Wildlife lovers have united to release the rescued animals back into their natural habitats and to try to stop poaching on the nature reserve.
Baron of Dunsany Randal Plunkett offered his lands for the “soft and hard release” of injured animals.
A number of otters, fox cubs and buzzards have already been released onto some of the 1,600 acres around Dunsany Castle, and plans are underway to turn old polytunnels into aviaries for birds of prey.
Volunteers at the WRI Wildlife Hospital, outside Navan, Co Meath say they will spend a little extra time after tending to the animals patrolling the estate in a bid to help scare off poachers.
Mr Plunkett has already had reports of lamping of foxes in a neighbouring farm and believes the media attention around his rewilding project will attract more poachers in the coming months.
Since rewilding 750 acres of his land seven years ago, the estate has become home again to growing numbers of woodpeckers, birds recorded in Meath for the first time in 100 years.
Sightings of birds of prey such as buzzards, kestrels, kites and sparrowhawks, as well as pine martens, foxes, deer and otters have also been noted.
Mr Plunkett offered his lands after developing an interest in the voluntary wildlife hospital which opened outside Navan in February.
“I’ve had a huge interest in the wildlife hospital since it opened, partly because they don’t get much State subsidies either and rely on donations,” he said.
“As fate would have it, they are only up the road from me and I know they are confined in terms of space so I offered them my lands to release the animals, some of whom will end up here.
“It will help biodiversity and climate change, which we should all be trying to aid.
“They are a really great bunch of people who care for the environment and our native wildlife and I’m delighted to be in a position to help.
“I think it’s extraordinary when all talk is on biodiversity and climate change that the only wildlife hospital in Ireland as well as rewilding projects such as Dunsany almost have to beg for State recognition.
“Some of the animals released by the hospital will end up here and others will move on, as is their nature, but it’s great to be able to give them a head start and it all adds to what I am trying to do here in Dunsany.
“Since rewilding started, animals and birds have reappeared and we have pine martens, kites, sparrow hawks, foxes and otters again. The first pair of woodpeckers recorded in over 100 years were spotted here last year and these have increased in number to 12 — with two breeding pairs now.”
Aoife McPartlin, education and media manager with the WRI Wildlife Hospital, said the volunteers were delighted with the Baron’s generous offer.
“When the animals have recovered, some of them need to go outside to a ‘soft release’ area,” she said.
“This is an enclosed space which mimics their natural habitat as much as possible and gives them a chance to become fit and strong before fully returning to the wild.
“We step down our involvement at this stage to ensure they are wary of humans in order to give them the best possible chance of survival.
“Unfortunately we are confined with space at our location to do this so when Randal contacted us, we were over the moon.
“It’s just over two months now since we started working together and it’s going amazingly well. We released hedgehogs initially and some birds of prey and have moved now to fox cubs and three otters which are all in soft release sites within the estate.
“We turned a disused tennis court at Dunsany into an artificial holt for the otters and hope to turn old polytunnels in a walled garden into a bird of prey flight and aviaries.
“We feel really privileged to be able to do this. It is a fantastic opportunity and wonderful partnership that benefits both parties.”
Warning to poachers
Mr Plunkett however is expecting poachers to arrive in the coming months after recent media attention, but has sent out a warning that he will be ready.
“I don’t want to but if I have to erect cameras, fences, gates and barbed wire to stop them killing these animals, I will,” he said.
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“I think recent media coverage of what I’m trying to do here will unfortunately attract more poachers.”
Meanwhile, Ms McPartlin said the volunteers at the hospital will also help in the fight against trespassers.
“I can understand why Randal is anxious and our volunteers will also be watching out for any suspicious behaviour.
“We will be up there a lot checking on the animals and will drive around the periphery as a deterrent. We need to give nature a chance, not just for the animals but for all of us.”