White-tailed eagle poisoned with banned pesticide on a game-shooting estate in West Sussex

In February this year, I blogged about the suspicious deaths of two white-tailed eagles on two separate game-shooting estates – one in Dorset and the other one rumoured to be in West Sussex (see here).

Both eagles were from the Isle of Wight Reintroduction Project – a Government-backed five-year project bringing young sea eagles from Scotland and releasing them on the Isle of Wight to re-establish this species in part of its former range.

[A juvenile white-tailed eagle. Photographer unknown]

The dead eagle found on a shooting estate in Dorset in January has barely been out of the news since then, not least because even though a post mortem found its liver contained 7 x the lethal dose of the rodenticide Brodifacoum, Dorset Police decided to shut down the investigation prematurely for reasons which are still to be established (see here).

The eagle rumoured to have been found dead on a shooting estate in West Sussex last October (2021) has received less media attention because, inexplicably, Sussex Police have failed to make a public statement about it.

Today, I can report that this white-tailed eagle was poisoned with the banned pesticide Bendiocarb, according to a recently published laboratory report. It reads:

A dog died and a sea eagle and buzzard were found dead. Analysis has confirmed bendiocarb in the stomach contents of the sea eagle which is an abuse of the product. Negative analysis for the buzzard‘.

Until recently, a product containing 80% Bendiocarb was available for registered use in England (it’s been banned in Scotland since 2005 and it’s so toxic that even possession of this pesticide is considered a serious offence there). However, approval for this particular product was withdrawn in England in December 2020. Another product containing a much lower concentration of Bendiocarb (1.25%) was re-approved for use in England in 2019 but with a significant caveat – it was for indoor use only.

So unless this sea eagle broke into secure premises, opened a few sachets with its nail scissors and scoffed the contents, it seems pretty likely that a serious wildlife crime has taken place, probably including the use of poisoned bait(s) laced with Bendiocarb.

The report mentions that the buzzard tested negative for Bendiocarb poisoning but it’s interesting that no results are provided for the dog. I wonder why that is?

The immediate questions, of course, are why Sussex Police have failed, after six months, to make a statement about such a high profile criminal investigation (I assume there is an investigation, but given what’s been going on in Dorset, then who knows?) and why Sussex Police have failed to warn the public that a dangerously toxic poison is in use in a particular area where the public may have access? (The banned product containing 80% Bendiocarb can have fatal consequences for humans [adults and children] if the product is swallowed or inhaled. You can expect the same result for a pet dog).

If you’re a West Sussex resident, may I suggest you contact your MP and ask what the hell is going on? Why are you being exposed to such risk without any public warning being issued? The police are supposed to be there to protect the public, not the poisoners.

If you’re a responsible game-shooter thinking about booking to attend a pheasant or partridge shoot in West Sussex this coming season, I hope you’ll carry out due diligence and boycott any estate involved.

UPDATE 16.50hrs: The Independent has picked up on this blog and published an article (here)

UPDATE 25th May 2022: Wildlife Crime Working Group seeks (& receives) assurance from Sussex Police re: poisoned eagle investigation (here)

31 thoughts on “White-tailed eagle poisoned with banned pesticide on a game-shooting estate in West Sussex”

  1. Do you know where the eagle was found in West Sussex? Also, which shooting estate is in that area? I can do an FOI request to Sussex Police about this. I have done battle with them over FOI requests in the past. They rarely comply with the FOI Act and the ICO usually needs to be involved. Even then they fail to cooperate. They have much in common with Dorset Police in this respect (and in other ways too).

    1. That seems to be common throughout the Police. They are very reluctant to share information (Sometimes even with law enforcement partners)

  2. The estate xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx, and the eagle was found on a bated pheasant, xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx. I informed both the Sussex police and natural England’s poisoning hotline, and was told that the owners of the dog had already reported it. Sussex police said it was difficult to prove anything without the eagle, but on the separate offence of poisoning the dog, things would be more promising. Like you, I’m surprised Sussex Police have not publicised it.
    I went out to find this eagle while he lived, and I was sucessful. He sat in his favourite tree, he was huge and he was mighty, and his poisoning should be properly investigated.

