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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 27 Nov 1929

Vol. 13 No. 3

Wild Birds Protection Bill, 1929—Second Stage.

I move:

"That the Wild Birds Protection Bill, 1929, be read a Second Time."

Perhaps the Senate would bear with me while I explain the provisions of the Bill. In introducing it I said that its object was to consolidate and codify the existing law in relation to the protection of birds. The existing law consists of six British statutes, five later ones amending or extending the first one, or amending some of the later ones. The disadvantage of that is that anyone who wants to ascertain the law has to go through the six existing Acts of Parliament. What I have done in this Bill is to repeal those six Acts of Parliament and to put their provisions into this Bill in a way in which they can be read logically and in order. The advantage of that will be that the District Justice, the prosecuting member of the Guards, the prosecuting solicitor or anyone who wants to ascertain the law, will only have to go to this small Bill of twelve or thirteen sections instead of wading through the six existing statutes. May I shortly deal with what the Bill proposes? By Section 2 of the Bill a close time is created, from the 1st March to the 1st August, during which it is illegal to take or kill any wild bird whatever. There is provision later on in the section which makes a small exception to that. The close time is a close time for all birds and the second and third subsections of Section 2 give the Minister power by order, which he can make on the application of a county council, to vary the close time, to make it longer or shorter. It also gives him very important power in sub-section (3) which will enable any body who so chooses on the application to the county council, and by order of the Minister, to create what is known as a sanctuary. Sub-section (3) gives the Minister power by order, on the application of a county council, to order that no wild birds may be taken or killed in any particular places in the county during any part of the year. That is not only during the close time but at any time, and in that way a sanctuary can be created. That will enable a sanctuary to be created on the Saltee Island where, as I know, many people are very anxious—the owner is very anxious—to have a sanctuary created. In this Bill we have not forgotten the power of creating a sanctuary.

The penalties for taking or killing wild birds during the close time, or in what the Minister may make the close time, are prescribed by sub-section (4). So far as the birds mentioned in the First Schedule are concerned there is a maximum penalty of £1 per bird. For all the other birds the offenders get off with a warning for the first offence, and then there is a maximum penalty of 10/-. I said there was an exception to the illegality of taking or killing a wild bird in the absolute close season and it is an exception which I think is a useful and reasonable one. It is dealt with in sub-section (6), which says:

This section shall not apply to the owner or occupier of any land or any person authorised by him taking alive or killing on such land any wild birds not mentioned in the First Schedule to this Act.

That enables a farmer for his own protection, and for the protection of his crops, to take or kill birds not mentioned in the First Schedule, such as crows, hawks, pigeons and magpies. I think that section is a necessary protection for the farmer and is one given him by a British Act. Section 4 is the next section, about which I would like to say something. It is a mixture of the old law and of the new. It prevents anybody using as a scarecrow any live bird which is tethered. That is the existing law. It prevents the use as a decoy of any live bird which is tethered, or is secured by means of braces or other similar appliances, or which is blind, maimed or injured, and "(c) the use of birdlime or any substance of a like nature for the purpose of taking or capturing alive or attempting to take or capture alive any wild bird." That is new, but I think it is an absolutely necessary provision. Anybody who has not seen the effects cannot know the cruelty caused by the use of birdlime in the taking of these birds. It is not to the bird that is caught that there is cruelty, as it is treated and the birdlime is carefully removed; it is to the bird that gets away with this stuff on its poor feet. It alights somewhere, gets away again and then gets stuck, so that the result is death from starvation.

The only other provision in Section 4 is that preventing the taking or attempting to take any wild bird by means of a hook or other similar instrument. That is a common way of taking birds in some parts of the country. For offences against that section there are heavy penalties. There is a maximum penalty up to £20, or a term of imprisonment not exceeding three months. Section 5 prevents the use of what are known as pole traps. That is, at places where birds naturally alight, they put a trap on the top of a pole or something like that. Sections 6 and 7 are new. They prohibit the keeping of any bird in a cage which is too small to let it spread its wings, with an exception when it is shown at a bird show. Section 7 prevents the taking of the eggs of the green plover or lapwing. I suggest that is a very necessary provision in a country where the lapwing is such a useful bird. Section 8 gives the Minister power by order, on the application of a county council, to prevent anyone taking the eggs of specified wild birds.

