Reintroduced white-tailed eagle poisoned with banned pesticide Carbofuran

A young white-tailed eagle, released into the wild as part of a conservation reintroduction project, has been found poisoned with the banned pesticide Carbofuran.

The National Parks & Wildlife Service in Ireland is appealing for information after the discovery of the dead eagle in November 2022 on land between counties Cavan and Westmeath.

Juvenile white-tailed eagle. Photo: Piotr Krzeslak

The juvenile male white-tailed eagle who was just over a year old had been brought in as a chick in 2021 from Norway under phase two of a national re-introduction programme (e.g. see here and here).

It had been fitted with a satellite tag prior to its release on Lough Derg in 2021 and subsequent monitoring showed the eagle had been spending time around Lough Sheelin in Co Westmeath with two other white-tailed eagles, but tag data indicated the eagle had become stationary in November.

The corpse was retrieved and toxicology tests undertaken at the State Laboratory confirmed the eagle had been poisoned with Carbofuran, a deadly pesticide so dangerous it was withdrawn for use in Ireland over a decade ago.

NPWS regional manager, Maurice Eakin, said white-tailed eagles were a protected species under the Wildlife Acts. The death of the bird last November highlighted “once again” the extent of the illegal practice of using poisonous material as pest control.

“In this instance, it is particularly disturbing that the reckless laying of poison has resulted in the death of a white-tailed eagle, one of our largest and most majestic bird species, which had been persecuted to extinction by the early 1900s,” he said.

The NPWS is seeking any information from the public in the Westmeath/Cavan region, particularly anyone who may have seen anyone or any vehicles acting suspiciously in recent weeks in the area between Lough Sheelin and Lough Ramor.

Over 100 white-tailed eagles, donated by Norway, have been reintroduced to the Irish Republic since 2007, with the first successful breeding taking place in 2012 and there have been many successes over the last decade, bringing biodiversity and ecosystem benefits as well as a boost to local economies via ecotourism.

However, a scientific review of the reintroduction project in 2019 indicated that the small population was still vulnerable to illegal poisoning events so additional eagles have been reintroduced as part of phase two of the reintroduction to help bolster the population. It’s sadly ironic that one of those eagles has become the latest poisoning victim.

18 thoughts on “Reintroduced white-tailed eagle poisoned with banned pesticide Carbofuran”

  1. It is just unbelievable.
    Well, no its not sadly.
    It seems almost an every day occurrence when we get to read that another magnificent raptor, in this case a young white-tailed eagle, that had been donated by Norway – they must hate seeing these stories about their donated birds being killed – has been found murdered with Carbofuran, ‘a deadly pesticide so dangerous it was withdrawn for use in Ireland over a decade ago’.
    Something really needs to be done about these extremely toxic poisons. So many seem to be found across the UK near to where the bird has been discovered or on an estate. How are people getting hold of them?
    Surely there must be records of who bought them?
    And punishments need to be far stronger. With a lengthy stay in prison as well as a financial penalty, that should cover all the costs of all the agencies involved in the investigation.
    Even if there is no proof of someone ever using it, if it is on their ground then they are guilty by association and must suffer the same punishment. Ignorance is not an excuse. We are far too soft on these persons and they need to be brought to task as a warning to others.

    1. ” has been found murdered with Carbofuran”

      ‘murdered’ has a legal meaning: it does apply to the killing of animals.

      “So many seem to be found across the UK ” This incident is not in the UK.

      “Surely there must be records of who bought them?”

      Carbofuran has been banned from use in Ireland from June 2009, and banned from sale since December 2007. I doubt any such records currently exist.

      I came across this, dated January 2022, it is quite eye-opening:

      https://www.ucc.ie/en/greencampus/news/what-is-wildlife-crime-and-what-can-we-do-about-it-in-ireland.html

      “there is no universally accepted definition of what constitutes wildlife crime”

      “Many people hold a misguided perception of wildlife species. They consider wildlife to be a nuisance that have negative impacts on people’s livelihoods”

      “Crimes against wildlife are often categorised as ‘victimless crimes'”

      “Many government and law enforcement officials fail to take wildlife crime seriously”

      “In June 2021, a joint protocol between the NPWS and An Garda Síochána was launched to tackle wildlife crime… However, much more time, attention, and resources must be dedicated to conservation efforts in Ireland if we are to have any hope at preserving our biodiversity and natural heritage areas”

      “Legislative change will likely be needed to establish a successful Wildlife Crime Unit and strengthening wildlife protection laws in Ireland will not only reduce wildlife crime, but also create renewed political will to address these issues and increase public awareness of wildlife crimes.”