    1. Hi Francis. You seem to know where and how the birds and dog were poisoned. Understandably Ruth can’t publish that information.
      Just wondering if you are 100% sure of the information? And if so whether you can get that information into the public domain as it doesn’t sound as if the police will be investigating

      1. Hi Sue,

        Sussex Police ARE investigating this case. The dead eagle, buzzard and dog wouldn’t have been submitted for post mortem if they weren’t investigating. The issue is that they’ve remained silent about it, six months after the poisoned eagle (and dog?) were discovered.

      2. Hi Sue. Well all the estates nearby know about it, and I’ve chatted to at least two local gamekeepers, both of whom already knew about it, and both of whom are disgusted. I didn’t realise the police had found the eagle, and I had assumed this might be the reason for the lack of publicity. In any case, in this area, and I live only a few miles from where the eagle died, I would think most interested parties are aware.
        As to the point of whether I’m certain, surely you can ask the Roy Dennis foundation for corroboration, as the eagle was wearing an electronic tag, and it will have given the exact location of where his last living location was.
        I am informed that Sussex Police did investigate, did look round xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx, and did take the matter seriously. I am also informed that the dog owners have informed the police about their dog, and indeed are suing the shoot.
        You’ll all be glad to hear that two further eagles from the Isle of Wight project have started to be seen in xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx since the poisoning. All we can hope is, knowing that they are very likely to be caught, these xxxxx xxxxx leave them in peace.

          1. If the owners of the dog need crowdfund support in their legal case, I’m sure many of us would help with donations and publicity.

            I hope someone who understands RIDDOR has looked at this as the possible misuse of toxic chemicals.

    2. Could you explain why the details of the estate in question are needing to be redacted ?

    1. Yes, that is so.
      It is horrifying to think of the extent that criminals appear to pervade our society and the organisations whose very purpose is provide protection against the activities of such parasitic contamination. We are very poorly served by wretched people at multiple levels .

  3. Well done for speaking out Francis. It’s such a pity that some of the details have hadm to be blocked due to legal restrictions. The mor epeople that are prepared to speak out like you the faster something will be done about this. Public opinion is the things these wildlife criminals, including those with a financial interest in the criminal activities, really fear. Thank you.

  4. West Sussex Police fail to follow up wildlife crime generally, we have reported several to no avail

  5. I agree with Francis Bishop naming the estate involved and we should be able to identify the owner who is ultimately responsible. If some people still think – and prove – that they are above the Law and can pay and protect people in their employ who carry out these atrocities the country is in a very bad state. Naming and shaming (???) might do something and help explain how these cover-ups can be arranged.

  6. As I’ve said before, I don’t understand why the estates concerned cannot be named – the Dorset appeal for information must be just about unique in not stating where the incident occurred – when have you ever seen the police appeal for information about a car accident or violent crime saying ‘but we’re not going to tell you where it happened ?’. The usual suspects will of course claim that this is different – but as has been pointed out a pet dog has also died and this is a poison lethal to humans. The risk is not academic: at least one gamekeeper has died in the past from illegal poison he was handling and it could well happen again and whilst like most readers of this blog I find the illegal activities of so many gamekeepers reprehensible I am absolutely not going to go as far as hoping they are poisoned – quite the opposite, I think it makes the point of how important it is for the police to clamp down on this criminality and how utterly irresponsible it is if powerful people are doing what they can to hinder them.

    1. Re :name and shame, one option would be to approach each of the local estates and ask them to confirm that it’s not them and ask them to confirm that they don’t use rodenticides. Alternatively as people appear to know which estate it is why not just publish that it’s the alleged estate. Surely there’s no risk in that?

      1. Hi Steve,

        This eagle wasn’t killed by ingesting rodenticides, it was killed by ingesting a banned pesticide, Bendiocarb.

        There is certainly risk in publishing the name of the estate whilst the investigation is ongoing (which we have to assume it is). Nevertheless, the police should have issued warnings to the public that a dangerous poison known to have fatal consequences for humans and dogs had been discovered in the area. When the investigation has ended then the estate name should be published, without hesitation.

