Smuggled Irish poisons blamed for Scottish eagle deaths


ONE OF Scotland’s leading wildlife agencies has raised concerns that banned poisons linked to the deaths of golden and white-tailed eagles are being smuggled into the country from the Republic.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Scotland said the highly toxic pesticides, carbofuran and alphachloralose, had been illegally used as predator control on some shooting estates in Scotland.

The head of species and land management with the Scotland body, Duncan Orr-Ewing, said there was “strong evidence” that the poisons were being sourced through sporting and other contacts in the Republic before being brought into Scotland, probably through Northern Ireland.

Formerly used by farmers as a root crop pesticide, carbofuran is so toxic that a quarter of a teaspoon is enough to kill an adult human. It has been illegal to use or possess either pesticide in Scotland since 2001.

A similar ban came into force here only in 2008, but there is suspicion that residual supplies of both agents remain available on the black market.

While the use of pure alphachloralose is banned, possession of the substance is not illegal here.

In a recent address to the Seanad, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said that several departments and several Acts dealt with the use of poisons, but that there was “some ambiguity” on the issue.

Police in Scotland are said to view the illegal importation of banned poisons as a more serious crime than the poisoning of wildlife.

Mr Orr-Ewing said poisoned meat-baits were being used as part of a “predator control tool kit” on some Scottish estates, where the aim was to maximise the number of birds available for shooting.

The owner of the Glenogil shooting estate in Angus, Tayside, recently had his farming subsidy cut by £107,000 by the Scottish executive for targeting birds of prey with poisonous pesticides.

It was the largest civil penalty imposed under the European Union regulations, which make wildlife protection a condition of the subsidy.

One of the poisons used, detected on a rabbit carcass staked on a hillside, was found to be a combination of carbofuran and isofenphos pesticides that had never been licensed for use in the UK.

However, the compound had previously been licensed and sold as an insecticide in the Republic before being withdrawn on account of its extreme toxicity.

The same compound was found on another grouse moor, the Leadhills estate, in southwest Scotland. Ireland’s largest game shooting organisation, the National Association of Regional Game Councils, said it condemned the use of poisons for the control of any species.

Spokesman Des Crofton said such chemicals were illegal and indiscriminate and people caught using them would find “no sanctuary” in the association.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service, now under the aegis of the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht, said it was aware of suggestions that poisons had been brought to parts of the UK from Ireland.

However, a spokesman for the service said much had been done in recent years to reduce the threat to wildlife from the use of poisons in Ireland, including outlawing the practice of using poisoned meat-baits of any kind to control farmland pests.

Scotland’s golden eagle population is estimated to contain 440 breeding pairs. Experts believe about 50 eagles are illegally poisoned or shot each year.

Mr Orr-Ewing said the use of poisoned meat-baits remained the single biggest “limiting factor” on the restoration of Scotland’s golden eagle population.

In recent months, Scotland has seen a significant fall in the number of illegally poisoned birds of prey, thanks to the introduction of tough new measures making landowners liable for the persecution of protected birds by their gamekeepers.

Under the system known as vicarious liability, Scottish landowners now face the toughest bird conservation legislation in Europe, making them potentially liable for illegal conduct by their gamekeepers or shooting tenants.

Scotland is so far the only part of the UK to have adopted such a tough stance on the illegal poisoning of protected birds.

The Golden Eagle Trust, the group that operates the two eagle reintroduction projects in Ireland, has been sourcing its golden eagle chicks from Scotland since 2001.