Dorset has become a bit of a raptor persecution hotspot in recent years following the discovery of a shot buzzard (here), the suspicious deaths of two barn owls and several more buzzards (here), the disturbance of nesting peregrines (here), the suspected poisoning of a number of buzzards and an owl in two separate locations (here) and the poisoning of a red kite, which led to a multi-agency raid where banned poisons and several more dead raptors were discovered (here).
Fortunately, Dorset Police has one of the best-equipped and most experienced wildlife & rural crime teams in the country, or at least it did have.
In January this year, the corpse of a white-tailed eagle was found dead on an unnamed shooting estate in Dorset (here). When the story broke in February it made national news (e.g. here, here, here), not least because this eagle was from the inaugural reintroduction project on the Isle of Wight and it was one of two dead eagles that had been found in suspicious circumstances in recent months (another is believed to have been found dead in Sussex in October 2021).
[The dead white-tailed eagle found in Dorset in Jan 2022. Photo by Dorset Police]
Dorset Police’s wildlife crime team led a multi-agency search to find this satellite-tagged eagle and they were pro-active in quickly releasing a public statement, even though toxicology results were still awaited, to reflect their understandable concern for the safety of three other satellite-tagged eagles known to be in the county at that time:
This level of proactivity stood in stark contrast to Sussex Police, who still haven’t managed to make any statement about the eagle that was found in suspicious circumstances on a shooting estate in that county in October 2021.
However, the high profile dead eagle in Dorset led to some unwarranted criticism of the police wildlife crime team by local MP Chris Loder, who argued, extraordinarily, that Dorset ‘wasn’t the place for eagles’ and the police should be focusing their resources on other types of criminality (see here) and not on suspected wildlife crime. And it wasn’t an off-the-cuff remark made in haste; he continued his tirade for sometime afterwards (e.g. see here).
I don’t know whether it was a coincidence but by early March the Twitter account belonging to Dorset Police’s Rural Wildlife & Heritage Crime Team had a name change. The words ‘wildlife’ and ‘heritage’ were completely removed from the name:
Here’s the pre-March Twitter account name:
And here’s the post-March Twitter account name:
That seems a bit strange. What prompted this change?
A further ‘coincidence’ is that the former Rural Wildlife & Heritage Crime team leader has been on indefinite leave since early March.
And there’s another ‘coincidence’. In late February Dorset Police’s wildlife crime team was making arrangements with partners to conduct a multi-agency search of the estate where the dead white-tailed eagle had been found. By early March those plans had been shelved. Why was that?
Yesterday rumours were circulating amongst conservationists that the toxicology results from the dead eagle found in Dorset had revealed the cause of death was rodenticide poisoning. Apparently this wasn’t the low-level background trace amount that is often found in raptor post-mortems; I understand the amount found inside this eagle was many, many times higher than the lethal dose.
Rumours were also circulating that Dorset Police is planning to release a public statement to announce the discontinuation of the investigation into the death of this white-tailed eagle. That would be astonishing.
In my view, if this is what Dorset Police intends to do, it is of very, very serious concern. Rodenticides are known to have been used recently in a number of suspected raptor persecution incidents (e.g. see here and here) and I’m told that the use of ‘higher than normal doses’ may be a new tactic employed by those who want rid of raptors but don’t want the risk of being caught using banned substances.
The legal use of the most commonly-used rodenticide, Brodifacoum, has been relaxed recently, allowing pest controllers to use it outside buildings. It’s so toxic to wildlife that government advisors actually trained pest controllers how to use it legally. The misuse of this rodenticide is a crime.
Now, in the case of this poisoned white-tailed eagle in Dorset, there might be a perfectly legitimate explanation for why it had ingested such a high dose of rodenticide; it may well have been the result of a terrible but accidental secondary poisoning. But equally plausible is the possibility that it ate deliberately-laid out baits containing doses many times higher than the lethal dose, placed with the intention of targeting raptors (a crime).
But how can this be assessed if Dorset Police is discontinuing its investigation?
And more importantly, what if the substances that killed that eagle are still on the ground? We know that other satellite-tagged eagles are in the area, now at serious risk.
It seems there’s something very odd going on here.
I’ve also recently received an FoI response from Dorset Police about its correspondence with the anti-eagle MP, Chris Loder. I’ll blog more about that in due course.
UPDATE 13.21hrs: Dorset Police does the unthinkable & confirms no further investigation into poisoned white-tailed eagle (here)
UPDATE 15.05hrs: RSPB ‘completely baffled’ by Dorset Police decision to prematurely end poisoned eagle investigation (here)
UPDATE 16.40hrs: Question to be tabled in House of Lords about Dorset Police’s decision to close eagle poisoning investigation (here)
UPDATE 30th March 2022: Poisoned eagle in Dorset had 7 x lethal dose rodenticide in its liver (here)
UPDATE 1st April 2022: Another eagle suspected poisoned on a Dorset shooting estate (here)
UPDATE 4th April 2022: Buzzard and red kite suspected poisoned on North Dorset Estate (here)
UPDATE 14th April 2022: Dorset Police refuse FoI request for correspondence between them & Chris Loder MP on poisoned eagle (here)
UPDATE 20th April 2022: Unconvincing statement from Dorset Police on closure of investigation into poisoned eagle (here)
UPDATE 20th April 2022: Tediously predictable response from Minister to Natalie Bennett’s House of Lords question on poisoned eagle (here)
UPDATE 21st April 2022: Chris Packham submits FoI requests to Dorset Police & the Crime Commissioner about poisoned eagle (here)
UPDATE 22nd April 2022: More questions asked about Dorset Police’s mishandling of the poisoned eagle investigation (here)
UPDATE 26th April 2022: The Office of the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner: incompetent or something more sinister? (here)
UPDATE 27th April 2022: Dorset Police Chief Constable and the Police & Crime Commissioner on a futile damage limitation exercise (here)
UPDATE 29th April 2022: Another dead buzzard in Dorset – Police warn public of suspected poisoned baits (here)
UPDATE 29th April 2022: Email correspondence between Chris Loder MP and Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner re: poisoned eagle (here)
UPDATE 16th May 2022: Poisoned eagles in south of England feature in The Telegraph (here)
UPDATE 19th May 2022: Wildlife Crime Working Group seeks explanation from Dorset Police about failure to investigate poisoned eagle incident (here)