Police are using drones to combat wildlife crime in Northern Ireland, amid dangerous poisons being used to kill birds of prey.
All nesting birds, their eggs and dependent young are protected by law from disturbance and destruction – however, peregrines are still often targeted.
Even lawful operations that potentially impact a protected species must be assessed by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, so it has been working with police and the NI Raptor Study Group.
Wildlife Officer Dr Jon Lees said that, while safe protocols have been established for the monitoring teams, members of the public should avoid disturbing wildlife while flying drones or taking pictures.
“Peregrines have increased in numbers since historic lows of the 1950-60s caused by organochloride pesticides, egg collectors and persecution,” he said.
“However, they are still often targeted by those wanting to reduce their abundance, but can also be disturbed to the point of nest abandonment by people who just want closer look or a photograph.”
Emma Meredith, PSNI Wildlife Liaison Officer, said: “The Police Service of Northern Ireland take all types of crimes seriously and this includes wildlife crime - such as shooting, poisoning or trapping of birds of prey.
“On occasion, baits have been laid laced with poison in the public domain. On occasion, these are seriously dangerous poisons such as carbofuran which was banned across the EU in 2001.
“Be under no illusion - this type of poison is an indiscriminate killer and can also be fatal to humans. Not only wildlife suffers, but also any child, adult or pet could find and ultimately consume these poisoned baits.”
She added: “Given the potential dangers, police have begun to use the PSNI drones fitted with specialist cameras to assist in prevention and, if possible catching the perpetrators.
“If caught, they will be reported to the Public Prosecution Service.”
According to figures published by the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in November 2016, a total of 44 native birds of prey were illegally killed between 2009 and 2014.
The report showed that the most frequent casualties were buzzards and the recently re-introduced red kite, while peregrine falcons and a sparrowhawk were also killed.
The PSNI believes it is one of the first police services in the UK to use drone technology in this way.
PSNI Detective Inspector Stephen Brown said: “The ability to survey hard-to-reach areas mean that there is no hiding place for those who seek to persecute wild birds.”