Between disease and thoughtless thugs wildlife is under severe pressure

Many thousands of game shooting enthusiasts in county Kilkenny along with members of BirdWatch Ireland and conservationists in general, are keeping a close eye on reports of bird ‘flu in pheasants around West Cork. Avian Flu in poultry caused a major health scare in Ireland as far back as 2007 when worldwide cases led to over 330 human deaths globally. Fortunately, latest reports are that this outbreak is of a milder nature.

Many thousands of game shooting enthusiasts in county Kilkenny along with members of BirdWatch Ireland and conservationists in general, are keeping a close eye on reports of bird ‘flu in pheasants around West Cork. Avian Flu in poultry caused a major health scare in Ireland as far back as 2007 when worldwide cases led to over 330 human deaths globally. Fortunately, latest reports are that this outbreak is of a milder nature.

It is common practice for many gun clubs in Kilkenny and elsewhere, to purchase pheasant poults from a variety of sources for eventual release into the wild prior to the shooting season. The discovery of the disease in Co. Cork was made by a Dept. of Agriculture vet who heard anecdotally about a number of pheasants having died in the Clonakilty area.

As there are gun clubs and shooting syndicates in almost every parish around Co. Kilkenny, officers of these clubs will be watching their game birds carefully for signs of the dreaded disease.

Over the years wildlife lovers have witnessed the once plentiful grey partridge becoming almost extinct in the wild, the red grouse which were once numerous on nearby Mount Leinster and even on Brandon Hill near Graignamanagh are now either gone completely or just the odd bird or two remaining. Woodcock are also reported very scarce and many gunmen claim that they shot more of these birds in a day at one time than they would now see in a full season.

Notwithstanding the fact that rabbits cause enormous harm to young corn and grassland those of us who love the countryside and its flora and fauna regret the introduction of that dreadful myxomatosis. Some rabbits appear to have become immune to the disease and survive an outbreak, but there are still rabbits catching the virus. One area in south Kilkenny had remained clear of ‘myxo’ for several years and the rabbit population exploded there.

Unfortunately, an outbreak last autumn saw the numbers of conies decimated. But only last week I noticed that rabbits are now back in the same area and appear to be in a healthy myxo-free condition. While one sympathises with farmers who suffer considerable damage to their crops by rabbits, there must be better ways of controlling this pest other than spreading this vile and lingering disease.

In Kilkenny city and many county towns such as Thomastown, Graignamanagh, Callan etc. Mallard duck were introduced on to the local rivers by gun clubs. These birds were a great addition to their respective areas and enjoyed by locals who fed them regularly. The beautifully feathered drake and his more sober coloured mate became almost as tame as farmyard poultry. However, a group of ‘scumbags’ discovered that by tossing the ducks a piece of cold boiled potato on a hook and line was an easy way of catching duck for culinary use.

Many allegations of certain people using this sneaky method have been made and on one occasion some years ago a pair of young thugs were thrown into the shallow canal waters in a nearby Co. Carlow town when caught stoning the ducks. On climbing out of the water they had the audacity of going to the local Garda station to complain. Incidentally they got little sympathy from the garda on duty due to their continuous anti-social behaviour in the area.

A housing estate on the outskirts of Kilkenny city had a well-kept pond as an attractive feature in their green area. This became home to several Mallard ducks and the residents were delighted to see two of these ducks hatch out a clutch of ducklings. The residents’ joy was shortlived however, as a handful of ‘nasties’ came under cover of darkness and netted both ducks and their ducklings. Pat Durkan who was a high ranking voluntary officer of BirdWatch Ireland at the time, along with local ‘Richview’ resident Dermot Fennelly, did a thorough investigation and while the culprits are known it was impossible to prove their guilt and prosecute.

The National Regional Game Councils and especially its chief officer Des Crofton, are doing good work for game conservation. But there is also a real need for full-time Wildlife Officers to deal with those who abuse our wildlife stocks. Many years ago we had an excellent wildlife officer in Kilkenny – Pauraic Comerford -- who did tremendous work and was dedicated to the job. When he was subsequently promoted -- and deservedly so! – he has never been replaced. I believe that many genuine shooting enthusiasts would agree to pay a few extra euro with their gun licences to help pay salaries of enthusiastic wildlife officers. The presence of active wildlife officers would be a major deterrent to poachers. Hefty fines, confiscation of guns and ‘named and shamed’ on local newspapers would most likely be a big help in protecting wildlife.

The almost tame otter who gave great entertainment to passers-by last year in the John’s Quay/John’s Bridge area of the river Nore is still around. He (or she!) was spotted several times recently at the first field of the Bishop’s Meadows just beyond Greensbridge. The otter was also spotted on the bank of the river enjoying a fish it had caught – apparently the otter is having more luck than many anglers since the season opened on March 17!