Then we come to what I consider to be the most important section in the Bill, one which makes a new law. It is Section 9, and prohibits the export of the wild birds that are mentioned in the Second Schedule. They are mostly song-birds. They include the peregrine falcon and the quail, but most of them are song-birds. I do not know if Senators are aware of the extent to which the export of birds is going on in this country. In Manchester and Liverpool there are large numbers of bird shops that get their supplies from this country. They have agents all over Ireland for the collection of goldfinches, siskins, larks, and other songbirds. In a very short time if that custom goes on—it is perfectly legal at present—there will not be a goldfinch or some of these other delightful song-birds left here. Another advantage of stopping the export of these birds is that it will also stop the use of birdlime, because it is in the capture of these very birds that birdlime is used. The extent to which this practice is going on can be judged when I tell the House that there are advertisements practically every week from these Manchester and Liverpool bird shops offering 5/- a pair for goldfinches and higher prices for some other birds. That is going on to a deplorable extent, and it is not only going to denude this country of some of its most delightful birds but it is naturally carried on with very great cruelty, because these birds have to cross the sea in what I might call parcels and a very large number of them arrive at the other side dead. Therefore I submit to the House that that particular section is of real value and one that it ought to accept.

I do not think there is anything else for me to mention in the Bill. It provides for the continuance in force of all the orders made in this country under the existing law. By this Bill we repeal the existing law. In a very large number of the counties in the Free State—sixteen or seventeen—there are orders which have amended the close time and have made other alterations in the law. By repealing the Acts under which these orders were made these orders would disappear, but they are kept alive by a sub-section of Section 14, so that they will still be in force and the county councils will not have to get new orders.

I beg to second the motion.

I feel that we will all welcome Senator Brown's Bill, and that it introduces a much-needed protection for wild bird life in this country. Senator Brown has explained the Bill in great detail, and I have not very much to add, except one thing which strikes me, and which, in the course of this Bill, we might attend to at the same time as we are dealing with the clause with regard to birdlime. I refer to Section 6, and I take that in conjunction with Senator Brown's own analysis of Section 9. My reason for drawing attention to these two sections is this: that I think this is a fit and opportune time to introduce in such a Bill as this legislation preventing the caging of birds at all.

Of wild birds.

Of wild birds. I have always felt, without being any way, shall I say, sloppily sentimental, that it is a form of cruelty to keep any wild bird in a cage. If any people ought to understand that and have sympathy with bird life in cages the Irish people ought to, because so many of them have been behind bars themselves. I feel after Senator Brown's argument on Section 9, whereby he would prohibit the export of wild birds to cities like Manchester and Liverpool, there is no logical reason why we should object to the export of these birds if the law permits the bringing of them into the city of Dublin to be sold in bird shops. I intend to introduce an amendment on the Committee Stage prohibiting the caging of birds at all in this country. If we prevent that I think we will have gone a long way towards protecting wild bird life, and removing what I look upon as a stigma on the people who, mostly thoughtlessly, continue to keep birds in wire cages. To me it is not a question whether the birds have space to spread their wings or not. It is nonsense to talk about the wild lark or thrush spreading its wings in a cage twelve inches by twelve inches, or whatever the size may be. I am in favour of the principle of the Bill, but I think it ought to be strengthened to prevent the caging of birds at all.

