Can we afford to let sparrowhawks savage 24m blackbirds a year?

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If constant dripping can wear away a stone, perhaps those who benefit financially from boasting about how many raptors and predators with which they have helped to flood the countryside, will be made to see the error of their ways.

I do not think they will ever agree to do it voluntarily because there are hundreds of millions of pounds involved. But if the message does get through that some highly paid organisations are doing more harm than good, then the writing could be on the wall for them.

It won’t be easy. Men like Robin Page who writes a brilliant column for the Daily Telegraph and those country dwellers who bother to express their views publicly, have been doing their very best to bring a bit of common sense into the wildlife argument.

On Monday of this week Robin in the Daily Mail told how seagulls had killed a chihuahua belonging to an old lady in the garden of her home in Honiton, Devon.

And he went on to express his views about the slaughter of the innocents by raptors and predators, of which there are far too many now.

He quotes an Isle of Wight reader who tells of seeing four red squirrels taken from her garden by buzzards. Robin said she pointed to a forked tree and said that was where the buzzards did their killing. They disembowelled the squirrels there, she said.

Robin includes red kites, hen harriers, sparrowhawks, ravens, gulls, crows and magpies among the most savage killers. But, he said the apparent refusal of organisations like the RSPB to do anything about the killers was typical. He quoted an Oxfordshire builder as saying: he has had all his free-range chicks and ducklings taken by red kites.

The enormity of the carnage caused by raptors can be gauged from Robin’s quote from a book by Professor Ian Watson.

In it the professor suggested that there were then 40,100 pairs of sparrowhawks in Britain and that each pair would need 121 lb of wild bird meat a year to allow them to live and breed. Robin says: “That is 4,852,100 lb of wild birds a year or 2,166 tons for the sparrowhawk population. That translates into 24 million blackbirds. Or 88.2 million sparrows. Or 9.7 million lapwings.

“Add that 2,166 tons to the birds and animals killed by other raptors and you get an indication of the harsh reality of nature.”

Commenting on Robin’s article, one of his sternest critics said it was no surprise that it was published in the Daily Mail whose editor, Paul Dacre it says just happens to own a grouse shooting estate in Scotland.

Meanwhile, there was great news this week from an organisation which has been fighting hard to save the wild Atlantic Salmon. You may remember that some months ago I mentioned the great work being done by Alexandra Mortron and others across the Atlantic.

Well I have received a copy of the email from  headed ‘Big win today for wild salmon’. It says: “I am very happy to tell you that the lawsuit I launched two years ago with Ecojustice finally got a decision. WE WON.

“British Colombia salmon farmers are no longer allowed to put diseased fish in their farms. This is most significant because most of the salmon farmed in BC that I test is infected with the virus PRV. 

“My deepest thanks to Ecojustice. They worked so hard on this.  The industry has four months to comply. Lots of hard work still ahead to make this stick. Thank you for staying with me through this.”

It is catch-up time on the River Drowes after a number of glitches. Fishing has been good since the start of May. On the first Saturday of the month six fish were reported, two on worm and four on spinner.

Next day seven were taken, two on prawn, one on worm and four on spinner. On the Monday two fish were lost on fly and another while spinning. T. Parker had a 6lb 8oz fish on a Cascade tube from the Mill pool. In rising water three fish were reported. 

On the Cork Blackwater Ian Powell caught and released a fresh 9lb fish at the Jole on Lower Kilmurry.

Paul Bourke writes in Irish Angling update: “Ian Walker had a fine specimen sea trout of 7lb on the River Bandon which he quickly released after taking a photo. Another specimen sea trout was recorded on Lough Currane and nine years old Jayden Fogarty caught her first salmon.

“Salmon fishing on the Moy is improving and Pat Loughnane had the heaviest fish of the week at 17 lb 8oz. On the Ballisodare fishery, a total of 100 salmon were taken in the past month which is a big improvement on previous years.   Some fine salmon up to 12 lb. were reported from the Gweebarra River in Co. Donegal.

“Weather conditions were described as rotten on many days for anglers fishing on Lough Sheelin but some nice fish were caught. Angling guide Mick Flanagan had Carrickfergus client, Alan Thomas, out on Lough Lene where they caught some wonderful trout and pike later in the day.

“Best trout of the year so far at 16 lb 9 oz. was caught and released on Lough Melvin by an angler who was trolling for salmon.”  

A number of controversial issues, including hydroelectric schemes, water abstraction, wind farms and salmon management were discussed at the last meeting of the Loughs Agency Salmon, Inland Fisheries and Environmental Focus Group in the Silver Birch Hotel in Omagh.

