West Sussex eagle poisoned with bendiocarb…the poisoner’s weapon of choice
A few months ago news broke that two young White-tailed Eagles from the Isle of Wight reintroduction project (a five-year project bringing young eagles from Scotland and releasing them on the Isle of Wight to re-establish the species in part of its former range) had been found dead: one in north Dorset (poisoned with a rodenticide (Brodifacoum), location withheld but known to be a shooting estate, police investigation dropped, local Chris Loder MP goes on social media saying that eagles not welcome in his county) and the second in Sussex (poisoned with an insecticide (Bendiocarb), rumoured to have been found dead on a shooting estate, Sussex Police have made no public statement).
Two eagles, two shooting estates, two poisonings.
What is bendiocarb?
Few of us will know much about bendiocarb, but it has cropped up many times in just the last few years in relation to illegal raptor poisoning.
Firstly, what is it? According to Wikipedia it is “an acutely toxic carbamate insecticide used in public health and agriculture and is effective against a wide range of nuisance and disease vector insects” (it is used in malaria control, for example). Pure bendiocarb is highly toxic to birds such as ducks and quail, and to honey bees. It is also extremely toxic to earthworms, reducing a population over 90% in one study in which bendiocarb was applied at a standard rate.
In the US manufacturers voluntarily chose in 2001 to pull their products off the market rather than conduct additional safety studies required by the EPA. It is so toxic that it’s been banned in Scotland since 2005 and even possession is considered a serious offence there. In England, bendiocarb is licenced for (diluted) use as an ingredient in a number of products, but they are intended for the indoor control of certain insects such as ants and wasps.
So how did a young White-tailed Eagle come to ingest it?
The same way that many Peregrines, Buzzards, and other raptors have: feeding on poisoned baits – often pheasant or rabbit carcasses – left (in most cases) by gamekeepers in the open to attract raptors.
The laying of poison baits in the open countryside has been illegal for over 100 years, but as the RSPB’s Guy Shorrock wrote (knowingly? presciently?) in November 2021, “we are still a long way from removing the cancer of illegal poisoning from our countryside”, adding that Bendiocarb “has increasingly become the poisoner’s weapon of choice”.
In the same article (Stopping illegal poisoning – just what will it take?), Guy wrote, “The most unsettling picture I’ve seen during my career was of a very young child crouched next to a pheasant carcase laced with bendiocarb. This had been laid close to a public footpath when a mother and young child came across it, and the dead buzzard lying next to it.
Bendiocarb and gamekeepers
A quick search for ‘bendiocarb + raptor + poisoning’ brings up numerous returns, not only from the RSPB, but local newspapers, the highly respected Raptor Persecution UK site, and my own War on Wildlife Project (which I worked on until last year).
Recent incidents include
- a Red Kite poisoned in North Yorkshire in March 2019 with Bendiocarb and Isofenphos (Northern England Raptor Forum)
- a Red Kite found poisoned near Scarmpston, North Yorkshire in April 2020: tests found a combination of Brodifacoum and Bendiocarb. (Northern England Raptor Forum)
- a Buzzard killed in Nidderdale by a combination of pesticides including Bendiocarb (three were found in the buzzard’s gizzard and crop with a fourth pesticide detected in its kidney).
- An adult Peregrine found dead on top of the remains of a wood pigeon in May 2020 on National Trust land in the Upper Derwent Valley (Peregrine poisoned in Peak District National Park).
- A young Peregrine found poisoned by Bendiocarb near Barnsley in July 2020 (RSPB Community Our Work).
The Nidderdale incident is worth expanding on. As was widely reported in the media at the time (eg BBC News), a springer spaniel called Molly died and another dog, Poppy, a cocker spaniel, became ill after being taken for a walk within the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding National Beauty in April 2020. Toxicology tests revealed they had ingested what has become known as the ‘Nidderdale Cocktail’, an extraordinary mix of chemicals including bendiocarb, alphachloralose and the banned pesticides carbofuran and isofenphos.
There is not even a remote possibility that these four poisons could have been accidentally mixed together and left in a location (near a grouse moor) where it could be consumed by wildlife and companion animals. This was clearly deliberate, and part of a pattern of persecution. In fact, North Yorkshire has the highest rate of crimes against birds of prey in the UK, clocking up more incidents in the past seven years than any other county: within North Yorkshire, Nidderdale is one of the worst blackspots.
An article written by Grace Brown for The Yorkshire Post in July 2020 detailed just how bad raptor persecution is in North Yorkshire, listing an astonishing (yet probably still just the tip of the iceberg) sixteen incidents between January 2018 and July 2020. There will of course have been others since.
Focus on wildlife crimes
I’m speculating, but I suspect the estate in question (which hasn’t been named for reasons that supposedly include ‘ongoing police investigations’) will almost certainly be regretting what’s happened.
Not because they support reintroductions or could care less about White-tailed Eagles, but because of the focus this will inevitably bring onto them and onto illegal practices. The public is largely in favour of restoring populations of ‘lost’ wildlife, and tourism chiefs are fully aware of the revenues that charismatic birds like White-tailed Eagles can generate. The birds from the Isle of Wight are moving along the adjoining coastlines (presumably looking for potential nesting territories as well as feeding sites), and it will be a tragedy (and another nail in its coffin) if shooting brings that expansion to a halt – accidentally or not.