Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Who's really poisoning birds of prey?

There's no doubt we are in the middle of a substantial PR campaign involving RSPB and others, focusing on persecution of birds of prey. It's an education to watch the reports and press releases roll out to a carefully prepared schedule.

Shooters and gamekeepers are feeling victimised by all this. They think it's a plot to attack shooting. I don't agree. I think we're just pawns in the game, collateral damage if you like. They didn't like us much anyway. I believe the campaign is more about raising funds, gaining press coverage and building political power.

The campaign is characterised by heavy hints about "gamekeepers" and "grouse shoot managers", as if they were the only people who ever poisoned anything.

But look at the campaign's own figures. The Scotsman reports the "map of shame" here. Scroll down to the table "the grim toll" and look at the figures for 2008: 2 kites, 13 buzzards and a sea eagle. Does that say gamekeepers to you? Or hard-pressed hill farmers looking to protect their lambs? Anyone hear the RSPB slagging off hill farmers?

Last February two sea eagles were poisoned in Co Kerry. Dr Allan Mee, in charge of the sea eagle reintroduction project, was reported (Irish Times 5 March 08) as having received a tip-off that farmers were dosing carcases to kill off foxes in advance of the lambing season. The dead eagles were picked up close to a sheep carcass that later tested positive for poisons. No keepers involved.

I find it hard to believe the same thing doesn't happen in Scotland. I know for a fact it did some years back. Spending time on the Isle of Skye in the Easter holidays, we were always careful to keep our dogs on leads, for fear of them picking up the poisoned eggs put out by the travelling 'fox man' hired by local farmers.

The chart from The Scotsman website

Then there's the mystery of what poisons are being used. The official data suggests it's virtually all carbofuran, with a few instances of alphachloralose and aldicarb. On the ground, it's acknowledged that newer, over-the-counter veterinary medicines are being abused, so why don't they show up in the data?

Conspiracy theories are rife. Privately, keepers say they suspect antis are dumping poisoned birds, then tipping off the authorities anonymously.

The truth behind all this will remain hidden. Keepers are fed up with being blamed, and won't even discuss the subject. And the PR campaign will roll relentlessly on.

Official stats for UK here, Scotland here.

1 comment:

Vicky Payne said...

It is a shame that these birds are deliberatley and accidentally killed. But throwing accusations around isn't going to help at all. Why don't the RSPB and friends look at the real reasons birds are killed when they are? If it is accidental poisoning aimed at pest species then this needs to be controlled- has poisoning of foxes increased since the hunting bans? Worth an investigation don't you think? Laying baits in the open for any species should be outlawed- it is too risky to non target wildlife and domestic species. Why do some farmers, keepers, pigeon fanciers and others, people who generally love nature and animal occasionally feel so pressed that they commit wildlife crime? Should hill farmers and moorland owners be subsidised for the number of birds of prey on their land? Should the RSPB get involved in deciding what population of birds of prey can be tolerated on an area of farmed or keepered land and then come up with human ways to remove the surplus- trapping and relocation for instance, or egg pricking for common species such as buzzards? The RSPB sadly seem to wear blinkers where birds of prey are concerned. They ARE fantastic to see, they ARE birds which should be protected- but gamekeepers, farmers and prey species must be considered important too!