      I’d say, on the basis of that, Ireland is even further behind England. But there are people who are trying to change things…

      1. “‘murdered’ has a legal meaning: it does apply to the killing of animals”

        Embarrassing typo:-(

        ‘murdered’ has a legal meaning: it does NOT apply to the killing of animals. Apologies.

  2. This is unacceptable: the Irish & UK governments should give an illegal poisons amnesty, as has previously been done for illegal knives and guns and, once the amnesty has closed, have a specialist task force set up to make unannounced spot checks on suspect premises, i.e. every shooting estate, every farm shoot, and anywhere else deemed necessary.

    1. Hi Simon, regards one final amnesty – I used to think the same. i.e. there could realistically be a few innocent “old Bert” the farmer types who are still living in the 1950’s and are oblivious to what this stuff is really valued for these days. But realistically there can be very few who are in this boat, and the vast majority of it is hidden away by people who know exactly what they are doing. So I would wholly support a clampdown with raids and searches, etc as you say and a serious increase in the penalties, but as for another amnesty – we are being far too kind and patient, there are not enough Sea Eagles among (other species) to indulge with kind hearts and “benefit of the doubt” any longer.

  3. Dreadful. Awful to say but why reintroduce species? It appears they are then poisoned/shot or otherwise destroyed by those determined to reduce nature to nothing.Very sad.

  4. Every time there is a poisoning incident, I wonder how many other animals have also been killed, but have died elsewhere and not been found? There must be thousands.

  5. Please can someone clear up the following for me?
    I understand the use of carbofuran is banned in the UK, and therefore no one could have any lawful excuse for possessing this substance.

    But what is the exact position regarding possession?

    From what I have read it would appear the DEFRA banned the use of carbofuran, but the chemical was not added to the list of proscribed substances which would have made possession unlawful and therefore prosecutable in it’s own right.

    The following is an extract from the UK parliaments Wildlife Crime -Environmental Audit Committee published in 2012-

    “Defra has acknowledged the environmental impact of illegal wildlife poisoning and the need to introduce controls by enacting new primary legislation. Section 43 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 allowed the Secretary of State to proscribe the possession of banned pesticides in England and Wales, but no Order listing the proscribed substances has been made. Given that the power to proscribe possession already exists in primary legislation, this is an inexplicable omission and a failure to follow through on the logic of the 2006 Act.

    I understand the then DEFRA Minister Richard Benyan refused to proscribe possession of carbofuran in England and Wales.
    From the Audit Committees report it would appear that when challenged on this issue, the Minister’s response was -“The intentional use of poisoned bait to kill any wild bird is already prohibited under section 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981”. This was despite all the evidence put forward which “highlighted the difficulty of securing convictions under that legislation, which consequently lacked a deterrent effect as evidenced by the statistics”.

    Has anything changed since this report was published in 2012?

    As I touched on in a previous comment on the topic of the BASC response to the Suffolk Police tweet regarding the Goshawks, is this another example of the powerful and privileged ensuring that their interests are not interfered with in any way by having their elected representative subtlety influence the way legislation is enacted, so that what on the face of it appears a big step forward is in fact watered down to protect certain interests?

    1. Benton replied to a letter that I sent, asking for the possession of banned pesticides to be made illegal. He answered, the pesticides are banned, therefore, it is unnecessary to make their possession illegal.
      Another get out of gaol free card.

      1. Thanks

        So if I am understanding this correctly, we could arrive at the absurd position where the police have a suspect in a poisoning case, who following searches is found to be in possession of carbofuran. The suspect exercises his/her right to silence and fails to provide any explanation for their possession of the carbofuran, and because the suspects stash of carbofuran can not be directly linked to the carbofuran found in the dead raptor, then it is deemed there is insufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution and the suspect is not be charged?

        I suspect Mr Benyon knew exactly what he was doing!!

      2. Not just a “get of jail free” card, but another example from an eminent person along the lines of “I couldn’t give a toss!” or “its’ not my problem!”.

