White-tailed Eagles poisoned in Northern Ireland

July 9, 2023
Charlie Moores
white-tailed eagles posoned in northern ireland

A reward of £5,000 has been offered for information following the poisoning of two White-tailed Eagles in Co Antrim.

The birds were found on Glenwherry Hillfarm on May 15th and a post-mortem examination revealed both birds had ingested the insecticide bendiocarb.

Conservationists monitoring one of the birds, which was fitted with a satellite tag, became concerned when the tag’s data indicated it had stopped moving. The bird’s body was then traced, with a second untagged bird also lying dead close by.

The Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group have said that both birds were immatures. One was a Norwegian bird that had been translocated as a chick and released in the Lower Shannon Estuary in August 2022 by National Parks and Wildlife Service as part of their reintroduction programme. The second bird was an unmarked immature of unknown origin, perhaps from Scotland or Ireland. They went on to say that:

The poisoning of these eagles is an indictment and a stain on the local area that will have long-lasting consequences and repercussions.”

The Police Service of Northern Ireland is investigating how the young Eagles came in contact with the insecticide, and the RSPB have offered a reward of £5,000 for information leading to the prosecution of those involved in the poisoning.

Tellingly the birds were found dead on reportedly the only moor managed for driven grouse shooting in the whole of Northern Ireland.

Illegal use of poisons

Some poisons are of course legal to use, but the laying of poison in the open countryside has been illegal for over 100 years. Operators using poisons must place baits under cover so that other animals and birds are not poisoned (see > Illegal poisoning and poisoned baits).

Rural and Wildlife Crime Superintendent Johnston McDowell described the illegal killing of the “majestic birds” as “disgraceful” saying that:

“The test results suggest that an individual not only has access to the insecticide bendiocarb but has placed this in to the outside environment illegally, so that wild birds have been able to consume it.

“The illegal killing of these beautiful birds in a popular rural area is disgraceful, and for any individual to think that they can ignore the law and lay poisonous bait which has led to the killing of these birds, is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

In a press release the RSPB said that bendiocarb is “the most commonly detected substance in raptor persecution pesticide abuse incidents“.

 

White-Tailed Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) in flight, carrying a fish. Photograph taken on the island of Mull, Scotland

White-tailed Eagles

Most countries live with White-tailed Eagles quite happily, but – as is so often the case – that’s not been the story here in the UK. Though historically never especially common (these huge birds are right at the top of the food chain and require large territories), the species was once widespread across the UK but was heavily persecuted for years by gamekeepers, fishery owners and shepherds, and also suffered from skin and egg collectors. The last known English pair bred on Culver Cliff on the Isle of Wight in 1780. Following its extirpation from Ireland in 1901, White-tailed Eagles were lost entirely to the British Isles in 1918, when the last Scottish bird (a female) was shot in Shetland.

In 1975 a reintroduction programme began to bring this once-native raptor back home. Eighty-two young birds from Norwegian nests were brought to Rum between 1975 and 1985 and then more to Wester Ross between 1993 and 1998. The first chick from the programme fledged in 1985 when a pair bred successfully on the Isle of Mull. A 2019 report concluded that visitors to Mull spend between £4.9 million and £8 million every year coming to see the now-established and thriving population of White-tailed Eagles.

The birds are still being targeted though. In early 2022, two birds reintroduced by the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation onto the Isle of Wight were found dead, both on unnamed shooting estates. Both had been poisoned.

The Dorest incident prompted local MP Chris Loder (a farmer and landowner) to take to social media to post a tweet that appeared to tell police not to investigate what was a serious wildlife crime, saying (wrongly) that in his opinion ‘Eagles don’t belong in Dorset’.

 

White-tailed eagle in flight, fishing. Adult white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) also known as white-tailed sea-eagle

 

What is bendiocarb?

Bendiocarb is an acutely toxic insecticide. It is so toxic that it has been banned in Scotland since 2005 and even possession is considered a serious offence. 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. Highly toxic to birds, the RSPB’s Guy Shorrock wrote 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”.

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).
  • A young bird from the Isle of Wight found poisoned on a shooting estate in West Sussex in early 2022 (and another found at much the same time on a Dorset shooting estate poisoned with the rodenticide Brodifacoum).

 

White-tailed Eagles are highly susceptible to poisoned baits as they are largely carrion eaters and scavengers, and will land to feed on dead rabbits or hares. Both species are commonly used in poisoning incidents, where their corpses are split open and the poison placed inside. (For more information see ‘What is bendiocarb’).

 

  • Police are appealing for information. The RSPB can also be contacted on their confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101 or online at crime@rspb.org.uk.

 

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