A Co. Laois man has been given a three-month suspended prison sentence for the possession of two dead buzzards, which were found strung up on his land.

On Friday, October 15, at Portlaoise District Court, Desmond Crawford, of Roskelton, Mountrath, Co. Laois, pleaded guilty to the unlawful possession of two dead buzzards contrary to the Wildlife Acts.

The offence took place on April 19, 2020, at Clonadacasey, Mountrath, Co. Laois.

The offence was investigated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Housing, Local Government, and Heritage.

It was prosecuted under the Wildlife Acts by Rory Hanniffy BL, instructed by Sandra Mahon, state solicitor for Co. Offaly.

‘No doubt that both buzzards had been shot’

In his evidence to the court, district conservation officer Kieran Buckley of the NPWS told Judge Catherine Staines that he, accompanied by two NPWS conservation rangers from neighbouring areas, travelled to Clonadacasey to investigate a complaint from a member of the public that two dead buzzards were tied up to an electricity post and a fence stake in cultivated fields.

Upon arrival, the NPWS searched the area and found one dead buzzard strung up by its outstretched wings to an electricity post and another dead Buzzard strung up by its legs to a fence stake.

Following a line of inquiry, Buckley established that Crawford was farming the land where he found the two dead buzzards. 

Accompanied by NPWS officers Robert Edge and Colm Malone, Buckley then interviewed Crawford under caution about the incident.

At the District Court sitting, photographs of the two dead buzzards and X-ray evidence were presented to Judge Staines.

Buckley told the judge that the x-ray evidence left no doubt that both buzzards had been shot, adding that the tight pattern of the lead shot showed clear evidence that both birds were shot at close range.

He added that given the time of year, the dead buzzards may have been a breeding pair.

This, he said, would leave them vulnerable to being shot at their nest. Buckley also told the judge that buzzards were the most frequent casualty of bird of prey persecutions and added that the NPWS is determined to tackle wildlife crimes of this nature, particularly when this species has recovered from the brink of extinction. 

The defence solicitor, Josephine Fitzpatrick, told the judge that Crawford denied he had shot the buzzards, but he was very sorry for what he had done and apologised to the court.

In her summation, Judge Staines expressed her abhorrence at the undignified manner in which two birds were displayed, saying it showed no respect whatsoever. It was, she said,”an example of a disgusting lack of respect in an outrageous act of wildlife crime”.

Judge Staines then detailed to the court that she had to consider a prison sentence as an appropriate way to deal with this matter.

She convicted Crawford of the possession of the two dead buzzards under Section 45 (2) and 45 (7) of the Wildlife Acts and imposed a three-month sentence of imprisonment, which she suspended on the accused’s own bond for a period of one year.

‘Wildlife crime is serious’

The Minister of State for heritage and electoral reform at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage Malcolm Noonan said that recent judgements in the District Courts indicate clearly that wildlife crimes have serious consequences:

“I welcome the conviction in this awful case and would like to thank everyone involved in securing it.

“I particularly welcome the comments of Judge Staines, who acknowledged the outrageousness of the crime and the lack of respect shown to these beautiful birds.

“Recent judgements being handed down in the courts to people convicted of deliberately destroying habitats or harming wildlife are sending out a clear signal that, as a society, we will no longer tolerate such actions.

“Wildlife crime is serious, and it has serious consequences. We need to protect nature,” he added.

Ciara O’Mahony, regional manager of the South East Region of the NPWS, welcomed the reporting of this matter by a concerned member of the public, and encouraged more who witness wildlife crimes such as this to come forward in confidence to the NPWS.