Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 5th December 2016.
I thank the Member for asking the question and for raising the profile of this important issue. The Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Northern Ireland (PAW NI) is a multi-agency body comprising representatives and organisations involved in wildlife law enforcement. PAW NI partners include: key Departments, including four DAERA divisions; PSNI; NDPBs; NGOs; gamekeeping groups; and landowning interests. It affords opportunities for statutory and non-government organisations to work together to combat wildlife crime. PAW NI was established in April 2007.
I welcome the publication of the PAW NI raptor report, as it clearly highlights a number of problem areas in Northern Ireland. Of course, the report only accounts for the known cases where the birds were found and tested. The report is a beneficial tool, aiding future enforcement and detection action. Rather worryingly, it indicates an ongoing disregard for public safety by a small number of people in our community who are placing highly toxic poisons where wildlife, livestock, pets and people could come into contact with them. Also, there are people misusing presumably legally owned firearms, either intentionally or recklessly, with a similar disregard for safety.
Enhancing biodiversity is a central objective of my Department. The loss of our top predators from our ecosystems by acts of persecution is extremely disturbing. These are keystone species, and their loss has a detrimental impact right the way down the food chain. I call on those responsible for these reckless acts to cease doing so, and I urge anyone who may have information about these crimes to contact the PSNI or Crimestoppers.
I thank the Minister for her very comprehensive answer. It is quite disturbing to hear the detail of that. What is the Minister's Department doing to reduce wildlife crime throughout Northern Ireland?
Again, I thank the Member for her question. While I welcome the report, it troubles me somewhat, in that it is caveated by saying that it is likely that the figures presented here represent only a fraction of the number of incidents. Many remain undetected and unreported because the crimes primarily take place in very remote areas.
As the Member will be aware, the enforcement of the Wildlife Order is generally carried out by the PSNI. My officials from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) assist the PSNI by provision of technical support and advice, and we work alongside others in trying to stop this. My officials from several remits across the Department also sit on the PAW NI group. The group works with a range of partners to reduce wildlife crime. The Department is keen to further develop its relationship with PAW NI partners, and, additionally, we are open to providing high-level support to the PAW NI group should it be requested.
What consideration has the Minister given to the benefit of a public information programme helping to reduce the number of attacks on birds of prey and their nests?
I thank the Member for his question. Any public information that can go out to have people desist from this is obviously welcome. The Member may be aware that Operation Raptor was announced earlier this year. This is a public awareness programme to focus on the issue. I think that there is an onus on all of us, as elected representatives, to become involved in this, highlight the issue in our local press and get involved with local groups.
I thank the Minister for her answers so far. I agree with you on the protection of birds. You mentioned Operation Raptor. Can you give us an update on where we are with that?
I thank the Member for his question. As he is aware, it was launched in March this year. It runs indefinitely, and I guess that we will probably not really understand the benefits of that until the next report is published. I reiterate what I said to the previous Member. I encourage elected representatives to become involved in this campaign and to raise awareness. A poster campaign is associated with Operation Raptor and those who represent rural areas, in particular, may want to look at acquiring those pieces of information and posters for their offices.
Minister, this has been a particular problem in the Mournes, with red kites being targeted. Can you provide an update on how many birds have been killed over recent years?
I thank the Member for his question. While I do not have a total number, I am aware that the most recent report highlighted four red kites, four buzzards, two peregrines, one sparrowhawk and a raven. It is an issue that focuses not just on the south Down area but on other areas. I am quite happy to get the full range of final figures to the Member.