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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
Falcons fall prey to poison bait
Peregrine falcons
The peregrine falcon is one of the rarest wild birds
Wildlife watchdogs are hunting people who are using poison to kill Wales's rare peregrine falcon population.

Pigeon carcasses laced with industrial pesticide have been found laid close to the birds' nests which, at the last count, numbered fewer than 300 breeding pairs.

Police are now monitoring 36 sites across south Wales, where the protected birds of prey are considered vulnerable to similar attacks.

Dead pigeon
Pigeons may be used as poisoned peregrine bait
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds believes it is the latest episode in a growing trend of wild bird poisonings.

Last May, the society said incidents had doubled on the previous year to 771 - the highest number in four years.

Peregrine falcons are known to kill racing pigeons which can be worth thousands of pounds to their owners.

Over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, the RSPB and the Royal Society for the Protection and Conservation of Animals were called to a number of suspected poisoning and shooting incidents, believed to be targeting peregrines in Gwent and the south Wales Valleys.

Findings probed

One incident involved three suspected poison pigeon baits tethered to a length of string.

All three birds were found dangling above a peregrine nest site.

Days earlier, the remains of a single tethered pigeon - again suspected of being laced with poison - was found above another peregrine nest site in south Wales.

Each pigeon was dangled on a tether, one of its legs cut off and a cut had been made down the spine

Simon Evans, RSCPCA inspector
All four cases are being analysed by Welsh Assembly scientists.

Sergeant Ian Guildford co-ordinates South Wales Police's wildlife liaison officers, who are monitoring the suspected attack sites.

He said the evidence is still being gathered, but added it was obvious whoever is behind the attacks is targeting peregrine falcons specifically.

"Pigeon fanciers have extended views in relation to peregrine falcons," he said.

"It's known that peregrine falcons will take racing pigeons.

"It's being done deliberately, aimed at peregrines, rather than any other bird."

Highly prized

An average racing pigeon can cost 500, while highly prized birds can command price tags of 10,000 or more.

Mr Guildford believes the suspicion about recent attacks on the peregrine falcons must fall on people connected with the sport.

A survey of Wales's peregrine falcon population - postponed last year due to the foot-and-mouth outbreak - is to be conducted over the summer.

Peregrine falcon
Peregrine falcons can command high prices
RSPCA inspector Simon Evans retrieved the pigeon carcases found over the bank holiday weekend.

"This type of behaviour is totally appalling," he said.

"Each pigeon was dangled on a tether, one of its legs cut off and a cut had been made down the spine.

"This method has been used at many peregrine sites in south Wales over the years and I would be amazed if these birds were not intended to be used as poison baits in order to target the peregrines."

Easter killings

Other incidents reported over Easter involved the disturbance of a peregrine incubating recently laid eggs and a decapitated peregrine found at a different site.

Both incidents are thought to involve the use of firearms.

Chris Townend, RSPB investigations officer: "Sadly, each year these type of incidents are reported regularly in south Wales.

"The South Wales Peregrine Watch Group, headed by the South Wales Police, is attempting to put a stop to these illegal acts.

"However, to do this reports from members of the public regarding suspicious circumstances and car registrations are invaluable."

See also:

07 Nov 01 | England
Rare egg hoard seized
30 May 01 | UK
Cameras prey on rare birds
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