preying on rats and other pests, Buzzards in reality bring a number of clear benefits to our sheep farmers.  Buzzards will sometimes feed on dead or stillborn lambs, but there is no evidence of them killing or harming living lambs.

Buzzards also prey on rabbits, but are incapable of killing prey larger than this.  Contrary to claims in the article, Buzzards pose no threat whatsoever to the survival of Ireland’s hare population.

Buzzard (photo: Brian Carruthers)
(photo: Brian Carruthers)

BirdWatch Ireland would also point out that most other European countries, including the UK, have far higher Buzzard population densities than Ireland, yet there does not seem to be any comparable scaremongering or media-induced panic and misinformation about threats to pets there.

Driven to extinction in Ireland by the early part of the 20th century, the Buzzard’s natural re-colonisation after a significant absence has been one of the most positive success stories for Irish wildlife in recent decades.  The population recovery is continuing, with an expanding range and increasing numbers.  Unfortunately, the illegal threats responsible for the Buzzard’s initial disappearance in Ireland have still not disappeared.

The illegal poisoning and shooting of birds of prey remains prevalent in our countryside.  A recent spate of particularly sinister persecution incidents in County Tipperary targeting Buzzards, as well as Peregrine Falcons and White-tailed Eagles, proves just how divisive and dangerous the incorrect and inflammatory statements presented in the recent article in the Tipperary Star can be.

Buzzard (photo: Eddie Dunne)
(photo: Eddie Dunne)

John Lusby, Raptor Conservation Officer with BirdWatch Ireland, said, “These issues extend far beyond how we view birds of prey.  As top predators, Buzzards are excellent indicators of a healthy countryside.  Their presence in an area should be viewed as a positive indication of a well-functioning ecosystem, as well as a benefit to local agriculture.  Their re-colonisation has restored a natural balance, filling a vital ecological niche which has been empty for decades.  Our treatment of birds of prey reflects our level of respect for the environment.

By feeding readily on carrion, and through directly hunting them, Buzzards help to keep numbers of crows, such as Hooded Crows and Magpies, and rodents, in check.  However, despite this, a small minority of people still view the Buzzards’ presence in our countryside in a negative light.  The scare-mongering and fostering of a culture of fear towards birds of prey, as demonstrated in the Tipperary Star article, helps to fuel and falsely justify the sentiments of a minority.

Oonagh Duggan, BirdWatch Ireland’s Acting Head of Policy, Communications and People Engagement, commented, “To take a positive from this otherwise negative story, it has been hugely heartening to witness the level of public outcry over the sentiments expressed in the article.  From the messages we have received, it is obvious that people are appalled and simply will not tolerate these ill-informed views.  This shows that in many ways we have come a long way in our attitudes towards birds of prey and nature generally, but when we see an item like this on the front page of an Irish newspaper it is obvious we still have some way to go.

Buzzard (photo: David Dillon)
(photo: David Dillon)

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