DARD calls for help in discovering what is killing our wildlife

The early angler fared badly on the River Drowes.
The early angler fared badly on the River Drowes.
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Wood pigeon fatalities have been much more widespread than at first thought.

Bur for some reason best known to themselves organisations professing to have great concern for our wildlife do not seem to be overly concerned about ‘a wheen of ould pigeons’ that were dying en masse.

The fact is that men at the environmental coalface have told me they believe that many thousands of wood pigeons, together with pheasants, woodcock and at least two peregrine falcons have perished in what most assuredly was, and continues to be, a massive environmental disaster on our own doorstep.

I do not accuse DARD of any such attitude. I think its problem was the one I shared; I simply could not get hold of any dead birds before fox got to them, leaving only piles of feathers.

On Monday of this week I asked DARD if it could arrange to have autopsies carried out on some of the dead birds and I explained that I was having huge difficulty in finding any dead birds that would be in a fit condition for forensic examination.

I first got the reply from DARD three days later though that might be the fault of my computer.

Anyway, a spokesman said: “DARD has not recently received any pigeon carcasses from the area nor has it collected any pigeon carcasses as part of our dead wild bird survey. While we could consider likely causes, we cannot make a definitive diagnosis until we receive some carcasses. Therefore, we would ask any member of the public if they find pigeon carcasses – or those of any birds – to follow the advice on DARD’s website.” http://www.dardni.gov.uk/finding-a-dead-bird.htm

In last week’s article I said I was physically incapable of walking out to the wood pigeon flightpath a quarter of a mile high up the mountainside above my house in Cushendun where scores of dead pigeons were lying.

A couple of days ago I walked down along the Glendun River in the hope of finding viable dead pigeons but all I could find were clumps of pigeon feathers where foxes had got in ahead of me.

Talking to men who run pheasant shoots in different parts of the province it became clear to all of us that the sight of many dead wood pigeons, pheasants and rooks had not immediately rung a bell with the vast majority of sportsmen; they just assumed that some of their birds had either been shot by poachers, taken by raptors or predators or had gone awol.

On reflection they changed their minds and talked freely of heavy losses of birds, including woodcock in locations miles apart in Northern Ireland

For obvious reasons, I will not name all my informants but that great Carrickfergus sportsman – George McGrand who had read my article on Saturday said he fears the cause of the deaths might have been even more serious than I had said in the article.

I will not quote George on that subject lest it made life difficult for families, but I have told DARD what George said and I would feel sure it tried hard to get some dead birds but to no avail,

Mr James Leslie told he thought wood pigeons had been acting strangely at Leslie Hill near Ballymoney. He said total numbers were good but they were in unusually small groups. This may lead some people to think that bigger groups had run into some sort of trouble on the way to Leslie Hill.

I hope and expect that readers will respond positively to the DARD appeal above and we can have a definitive answer to what is a worrying problem. I would be happy if DARD can forward the facts directly to all relevant news desks, especially that of the News Letter.

One pheasant shoot owner said he had lost more pheasants than usual this autumn and he said that some of the wood pigeons he had picked up had no flesh on them with breast bones like razor blades. On reflection, he said that wood pigeons and hundreds of rooks ‘had disappeared’ from his lands in mid Antrim.

Another man who runs a mixed shoot said his pheasants had been ‘wiped out’ before Christmas and that the 100 wood pigeons he had been feeding in a small covert, had all disappeared.

He said it was possible that the infected birds had flown in from Scotland or the Continent

Incidentally I have had a lengthy report from Raptor Persecution Scotland on the plight of the hen harrier which it says “is spiralling to near extinction in England thanks to criminals within the grouse shooting industry”. It refers to the jailing of a Scottish gamekeeper and heaps praise on among others, the RSPB for helping to send the keeper to prison.

So, everything will be OK if more gamekeepers can be sent to prison and raptor numbers can be free to multiply.

Meanwhile, water levels on the Drowes were very high on Wednesday of this week and proprietor Shane Gallagher was still waiting for the first fish of the year to be caught

Shane’s patience and that of anglers throughout Ireland was being well tested for, by Wednesday, there were still no reports of any salmon being caught since opening day. Some fish were seen on the Drowes last week and one was lost from the Mill Pool.

At Craigmore not many anglers braved the snow showers and gale force winds last Saturday. Leslie Beggs had 17 on bloodworm and lures. Christopher Martin had 14 to 4lb 10 oz on mixed lures.

Other catches were: John Francis, 16 to 4lb 10oz; Harry Diven, 11 to 5lb 10oz;  Paul Jones, 12 to 6lb; Martin Foster, 10; David Walker, six; Billy Hazlett, 10; Tommy Wharry, six; Jim Magill, five; Jimmy Irvine, seven to 4lb; Frank McKeown, nine to 4lb; Keith Henry. 4lb 10oz; Justin McKeown; 3lb 10oz; Ethan Ash, 4lb.

The season has opened on Lough Currane and the River Laune and anglers there were doing their best to catch the first salmon of the year.

Paul Bourke of Angling Ireland says a skate of 209 lb and one fish of 100lb plus was caught and released by Darren McMaw while deep sea fishing off the Antrim coast with skipper Hamish Currie.

Nancy Hearne said that at the time of writing they were still waiting for news of the first salmon of the new season.

Note: The Rod and Gun column will be appearing in Farming Life every Saturday. If possible, reports should be with me by Wednesdays at the latest. Like DARD, I would be grateful for news of any sightings of sick or dead wild birds from any part of the country.