I approve of this Bill and I will support it with all the power that I have. Perhaps I might be allowed to relate a few personal experiences to show how necessary such a Bill is. I would not speak on the matter at all only that some years ago another Bill was rejected by the Dáil. I hope sincerely that this Bill will pass the two Houses. I am very much afraid that a large number of people regard naturalists and people who have an interest in country life as faddists. I want to show that this Bill is of the utmost importance to the farmers, leaving out any sentiment. I thoroughly agree with what Senator Brown and Senator Connolly said, and I want to show from personal experience how important this Bill is to farmers. With regard to taking the eggs of the green plover, the county I live in has five or six thousand acres of reclaimed slobland where myriads of birds live. These slobs are a favourite breeding place of the green plover, which eat the grub which causes liver fluke among sheep. There is a constant trade in the eggs of these birds, and during the war and the succeeding years large prices were paid in London. In late years we had a dreadful epidemic of liver fluke amongst live stock which was devastating whole districts. Last year two neighbours of mine lost, respectively, seventy and nineteen sheep, so that it is of the utmost importance to prevent the taking of the eggs of the green plover. Another bird which breeds in the loughs, which are really inlets of the sea, along the coast of Wexford is the tern or sea-swallow. I have seen the eggs of the tern collected and left to rot in heaps along the seashore. Sometimes they are brought home and boiled to feed young turkeys. I happen to know that they are not necessary for feeding young turkeys. I have the greatest possible interest in the Saltee Islands, and I was delighted to hear Senator Brown say that it will be possible to make a sanctuary there for these birds. The islands are amongst the most important breeding stations in Ireland for sea birds. I only know of three or four other stations altogether.

There is no more delightful sight than the Saltee Islands in June with the peculiar wild flowers that grow there like a carpet, and the hundreds of thousands of sea birds that breed on the cliffs. Last summer the dreadful cruelty that was practised by picnicking parties on harmless but useful white gulls was brought to my notice. They are very useful to the farmers. I have not the least doubt that the people who gave me the reports were speaking the truth. Unfortunately the Islands have become easily accessible since motor boats came into use, and parties have gone there, not to spend their time admiring the beauties of the Islands, but in killing and maiming the birds, leaving them with broken legs and wings. It is time to stop that.

Another bird mentioned for protection in the Bill is the owl. I wonder how many farmers realise what a useful bird the owl is. It is absolutely harmless. Its natural prey are rats and mice. It is unfortunately almost extinct. There may be places where there are a few of these birds but I think they are very scarce. Wherever there are owls there are no rats. I read a very interesting article a few years ago in an English newspaper in which the writer collected statistics and made a calculation of the amount of damage done on English farms by rats. If anybody could be found with the ability and the industry to make such a calculation about Ireland the figures would be astounding. The amount of damage done by rats on the farm is enormous. A bird which helps to kill these should not be exterminated. The bird itself is helpless owing to its semi-blindness in daylight and may be killed by a stone. It is an easy victim to any thoughtless person with a stone, a gun, or a catapult.

I am delighted to know that the use of bird lime is to come to an end. I think in the school the children should be trained to have some regard for, and to take some interest in, the birds of the country. I have known instances where school children have done serious damage by robbing birds' nests and by using catapults. They do more serious damage than people think by robbing nests. They do not know the difference, but I think the Minister for Education might take the matter up and see that the children are instructed not to carry on such cruel practices. I had to complain twice during the last year of the use of the catapults by children. This is not a matter of sentiment at all. There is another very cruel practice that was very common and that, I think, ought to be done away with —hunting the wren. I think it is done away with now. It was a horrible practice, and although an old custom, was a very bad one. I hope that both Houses will pass this Bill and that it will be put into force as soon as possible.

