LOCAL conservationists are working to identify those trying to poison birds of prey on the Belfast Hills through “raptor baiting”.
The destructive practice involves filling dead birds with poison as a trap for peregrine falcons and other protected birds of prey.
Ballymurphy man Aaron Kelly, said raptor baits are commonly set by some pigeon fanciers in a bid to poison predatory birds.
Having dentified and removed several of the deadly baits from the Belfast Hills, Aaron said the situation is “getting out of control”.
“The pigeon men will poison anything that they think will take their racers,” he explained.
“You’ve got these people killing these birds of prey because they will naturaly go for their pigeons because they’re flying about the mountain.
“It’s only kestrels and peregrines that will take them because buzzards don’t take pigeons. A few farmers have told me that a few people have asked them to shoot the buzzards. So you have these people that aren’t educated about it and are thinking the buzzards are going for everything, but it’s not just buzzards, there used to be loads of sparrowhawks and peregrines on that mountain but they’ve all been poisoned.”
The setting of poison baits in the open is illegal because it is indiscriminate, can be lethal to humans and has the potential to kill many birds of prey as well as other wildlife, pets, livestock and people.
“They’re leaving them on the ground so anything could take them,” Aaron said.
“It’s not just the birds of prey taking them, you’ve got other terrestrial animals like foxes and badgers, or even things like pine martens which are up there. It affects every animal on that mountain that eats meat.”
As part of Aaron’s conservation efforts, he has set up a number of motion sensor cameras on the mountain to monitor the local wildlife. However, he said he will be surveying the footage to catch those responsible for falcon baiting.
Meanwhile, the PSNI said it is “working with partner agencies to raise awareness” of falcon baiting  and has encouraged anyone with information to contact them by calling 101.