Dead buzzard onn Allendate Estate near Welton, suspected brodifacoum poisoning.

New investigation reveals widespread use of rat poison to target raptors on Northumberland shooting estate

Hunt Investigation Team (HIT) has published an investigation into malicious practices by a Northumberland shooting estate. It showed that Allendale Estates has used a “notorious” rat poison to kill not just rats but raptors and other wildlife too. As a result, the bodies of dead animals were left “strewn” next to areas of public access including a wildlife reserve.

On 4 November, HIT published its investigation into Allendale Estates. The group said that tip-offs by members of the public led it to the village of Welton, Northumberland, on the Hadrian’s Wall Trail, where much of the land is owned by Wentworth Beaumont, viscount Allendale. There, HIT found a trove of dead wildlife, maliciously-set poisons, and illegal traps.

Sachets of brodifacoum left exposed on open ground at Allendale Estate, near Welton.

HIT said it found sachets of brodifacoum left exposed in open countryside. Brodifacoum is a rat poison that has gained notoriety because toxicology reports on dead raptors have repeatedly turned up lethal levels of the substance in their bodies. Following its legalisation in 2016, the number of times coroners have found brodifacoum in dead raptors has rapidly multiplied.

Allendale Estates was no different. HIT said it:

“documented five dead buzzards, one dead barn owl, a dying badger and numerous dead corvids, in the immediate area around the chewed Brodifacoum sachets and dead rats.

“Testing by WIIS [Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme] confirmed that the rats, the barn owl and the badger all had lethally toxic levels of rodenticide in their bodies. The buzzards were too predated to test, but if they too were poisoned, the animals who predated on them would also have ingested poison.”

And video shared by the group showed some of these bodies and the openly scattered brodifacoum sachets.

WIIS’s quarterly report for 2023 contained its post-mortem results. It clearly stated that brodifacoum was “likely” the cause of death of a badger, barn owl and rat.

In addition to the poison, the group said it found illegal traps while on the estate. Some of the “hundreds of Fenn traps” still had the bodies of stoats, rabbits, and small birds such as thrushes and blackbirds in them.

Risk to children and dogs

One concerning factor in the story is that the poison was found on land bordering Whittle Dene nature reserve. Operated by Northumberland Wildlife Trust in partnership with Northumbrian Water, the reserve is open to the public and welcomes dogs onto the site. HIT said it found brodifacoum sachets “within metres of footpaths and the Whittle Dene Nature Reserve”, thereby presenting a serious risk to dogs and children.

Protect the Wild contacted  Northumberland Wildlife Trust to ask if it had any reports or incidents related to potential poisoning on its land. A spokesperson said:

“our estates team… [has] not found any evidence of poisoning on the site when they have been out there.

“We’ve also had trail cams up in the wood, which haven’t picked up any suspicious activity.”

HIT asked anyone with experience of potential poisoning in the Whittle Dene area to contact the group.

Rabbit dead in fenn trap on Allendale Estate near Welton

Interconnected cruelties

Allendale Estates is owned by Beaumont. However, as HIT outlined, environmental subsidies for the patch of land where the group found the dead animals are paid to Bywell Homes Farms. In 2021, the government had given more than £200,000 of taxpayers’ money to the company.

Bywell Homes Farms is a limited liability partnership that includes Beaumont and his wife amongst its partners. Another partner is William Van Cutsem. As Protect the Wild previously covered, van Cutsem is not only prince William’s close friend but also owner of the Hilborough Estate in Norfolk – another shooting estate where HIT uncovered widespread criminal persecution of raptors.

HIT’s Allendale investigation is a reminder of just how prolific – and interconnected – raptor persecution is. Furthermore, it shows just how bold the shooting industry can be in setting the poisons metres away from a public nature and wildlife reserve.

Despite hard evidence of illegally set poisons, Allendale Estates faced no accountability. WIIS’s report said that “advice [was] given to local landowners” as a result of brodifacoum found in the badger. Yet rapidly expanding use of the poison to kill birds of prey shows words of advice have had no impact. That’s because brodifacoum killing raptors isn’t a mistake or accident, it’s part of business. And none of this will stop until the shooting industry is shut down completely.

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