Birds of prey being targeted with rat poison.

[singlepic id=172  w=270 h= 207  float=left]In August last year Raptor Politics published a story relating to the deaths of ten Red Kites which had all been found poisoned on the Black Isle in Scotland. Each of the dead kites displayed typical symptoms of rodenticides poisoning (rat poison). The complete article can be found here

We pointed out then the inappropriate use of rodenticides (containing anticoagulants) posed the greatest potential threat to raptor species in the UK at the present time. A species at particular risk as highlighted by last year’s discoveries in Scotland is the Red Kite because of the kite’s dependency to feed on carrion. We also pointed out in the wrong hands these highly toxic and dangerous substances can be purchased over the counter and retained in large quantities without a licence by the public.

It has now been twelve months since Raptor Politics exposed the risks posed by the misuse of rodenticides, particularly the effect upon raptors. Conservationists in Scotland are now voicing their concerns that rodenticides are posing a significant threat to wild animals because they are being misused or even deliberately abused to target birds of prey.

Figures published on Wednesdayon wildlife poisoning in Scotland identify legally available rodenticides as the cause of death of 15 birds of prey, including nine red kites and three sparrowhawks, and six mammals, including two dogs and a cat.

At least one case, where six red kite chicks were killed by extremely high levels of rat poison, has been identified as “suspicious” by the Scottish government’s testing laboratory. Several chicks were seen bleeding from their beaks before death.

The laboratory, Science and advice for Scottish agriculture (SASA), also said that it had detected rodenticide traces in 38% of the 214 dead animal livers it tested last year, with 32 buzzards, 17 red kites and 10 sparrowhawks testing positive. Kites and buzzards are scavengers, so will prey on dead or poisoned rats, but SASA believes its data suggests that rodenticides are now extremely widespread in the foodchain.

SASA is now conducting a new study into the problem, which follows growing anxiety about the misuse of rodenticides in the countryside. A pest control firm in East Anglia was fined £3,350 by magistrates in Norwich last week for misusing rodenticides which helped kill a fox.

One of the chemicals found repeatedly by SASA is only licensed for indoor use. Mike Taylor, head of pesticides and wildlife at SASA, said: “We’ve certainly got evidence of widespread exposure and it’s of concern, but it’s very difficult to enforce because it’s very difficult to collect dead or dying rats [to study].”

Bob Carruth, a spokesman for the National Farmers Union Scotland and Alex Hogg, chairman for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, said there was a need for continuing campaigning to promote the safe use of rat poisons.

Hogg said he had never been aware of rodenticides being used to deliberately target birds of prey. The overall figures found deliberate attacks on birds of prey had fallen last year. “That’s a little bit better: we’re trying our damnedest with peer pressure to stop it,” he said.

Carruth said a large majority of Scottish farmers had to follow best practice with poisons as part of their farm assurance schemes, and were tested on that every year as part of the inspection regime. “That doesn’t mean there isn’t a need at times to go out and remind the industry what their obligations are,” he said.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species with RSPB Scotland, said rat numbers had to be managed to protect public health but added that more research was needed to investigate the impact of rat poisons on other wildlife.

“We encourage further research work to investigate the impacts of these rodenticide products on birds, and call on pest controllers to adhere strictly to the conditions of use for such products, including the collection of dead rodents to prevent them from becoming accessible to birds and other wildlife,” he said.

3 comments to Birds of prey being targeted with rat poison.

  • As Alex and Bob state, there is a continuing campaign from their organisations to highlight good practice in the use of rodenticides and pesticides which include slug pellets. Retailers too have a responsibility to educate their customers. These products are, after all widely available to the public in the major supermarkets and garden centres.

    Duncan Orr Ewing is right, there needs to be much more research into safer control methods which don’t have such a devastating secondary effect.

    I’m not convinced that rodenticides are being used to deliberately target birds of prey. My understanding is that it is a build up of rodenticide ingested over a period time that leads to liver failure and eventual death.

  • Hi Daye, I wholeheartedly agree with your comments above.

    Relating to this report I’m curious to know the difference between ”suspicious” and secondary poisoning?

  • paul williams

    That is a good point Mike, would someone like to define the issue.