Reintroduced kite shot dead in Ireland

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A rare bird of prey, released into the Irish countryside in an attempt to reintroduce the species after a 200-year absence, has been found dead with seven shotgun pellets in its carcass. Police are investigating the killing of the red kite, a species protected under European law. News of the death was received with dismay by environmentalists and ornithologists. Ironically, the bird was shot during the republic's National Heritage Week – and just six weeks after it was set free.

It is not yet known whether the shooting was deliberate or accidental. But the incident may highlight tensions between the environmental lobby and farmers, who fear that eagles and other birds of prey pose a risk to livestock.

The dead red kite was among a group of 30 imported from Wales and released in Co Wicklow under the Golden Eagle Trust programme. The scheme aims to reintroduce birds of prey to several parts of Ireland, where the red kite had been extinct since 1790.

Damian Clare, the trust's project manager, said the other birds had adapted well to the countryside. He added: "Obviously, after all the hard work and support for the project, it is very worrying to recover a shot kite so soon after they were released. Despite this early setback, we are still confident the red kite will become a cherished part of Wicklow's beautiful landscape and an added attraction for tourism."

Mr Clare added: "We hope that all landowners can advise people shooting on their property that red kites must be left unmolested. These species are fully protected by the law and it is illegal to shoot red kites, by mistake or otherwise."

He stressed that the project had received excellent support from farmers, landowners and gun clubs. However, not everyone supports the idea of increasing Ireland's bird of prey population. In June, more than 100 farmers protested when white-tailed sea eagles were brought to Co Kerry for release. And earlier this month, the Irish Farmers' Association warned that some of its members believed their lambs were at risk from the sea eagles. A spokesman said: "This is a positive project but there has been no consultation with farmers."

Mr Clare said that, while it was hoped the shooting of rare birds would not happen, "there does seem to be people who look at life differently".

In Northern Ireland last year, a "hitman" with a sniper's rifle shot dozens of peregrine falcons in the Mourne Mountains of Co Down. The mysterious figure was reportedly dressed in full camouflage gear, including a netting face-mask designed to conceal his facial features from the sharp-eyed birds. His motivation was said to be to kill falcons preying on valuable racing pigeons as they flew through the Mournes. Racing pigeons are prized by their owners and change hands for large sums. Red kite numbers have dwindled since the Middle Ages, when rumours spread among farmers that they were capable of killing sheep, because they were often found scavenging off animal carcasses. In reality, they will only take small live prey, as well as carrion, and will rob other birds.