Minister Darragh O’Brien has confirmed today (Saturday, October 24) that a dedicated Wildlife Crime Unit will be established next year (2021).

He confirmed this at the Wildlife Crime and Conservation Conference 2020, which is taking place this weekend.

Extra staff will be recruited for the unit, which will be operating under the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).

In a statement on social media, the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) has welcomed this news, along with deputy O’Brien telling the conference that the government is “committed to a thorough review of the NPWS and implementing the National Biodiversity Action Plan and to reviewing wildlife legislation to protect hedgerows and natural heritage”.

Report into bird deaths was published in recent days

Only last week deputy O’Brien said he would pursue the establishment of the unit. The aim of the unit will be to tackle wildlife crime, including illegal hunting.

The issue of wildlife crime was brought to light also in recent days with the publication of the NPWS review, called Recording and Addressing Persecution and Threats to Our Raptors (RAPTOR), which revealed that the use of poison accounted for 71.5% of illegal incidents that impacted raptors since 2007.

A total of 338 incidents were confirmed and recorded on the RAPTOR database during this period. A wide range of causes are listed, including: poisoning; persecution; and road and turbine collisions.

Between 2007 and 2019, 199 incidents of that could be termed ‘illegal’ (involving direct persecution or misuse of poisons) were recorded.

Poison incidents (involving poisoned meat bait or illegal poisons) accounted for 71.5% of such cases, while shootings accounted for 28% and trapping/mutilation accounted for 0.5% of such cases.

A total of 392 individual animals were impacted by such incidents, including a total of 164 birds of prey.

Poison and persecution incidents have been recorded in every county, with particular blackspots in the east and south-west.