  7. There has been a lot of attention drawn to the raptor persecution associated with driven grouse shooting.
    After reading about what has taken place recently in the south of England, then it would appear that pheasant and other woodland game bird management seems to be equally as associated with raptor persecution as driven grouse shooting.
    Maybe as well as demanding licensing for driven grouse shooting, there should be licensing for all game bird shooting? So that where raptor persecution and wildlife crimes are suspected, then licences can be suspended and game bird shooting stopped.

    I was talking to someone today who no longer participates in game bird shooting.
    In his words, he has stopped because the shooting was now all about the money, and what he described as the greedy horrible people who manage many of the shooting management companies and syndicates. He described the pressure on keepers to produce an almost endless supply of game birds for a paying shooting cliental as absolutely unsustainable. He stated that this is almost impossible, without severely negatively impacting nature and the natural balance of wildlife, and he knew, what he described as “good keepers” who had moved estates because they weren’t prepared to work for some of shooting management companies which had taken taken over the lease of the shoot.

    So, it would appear game bird shooting in it’s various forms has become another victim of unfettered capitalism, where the pursuit of profit and wealth has destroyed all sense of moral and ethical values.
    History tells us that the only way “out of control capitalism”, and human greed can be managed is through proper legislation and regulations, so that there are clearly defined rules, which if breached result in proper penalties and hefty fines on the rule breakers.
    (Why is it that throughout history governments have legislated to control industry and industrial growth, and yet appear to have failed, and have no desire to control the shooting industry? I could argue that this is a result of vested interests, and an archaic system of landed aristocracy and class values which have little place in modern society.)

    Such rules and regulations would also seem to be an absolute necessity if the government is going to achieve legally biding targets for species abundance and halt the decline of nature in England, which I understand was outlined in Environment Bill.

    I think it would be an absolute disgrace if landowners or estate management companies were able to access public funds to pay for for pseudo conservation work, if that conservation activity was simply about producing unnatural game bird numbers, especially when some of the game bird species such as pheasant of red legged partridge are not native species to the UK.

    Equally if nature and natural species are to recover then it is vital that ALL the countryside is properly managed to help with that recovery. (nature can not exist or recover in tiny isolated pockets of nature reserves or other such designated land)
    In which case there can be no place in the countryside for the shooting estates which produce an unnatural number, or non native game birds, because if such places are allowed to exist then there will be a continuation of the demise of native wildlife and eco systems, as well as the associated persecution of raptors, such as the white tailed eagles which have so recently been in the news.

    The major problem will be to get those in parliament to accept this, and when the rural shires are represented by those who are in that position only to ensure the vested interests in the countryside have a loud voice in parliament, then it will be very difficult to regulate the shooting industry in the same way that other industries have been regulated.

  8. Given how poorly the police investigate these things all known information should come into the public domain as soon as it is known about. The law is achieving very little to stop it it: local public opinion as in “Oh, you work for the eagle killers, how can you do that?” might actually have an impact.

    If those estates rely on public as paying visitors and the public choose not to visit them because of their association with wildlife crime, then they might just think harder about not breaking the law and making sure their friends and neighbours don’t.

  9. ….let’s hope that pressure (from all directions) continues to be put on all the parties involved… police forces…shoots….MP’s…..so that answers can be provided…. and prosecutions can be ultimately made in all proven raptor persecution cases! The police also need to report dangerous areas for public safety….when poisons are proven to be in use! If on a private estate….then all access (for any reason)….except employees…..should be banned for a minimum of 2 years….thus hitting the estate hard in its pockets! The owner of the estate also gets prosecuted…..as he is the ceo!
    Then I woke up

    1. Thanks, John, but you won’t get the answers to these questions. It’s a live investigation so the police can, legitimately and with good reason, refuse to provide these case details at this time.

      1. I don’t think we can say for certain that there is an ongoing police investigation. There should be but no information has been made available to date. It could be you know something we do not. There are some serious animal rights groups in Sussex, Brighton especially. This might just catch their attention. There is a Brighton Hunt Saboteurs group and this will be of interest to them

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