This Bill, in so far as it is a codification of the law, is a very skilful codification. I also agree with the sections that Senator Brown has described as new—those prohibiting the liming of birds and the hooking of birds. I wonder whether any member of the Seanad has ever seen that very barbarous practice of hooking a wild bird. If any one of them did see it he would certainly be very much in favour of Senator Brown's new piece of legislation. Having said so much, I wish to say a little more, not by way of criticism of the Bill but in order to give the Senator an opportunity of improving it very much, in my opinion. He has called our attention to the fact that wild birds are to be absolutely protected from the 1st of March to the 1st of August, and he has told us that there was an exception. Here is the exception: "This section shall not apply to the owner or occupier of any land or any person authorised by him taking alive or killing on such land any wild birds not mentioned in the first Schedule." He protects absolutely, even from the onslaught of the farmer or his nominee, a list of birds set out in the First Schedule. I have gone through that list and I have found that they are mostly English birds. I was surprised to find that thirteen or fourteen birds for which I have a special regard are not included at all. Some of those left out are the thrush, the blackbird, the wren, the marten, the swallow, the swan, the swift, the coot, the tern, the ringdove, the bullfinch, the linnet, the peregrine falcon, the merganser, the pewit, the seamew, the woodcock, the stonehammer and the summer snipe. They are a number of my old friends, and they are left to the tender mercy of the farmer. I suggest to Senator Brown that instead of saying that the wild birds mentioned in the Schedule are to be protected, he should say that all wild birds should be absolutely protected as against the farmer, except our old friends the crow, the rook, the magpie, the cormorant, the sparrow, and the jackdaw. I think if Senator Brown would put it that way—to protect all wild birds, except four or five that are very injurious, from slaughter by the farmer—


These are really Committee points.

There is another question on Section 11. Senator Miss Browne has stated that a Bill similar to this was defeated in the Dáil. We do not want to have this Bill defeated in the Dáil, and for this reason I think that Section 11 ought to be modified—"Where any person shall be found committing an offence under this Act it shall be lawful for any person to require the person so offending to give his Christian name, surname and place of abode." I wonder whether Senator Brown knows some parts of the country as well as I do. A man will regard it as a frightful insult to ask him his name, surname and place of abode, and I think it would lead to breaches of the peace if every person were to be allowed to come up to a man on his own land when he is shooting or snaring birds and ask him for his name, surname and place of abode. In relation to that, there is a law authorising the holder of a game licence to go up to any man and say: "Have you a game licence, and if not, what is your name and address?" but he must be the owner of a game licence. That was bad enough, I thought, but I think this is going a little too far. Perhaps it might not be acceptable to the Dáil, and perhaps Senator Brown might modify it to a certain extent.

I should like to join with the other members of the Seanad who spoke in support of this Bill. It is most necessary, because if you go round the country-side as I do you very seldom see more than an odd one of the rarer birds which one used to see years ago. I have discussed the whole Bill with Senator Brown, and I think that in some directions it ought to be strengthened. I think the Bill depends greatly on the arrangement of the Schedules. If you look at the First Schedule you will find that it can quite easily be divided into two classes of birds— one, the song birds and the birds of beauty, and the other those which can, other than in the close season, be shot for food, and which really ought to come more under the Game Preservation Bill. One case from each class is the golden oriel and the widgeon. I think that if Senator Brown was to divide the Schedules into three parts the Bill would be better.

As regards the First Schedule, I do not see why anybody at any time, either in or out of the close season, should ever attempt to take or shoot a golden oriel or a kingfisher, but according to the Bill you could do so out of the close season.

That is, unless the close season is extended by order.

I think the Bill makes provision that on the application of a county council or a county borough the Minister may extend or vary the close season, or, per contra, on application a prohibition order may be made. But I do not think that as regards these birds of beauty a council or anybody else should have the chance of asking for a variation of the order or prohibition. I think it should be a national question to preserve these birds, very much the same as in the case of the national monuments. I think the Bill might be improved in these directions.

Section 8 deals with the taking of birds' eggs. I think most people will agree with me that when a small boy or small girl takes a bird's egg out of the nest, by the time they are finished the nest and that season are finished as regards that pair of birds. I do not see why, if the Senator divided the Schedule, nesting by these small boys and girls should be allowed at all. There is no great advantage in it. There are sufficient collections of eggs that children could see if they required to do so, and I think birds' eggs should only be taken by expert people. They go to a kingfisher's nest and take an egg; they go to a wren's nest in the same way, and you will never see that wren back again.

