Monday, 18 February 2013

Not All Doom & Gloom

Picked up on two positive stories in the media this week, firstly the Welsh Assembly have opened a consultation on a proposal to ban the shooting of White-fronted Geese (in Wales).  This would be a significant step forward in protecting Greenland White-fronted Geese as previous research has clearly shown that shooting reduced the wintering numbers and when previous bans have been in place these numbers increased in line with expectations. You can read more about Greenland White-fronts at the excellent and very informative site of the study group here. In addition you can get involved and email/write in with views as part of the consultation which is open until the 19th April here.

When the National Gamekeeper's Association starts getting all angsty about something, it's worth looking at more closely and that is just what happened last week as they issued a call for the temporary ban on the use of second generation rat baits away from buildings, introduced by HSE , to be reversed.

This ban is actually pretty good news for wildlife in my view and specifically for some owl species and raptors such as Buzzards. Indiscriminate use of these second generation poisons across the countryside have led to the slow build up of poisons in the organs of many familiar species, the long-term effects of which are not yet fully understood. Let's face it, constantly ingesting small doses of rat poison is hardly going to have a positive impact on a Barn Owl or a Buzzard is it?

 These rodenticides are not banned in entirety, just now restricted to use within 5m of a building. The NGA argument goes as follows " The HSE's actions were prompted by a longstanding concern that residues of the second generation products are often found in non-target species such as foxes, badgers and buzzards. This is true, because they sometimes consume treated rats, but the levels at which residues occur in these predators are sub-lethal. No-one has ever shown a welfare effect, let alone any link between the correct outdoor use of rat bait and the populations of non-target species, most of which are thriving."

 What puzzles me is that if they accept it's true that residues are often found in Buzzards and Barn Owls etc and they genuinely believe there is no link between the correct outdoor use of rat bait then they need to accept that either there is a huge amount of accidental or dare I say it negligent misuse of these products going on.

As to the 'no one has ever shown a welfare effect' comment, I'm just waiting for a government minister like Paterson or Benyon to stand up and claim they are safe and they would be happy to feed the occasional small 'sub-lethal' dose to their kids...

As others elsewhere have highlighted the other upside is that perhaps there will be more rats, if that produces a good food supply for Buzzards, Barn Owls etc then so be it; perhaps those so keen to claim losses of Pheasant poults might welcome a good safe alternative food supply?

If there is any doubt about the contamination caused by second generation anticoagulant rodenticides  then take a dip into the last report of the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme. Some 91% of analysed Barn Owls had SGAR's detected, 92% of Red Kite livers had detectable levels in 2010. Over 20% of the Red Kites showed signs of  haemorrhaging thought possibly to be associated with rodenticide poisoning. 60% of Kestrels had more than one SGAR present in their livers.

Despite the protestations of the NGA, findings like this clearly demonstrate that the use of these SGAR's in the wider countryside can't be controlled to adequately protect many of our iconic and important bird species. The ban imposed by the HSE should be confirmed and extended following their ongoing review because very simply it removes a potential slow killer of several species that should never have been liberally sprinkled over their habitats in the first place.



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