Tony French said that Northern Ireland Environment Agency had recently been reported to have tried to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ulster Farmers’ Union in an attempt to reduce the number of prosecutions against farmers.

John McCartney said he was sitting on a working group on hydroelectricity with Northern Ireland Environment Agency and had asked that nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) be allowed to sit on the group or be allowed to have an input into the group. Chairman Jim Haughey said that the Ulster Angling Federation had met with the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure Technical advisory group. However he did not see any significant change in the approach to the current schemes.

Eamon Mullan expressed his concerns over the cumulative impacts of hydroelectric schemes on the River Roe system and asked that this be addressed. Mr Haughey said there was potential for cumulative impact on the Faughan schemes and asked if anyone had looked at the appropriate assessments for any of the Faughan schemes to see if this had been mentioned.

Peter Archdale said there was no strategic planning policy statement for the new Councils particularly in relation to renewable energy and that this was an opportunity to influence the new Councils via the Loughs Agency or the advisory forum.

There was a long discussion about the recently issued Donegal County Council licence for the Derg smolt farm and the aquaculture licence.

There was a detailed discussion on the proposed salmon fishery in West Greenland. Mr McCartney was told by the chairman that Canada had already gone 100 per cent catch-and-release for Atlantic salmon.

John McCartney was asked by the focus group to run a one-day workshop to look at the Loughs Agency’s salmon management, trout and stocking policies, particularly in relation to the fisheries management outcomes that may result from the IBIS project.

Mr McCartney said he would try to arrange this after the IBIS two- day event summarising the research.

The chairman referred to what he called excessive abstraction from River Derg at Ardstraw by NI Water, and delays in bringing in water from the new facility at Newtownstewart.

Mr Haughey said Mourne water had a variation in pH which has made it unsuitable to mix with Derg water and that there was a problem with this abstraction.

Members expressed their concern about wind farms in Donegal. Jim Haughey circulated the UAF’s consultative position regarding the wind farms and John McCartney gave the Loughs Agency’s response.

There was particular concern about the size of the proposed turbines in the Finn and Derg catchment and about the potential for damage to the fishery particularly during construction works associated with the turbines.

The focus group’s next meeting will be in late May or early June at the Loughs Agency headquarters in Prehen.

At Craigmore, a staggering amount of big fish were being caught. Sandy Doreen landed 55 to 6lb 10oz on the weed fly. Harry Moffat had 13 to 4lb on buzzers and Ernie Kirpatrick, 30 to 5lb on two visits. David McBurney had 18 and Ivor McBurney nine on mixed lures.

Other catches were: Chris Warrack, 13; Billy Hazlett, 21; John Hughes, 26 to 5lb; Alan Temple, 22; James Harper, 31; Rory O’Connell 13 to 4lb 8oz; Pawal Sinica, 22; William Orr, 15 to 4lb 8oz; David Moore, 22; Leslie Beggs, 36 7lb 1oz; John Bailey, 16 to 5lb; Maurice Anderson 14; Gordon Bailey, 10 to 5lb; Malcolm Reegan, 12; Jim Magill, 16 to 5lb.

Tommy Spence 26 to 8lb on midges; Brian Atkinson, 15 to 8lb 11oz; Billy Todd, 13 to 6lb; Jim Surgeoner,10; Des Moran and John Hasson, 13 to 5lb; Jason McKeown, eight including a tagged fish worth £25; Justin Quail, 10; Davy Couples Jr, 8lb 9oz; P Stewart, 5lb; R. Morrison, 5lb and 7lb; Lee Morrison, 5lb; Paddy McGarvey, 4lb; Allen Wallace,6lb; Simon Kinley, 5lb; Rab Watson,4lb; Tommy Wharry, 5lb; Jim Simpson, 4lb; Steven Brady, 4lb; Jonny Gracey, 6+lb; Shane Douglas, 7lb; Ivan Thompson, 5 9oz; Jim Patterson, 5lb 9oz; Nicholas McCrory, 4lb.

T Claire says TV day went well with the cameras recording more than 220 fish landed on the Thursday. The programme will be shown on Sky Channel 191 in a couple of weeks.

At Cashel trout fishery there were some great catches by anglers using assorted nymphs and buzzers. Peter Clark and Eddie Manthorpe, Coleraine and Portstewart, caught and released 14 and 11 respectively using klinkhammers, gold head nymphs, muddlers and buzzers.

Aidy Askin, Derry, released six which took buzzers and gold head pheasant tail nymphs. Ian Millar and Andrew Logan, Ballykelly and Dungiven, released nine between them which fell to klinkhammers, dry flies and nymphs.