While incidents of poisoning are generally declining, the mass poisoning of birds of prey in Ross-shire in April 2014 reminded us all that the illegal killing of birds using banned poisons is very much a 21st Century problem. The following information contains advice on what to do if a poisoned bird (or other animal) is found, and also what the police officer on the other end of a call about a suspected poisoning may ask you.
The single most important piece of advice is we should NEVER touch a bird or other animal we suspect may be poisoned with our bare hands.
Modern poisons like the banned agricultural pesticide Carbofuran are extremely dangerous in even tiny quantities. Just a few grains will kill a bird of prey by breaking down its nervous system, and the poison can be absorbed through our own skin.
If you are walking a dog and find a suspicious item that may be poisoned get him/her out of the area immediately. If you suspect they may have ingested some poison (perhaps they found the bird or bait first) speak to a vet as soon as possible.
Remember too that the poison is often used in such small quantities that it can’t be seen – it can be very difficult to be certain that NONE is present. If you find a corpse of bird of prey and there are no obvious injuries (gunshot wounds, leg injuries from illegal traps) from a health perspective it is safest to assume that it may have been poisoned and may still be hazardous.
- For a report of Carbofuran found on the Leadenhills shooting estate see Project Raptor http://www.projectraptor.org.uk/reports/13-large-quantity-of-meat-bait-laced-with-poison-discovered-on-south-lanarkshire-grouse-moor and for an account of the use of Carbofuran in the wetlands of Kenya see http://stopwildlifepoisoning.wildlifedirect.org/category/carbofuran/.
Grains of Carbofuran
Let’s help tackle illegal poisonings
The laying of any poisoned bait in the open is illegal, whether it is laid to deliberately kill a bird of prey or whether it is laid for a fox or magpie.
- A poisoned bait may take the form of a pigeon (live or dead) or a rabbit carcass/piece of meat which has been sprinkled with poison.
- Sometimes eggs are injected with poison, often discolouring the contents of the egg.
- Some poisons are fast acting so the victims may be found close to the baits.
- Are there dead insects around the site? Some of the poisons used are powerful pesticides.
Remember to NEVER touch a bird or other animal you suspect may be poisoned with bare hands.
- If it is safe to do so – and staying upwind of any corpse or bait – make a note of the date and time and take photographs or video of the scene using a mobile phone or camera etc (or make as accurate a sketch as possible).
- Note the location as accurately as possible, preferably using a grid reference (free smartphone apps are widely available).
- It is important to note if at all possible whether you are on or near public land as this will is used determine the type of police response (the higher the possibility the public may be impacted, the higher the priority given to the report).
- If a substance is present note whether it’s coloured, is made up of granules or a powder, and how is it laid out.
- Do not interfere with the victim or the bait. Leave the scene exactly as you found it so that the evidence can be fully recorded when a police officer arrives on site.
- If you find a live, tethered ‘bait’ (usually a pigeon) near an active raptor nest if it is at all possible please remain on site to prevent the adult birds from feeding or taking the bait back to the nest until the police arrive.
- If waiting for authorities to arrive please keep people and animals clear.
- If you see someone laying poison – and only if it is safe to do so – take as many photographs as you can. Recording the offender’s face is important of course, but their clothing, the bags they’re carrying, the equipment they’re using are all important too. Do NOT try to get too close – taking some long-distance images is better than having a camera smashed or being attacked and hurt.
Even if you only suspect a poisoning it is always best to call the Police: they will deal and investigate any offences and they will involve partner agencies (Natural England, RSPB etc) when appropriate to do so.
Expect the police to advise you to be very careful and warn you of the dangers to your health of any poisons.
- If a crime is in progress (ie you find someone laying a poison) call 999. If you find a dead bird or bait and the culprit is not on the scene call 101. Give details as requested, and ask for a crime reference number.
- In Ireland anyone coming across a suspect bird should call Maurice Eakin of the National Parks and Wildlife Service on 086 8059240
- Natural England has a poison hotline – 0800 321 600 – on which suspected incidents of wildlife poisoning can be reported.
Page compiled with the advice of PC Josh Marshall, a wildlife crime officer with Devon & Cornwall Police. Updated October 2014.
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