        These banned chemicals are an immense danger to innocent lives (birds, pets, even humans). I just can’t accept that because theya re banned, then possession doesn’t need to be illegal. A huge number of narcotic substances are both banned as well as it being illegal to possess them. So what’s the difference with pesticides and the like. Oh….wait a minute…. the gentry and their servants need access to chemicals to be able to “protect” their “livestock”, so some police forces can turn a blind eye to anyone possessing the chemicals. I can just hear PC Plod saying “Here, lad. I noticed a bottle of Carbofan in your potting shed the other day. Just be careful (gentle smack on wrist)”.

        Time for an amnesty so that people can hand in unwanted and highly dangerous chemicals. Best if it was nationwide, but I wonder if any of the district police forces is brave enough to make a start and encourage others to follow suit. The results can only be positive, surely?

        1. At the time of my enquiry Mr Benyon was trying to raise, in Parliament, justification for a cull of buzzards. Because Benyon’s gamekeeper said that they were losing thousands of pheasants to buzzards.
          John L. my thoughts at the time matched your’s.

    2. “But what is the exact position regarding possession?”

      Some poisons have a license attached, and possession without a license definitely is a criminal offence.

      See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/licensing-for-home-users-of-explosives-precursors/licensing-for-home-users-of-poisons-and-explosive-precursors

      I believe this was the legislation under which Dorset gamekeeper Paul Allen pleaded guilty to possession without a license.

      See https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-dorset-64161416

      But the situation regarding pesticides appears much more muddied. The HSE have a biocide database (GB Article 95 list), which is huge, but its search facilities do not appear to work:-(

      I could not, for example, locate carbofuran (C12H15NO3) ?

      The HSE GB Pesticides Approval register does not allow searches by product name, while the ‘withdrawn substances’ section indicates three products only.

      Having scoured HSE legislation, I do not think a list of prohibited pesticides exists: merely a list of approved pesticides. Therefore, there is a prima facie case for believing that possession of a non-approved ‘substance’ would not be illegal.

      There is a pretty good Irish article on this legal issue in the Irish Times (Sept 2020):

      https://www.irishtimes.com/news/science/the-importance-of-cracking-down-on-carbofuran-1.4345747

      Australia is particularly notorious. I believe that carbofuran is still not banned from use in Australia – see this from 2008:

      https://www.smh.com.au/national/another-spray-in-paradise-20080915-gdsv07.html

      While this from 2010: http://ntn.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/FINAL-A-list-of-Australias-most-dangerous-pesticides-v27-1.pdf

      indicates that carbofuran remained licensed for use in Australia for rice, sugar cane, tobacco, wheat and barley.

      And to top it all, the UK still appears to be manufacturing and exporting carbofuran in 2020, despite it being ‘not approved’ for UK use:

      https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2022/02/22/bees-syngenta-paraquat-uk-exports/

      What a mess!

      1. Thanks. Some very interesting links.
        Whilst not relevant to this particular incident, I do wonder if some of those banned chemicals the UK exports to developing countries ends up harming the migrant birds which leave the UK every year to over winter in warmer climates?

        My conclusion is that if the UK government was truly committed to nature recovery, it would not only make possession of carbofuran and other similar products an absolute offence so that possession had a similar meaning as it does in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, but would also totally ban the manufacture of any chemical not permitted for use in the UK.

        Ruth- Thanks for providing such a valuable forum in which interested people can share thoughts and learn from each other, as well as get an understanding of the true scale of persecution suffered by our raptors.

    3. If memory serves me right the SofS for Environment, food and rural affairs (as in Benyon’s boss) was none other than one Owen Paterson, a grouse moor owner. Technically he was my boss too back then as I was working for a Defra arms length body. I had a habit of referring to him as “Fukushima Paterson” as IMHO there have been bigger environmental disasters but they’re pretty few and far between…. (Ruth may redact some of this but I’ll fully understand).

      [Ed: Thanks, John. Nothing that needs redacting there, but I’m not sure that Paterson owns a grouse moor. His brother-in-law does though]

      1. Well, regards Owen Paterson’s brother in law – that’s a coincidence I have just now opened my “January Newsletter” email from Hen Harrier Action Day and noted that tagged bird Macha is spending a lot of time around Matt Ridley’s rapidly “improving” moor. She should have every chance of success breeding around there if she chooses to stay (keepers have the place pretty much 100% “vermin free” thank you) and plenty of pipits, wheatears, etc. Good parking, public RoW and “well made” keepers roads too – for the responsible birdwatcher to use their CRoW rights (check NE website for Estate’s discretionary closure days in nesting season) without disturbing anything, and maybe get a glimpse of her.

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