09/05/2008

Police Target Wild Bird Egg Thefts

Thieves have been giving police 'the bird' recently with the theft of seabird eggs from a Co Down beauty spot.

It is thought they are being bought by restaurants in the south-east of England for about £6 to £7 per egg.

Now, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) EHS (Environment and Heritage Service) and Copeland Bird Observatory have come together to tackle the theft of seabird eggs from Big Copeland Island.

It has emerged that, last year a large number of eggs - up to 3,000 - were reported as stolen by a volunteer of the Copeland Bird Observatory.

This theft, mainly of Black Headed Gull and Mew (or Common) Gull eggs, has led to a complete failure of a major seabird colony.

Unfortunately this is not the first time the Copelands, made up of three islands, have been targeted, with eggs also stolen in both 2003 and 2004.

Sgt David Gowdy of Donaghadee station explained that "this crime is viewed by local police as a crime not only against the wildlife of the Islands but also against the local community".

"In relation to the specific case of the Copelands I would ask all those involved with the marine environment to contact Donaghadee Police Station if they become aware of anything suspicious in the local vicinity.

"Any person involved in this type of crime will be reported to the Public Prosecution Service," he warned.

Sgt Gowdy also stated that the police has a robust attitude to enforcing the Wildlife Order, and that the support of the local community would make it difficult for thieves to go undetected.

He added: "Volunteer Staff at Copeland Bird Observatory have worked tirelessly to provide a safe habitat for many different species of birds and it is devastating to see their dedicated work ruined by callous thieves who seem to have no comprehension of the damage they are inflicting.

"We are committed to working to educate people about these types of crime and put practices into place to put an end to thefts which endanger the survival of any species."

Meanwhile, Police Service Wildlife Liaison Officer, Emma Meredith, commented: "The removal of eggs from nests in these circumstances amounts to an offence Under the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985.

"Wildlife crime is taken seriously by the Police Service, but incidents must be reported to police as quickly as possibly," she said.

Neville McKee, of Copeland Bird Observatory, commented: "Copeland Bird Observatory is the only bird observatory in Northern Ireland, a fact which makes this theft all the more distressing.

"It is also particularly difficult to face a crime like this when every member of the observatory works here on a voluntary basis, giving their time freely to record migration of the birds, study their migration routes and longevity and monitor the populations of all breeding seabirds on the islands.

"Their dedication and commitment has resulted in many successes for the Observatory with a number of seabird species increasing in numbers," he said.

(BMcC)

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