My third point is the question raised in Section 9—the prohibition of the export of any wild live bird mentioned in the Second Schedule. I cannot quite understand why Senator Brown left out the dead bird as well. Unless there is a prohibition order you can shoot a bird like the kingfisher out of the close season, and you can export it. It is a most valuable bird, either for a lady's hat in England or anywhere else, and it is very good for salmon flies. Let us get our feathers for flies from some country where they do not mind killing these birds and let us keep our own birds. I suggest to Senator Brown that before the Committee Stage he should put down an amendment forbidding the export of birds of beauty, either alive or dead.

I wish to support the Second Reading of this Bill, although there are some portions of it that I do not agree with. I refer to those portions which propose to give protection to birds that are harmful to agriculture.

Senator Brown has explained that under sub-section (6) of Section 2, farmers are allowed to destroy birds that damage their crops, but are not to be allowed to kill the birds mentioned in Schedule 1 of the Bill. Under that Schedule two birds are mentioned that are distinctly harmful to agriculture. I have no hesitation in saying that. It is founded on many years' observation of their habits. I wish to refer, in the first case, to the species of seagulls known as kittiwake. This bird is found in large numbers along the coast and for some miles inland. I have seen that bird eat corn and begin to eat turnips in a field. I know that ornithologists will contradict me on that, but I am confirmed in my opinion by a neighbouring farmer who has observed the birds eating corn and damaging turnips. I know that the habits of birds sometimes change, and that perhaps twenty years ago this bird was not in the habit of eating corn.

There is another bird mentioned under Schedule 1 that does a great deal of damage. It is one of the several species of larks. I have observed this species of lark going in fairly large numbers into fields where wheat crops were growing and inflicting serious damage on the crop. The only effective method that I can find for keeping birds from damaging crops is by shooting them. Under Section 8, the Minister has power to prohibit the taking of the eggs of any bird. He can make a general order or a particular order. No doubt that is a desirable power to have, but I think that certain birds ought to be excluded from that penalty. There is one bird that I wish to refer to. It is known to most people as the house-sparrow. I do not mean the "tree sparrow" that is sometimes called the wren. Before the corn is ripe this bird, usually accompanied by linnets in large numbers, comes and does a great deal of destruction to crops. In my opinion, the only effective way of dealing with it is to destroy the nests and so keep its numbers under control. On the Committee Stage of the Bill, I hope to introduce some amendment dealing with these points.

I am entirely in favour of this Bill, but I was somewhat astonished to hear my friend Senator Comyn putting in a plea for the merganser in the list of birds that ought to be protected. In many parts of the country this is a most destructive bird, and in fact there is a price put upon his head by various boards of fishery conservators, owing to the amount of salmon fry and the fry of other fish that it destroys. I do not think that the merganser deserves the protection which Senator Comyn would be inclined to give it.

I will surrender the merganser.

I am very glad that the main criticism of the Bill has been entirely in its favour, and anything that has been said against it, except the criticism of Senator Butler, has been in the direction of strengthening the Bill. Nobody would be better pleased than I would if I thought I could strengthen the Bill without interfering with its chance of getting through. I am just as strongly in favour as Senator Connolly of making it illegal to cage ordinary birds. I do not think any bird should be caged, except perhaps a canary or a parrot. None of us likes to see it, but we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that there are hundreds of people who cage birds in their houses, practically as their friends. You would, I am afraid, raise a good deal of opposition to the Bill if you went so far as that. I would be glad to do it if I could. If the Senator thinks he could introduce an amendment that would not harm the Bill I would consider it as favourably as I can. The Bill I introduced in 1927 was thrown out in the Dáil, but it only included a prohibition of the use of birdlime, the taking of plover eggs, and the caging of birds in cages that are too small, and the Bill was thrown out in the Dáil largely owing to a misunderstanding. A number of the Deputies objected to my Bill because it did not go far enough. It was a small Bill they said and it ought to be more general, forgetting that the general law was already in the six British statutes, which this Bill now repeals and re-enacts.

Question put and agreed to.
The Seanad adjourned at 6.50 p.m. until 3 o'clock, Thursday, 28th November, 1929.