Police have launched an investigation after the death of a peregrine falcon in a quarry at Ashburton. Officers believe the young bird had been poisoned, and issued a warning that the poison could also be deadly to humans.
There are also suspicions that rogue members of the pigeon racing fraternity could be to blame for the poisoning. A £1,000 reward has been put up in an effort to find the poisoners,
PC Josh Marshall, who is Devon and Cornwall Police’s Wildlife Crime Officer, posted an emotional Tweet after the falcon was discovered.
He wrote: “Look into the eyes of a juvenile Devon peregrine falcon moments before its death.”
Police were contacted by staff at Glendinning Quarry in Ashburton, on Tuesday following reports of an injured peregrine falcon on the floor of the quarry which is home to a breeding pair of the birds.
PC Marshall made sure the bird received immediate care, but it died the following day.
He said: “The initial inspection and condition of the bird strongly suggests that this bird had been poisoned. The bird has now been placed into the Wildlife Investigation scheme administered by Natural England where it will be forensically examined to establish the cause of death and a police investigation has now begun into the incident.
“Members of the public are warned that poisons commonly used to commit a crime like this are incredibly toxic to humans and pets. Should any person locate any dead or injured birds they are strongly advised not to touch them or let pets come into contact with them.
“Ingestion of these poisons can lead to death. It is incredibly concerning that individuals are using these types of chemicals within public areas that not only kill our wildlife but could also place members of the public, children and their animals into harm’s way.”
The area around Ashburton and Buckfastleigh is a hot spot for the poisoning of these birds of prey.
In 1992 two peregrines were found dead at White Cleaves, Buckfastleigh, having eaten a poisoned pigeon.
In 2000 a peregrine was poisoned at the Ashburton quarry.
In 2000 a sparrowhawk was shot near Buckfastleigh but survived.
In 2003 two men with a pigeon on a length of string were spotted trying to lure peregrines at Buckfastleigh.
In 2005 a live racing pigeon with clipped wings was coated in poison and used as bait. Peregrine chicks were rescued but adults were missing, presumed dead.
In 2005 a dead peregrine was found on a dead pigeon which had been baited with poison and had its wings clipped.
In 2011 a peregrine was poisoned at a Buckfastleigh quarry.
PC Marshall added: “As can been seen from this data, the use of illegal banned poisons are evident and put the public at significant risk. In the 2005 incident, a number of children could have been harmed or potentially worse when the poisoned bait (a racing pigeon) was located wandering around near to a childminder’s address.
“Significantly racing pigeons have been used as the bait for a number incidents both here and nationally and the answer to solving and preventing these poisonings could lie somewhere within a rogue minority of the racing pigeon community.
“Peregrine falcons do not differentiate between prey items such as wild pigeons and racing pigeons, and this obviously causes conflict with some prize racing pigeons being taken by these birds of prey.
“Generally the method used will be to smear the bait with a Vaseline type substance containing the poison on to either a live or dead bird. When the peregrine plucks and eats the bait item the poison is then ingested and kills the bird. The bird then endures an excruciating few hours whilst waiting to die.
“South West Peregrines, a volunteer group who monitor these birds and others within the South West, have described the incident as ‘abhorrent’.
“We are urging members of the local community to come forward with any information they may have that can assist in bringing these offenders to justice.”
Information is handled in the strictest of confidence and can be passed directly to PC Marshall at Joshua.marshall2@or by email 101@ or calling 101 quoting log number 0223 180817.
Information can be passed anonymously to Crimestoppers via 0800 555111 or the charity’s website at www.crimestoppers-uk.org
Tony Whitehead, speaking for RSPB in the South West said: “Peregrines are magnificent and much-loved birds, whose comeback over the past twenty years is a conservation success. However, once again, it appears the peregrines at this site have been deliberately targeted and, it is suspected, poisoned.
“Should this prove to be the case, this is outrageous and the criminals must be brought to justice. We are also concerned that, should this again prove to be a poisoning, someone is wantonly placing toxic chemicals in the countryside which can be a danger to both humans and pets.
“Someone in the local community must have information about who’s doing this and we urge people to come forward and contact the police. A £1,000 reward has been offered by the RSPB for information that directly leads to the prosecution of the offender.”
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