More good news – unless you are a raptor hater

Today the Environmental Audit Committee publishes a report on Wildlife Crime.

Amongst other useful findings it recommends that the government in England and Wales introduces an offence of vicarious liability for wildlife crime (as already exists in Scotland) and makes the possession of the banned pesticide carbofuran illegal (as it already is in Scotland).

In their own, admirably few, words, the Committee summarises these two points in these three sentences:

‘Primary legislation proscribing the possession of poisons used to kill birds of prey was
enacted in 2006, but an Order listing which poisons it would be an offence to possess
has not been introduced. The Government must immediately introduce such an Order
to protect birds from poisoning. Given the current law’s lack of deterrent effect, it
should also bring forward legislation to introduce vicarious liability for raptor

We have spoken about vicarious liability rather often.  Let’s concentrate on the ‘poison of choice’ for raptor killers – carbofuran.

Carbofuran has been banned from use in the EU for many years (since 2001).  It has been illegal to possess certain poisons in England and Wales since 2006 – except that the list of chemicals to which this illegality applies has not been published.  In contrast, in Scotland, a list of eight pesticides has been proscribed (aldicarb, alphachloralose, aluminium phosphide, bendiocarb, carbofuran, mevinphos, sodium cyanide and strychnine) under the Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005.

When the Defra Minister, Richard Benyon, was asked by the EAC whether he would take the simple step of proscribing this poison for which there is no legal use in the whole of the European Union he replied ‘an order under section 43 of the [Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006] will not be pursued at this time’.

Why not pray? The Minister’s written answer to the Committee suggested two reasons.  The first is that the use of carbofuran is already banned so there is no need to proscribe its possession.  Except, as the Committee point out, in Scotland there are recent cases, such as that of the Skibo estate, where poisoned birds of prey were found, and carbofuran was found, but no firm evidence for any particular person using carbofuran to poison birds of prey was found.  Remember – there is no legal use of carbofuran through the whole of the EU and there hasn’t been for many, many years.

The Minister’s second, even lamer, reason for not having proscribed carbofuran, is that this government, and this Minister, prefer a voluntary approach.

This government, and this particular Minister, Richard Benyon, do not believe that it is worth helping to stamp out the poisoning of birds of prey by making it a clear offence to possess a poison for which there is no legal use in this country, nor the rest of the European Union.  Carbofuran is so unpleasant that you cannot use it – but the Minister sits idly by allowing its possession to be a matter of no consequence for the law in England and Wales.

The most likely place to find carbofuran is a gamekeeper’s shed – nobody else has any use for it.  Mr Benyon employs some gamekeepers himself and many of his friends employ gamekeepers, all of whom,  I’m sure, behave impeccably but it doesn’t look good when a government Minister refuses to make it more difficult for law-breakers to get away with breaking the law.

We can add the subject of ‘refusing to proscribe the possession of poisons which are illegal to use’ as another example of Defra’s apparently pro-fieldsports, anti-raptor approach to life.

The EAC were clearly unimpressed by Mr Benyon’s excuses for inaction:

‘To discharge its obligations under the EC Birds Directive, to demonstrate its
commitment to addressing raptor persecution and to send a clear signal that it regards poisoning birds of prey as wholly unacceptable, we recommend that the Government immediately introduces an Order under Section 43 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 proscribing possession of carbofuran and other similar substances in England and Wales.’


Excellent coverage in today’s Independent, BBC, and comment on Martin Harper’s blog.


Note added at 15:55:

The original press release from the EAC contained the following phrases:

‘Hundreds of birds of prey have been deliberately poisoned with substances such as carbofuran that have no legal use. The Government could easily make possession an offence under legislation that has been on the statute book since 2006.’

Committee Chair, Joan Walley MP, said:

“Birds of prey are being systematically killed in this country by poisons that have no legal use, because the Government has failed to make it an offence to possess those substances.”

 “Brand new legislation is not needed to criminalise possession of those poisons. Existing legislation already allows an Order listing them to be tabled in the Commons within days.”

 “I challenge the Government to examine the overwhelming evidence on this and make this simple change by the end of the month – it would be an easy win for wildlife.”

Defra issued a ‘myth-buster’ as follows:

The myth: An article in The Independent claimed that Environment Minister Richard Benyon has ‘refused to ban deadly bird poison’.

The truth: This substance is not approved for use in the UK and the story is wrong. The substance in question, carbofuran, had its approval for use revoked several years ago and it is therefore illegal to advertise, sell, supply, store or use it or any other substances that have had their approval similarly revoked. To claim that the Environment Minister has refused to ban it is factually wrong.

The RSPB, on a blog, said this:

One of the issues raised by the report concerns the use of poisons in bird of prey persecution; substances such as carbofuran and aldicarb.

In response to reports this morning on the “banning” of these substances, a little clarity might be useful. Carbofuran, aldicarb and related poisons are restricted under pesticides’ legislation. As Defra were quick to point out, in the case of carbofuran it  “had its approval for use revoked several years ago and it is therefore illegal to advertise, sell, supply, store or use it or any other substances that have had their approval similarly revoked.” But this isn’t the whole story.

The RSPB thinks that the Government is missing an opportunity to provide judges and magistrates with the provision to impose custodial sentences for wildlife crimes involving poisons, rather than just financial penalties for breaches of pesticides’ legislation, by not listing these substances under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (NERC)

Listing them on NERC is really straight forward. And by  thus widening the penalties available, the deterrent will be stronger. It’s as simple as that.

This call has now been made loud and clear by the Environment Audit Committee report. This is not about bans – its about deterrents.

So the question to Defra is … will you list them on the NERC act (and the provision already exists to do this) thereby increase the deterrence? And if not, why not?


I hope that helps!  Also, see comments below.


35 Replies to “More good news – unless you are a raptor hater”

  1. You’d think some alarm bells might be going off at Conservative party headquarters by now – unless it’s official party policy to kill off our native wildlife.

    Richard ‘final solution’ Benyon….

      1. It’s not easy to retain one’s innocence with friends who are raptor conservationists, and a member of one’s own family a gamekeeper….

        Call me ”Enlightened Bystander’! 😉

  2. Mr Benyon appears to be making a lot of gaffs against the natural environment of late, most of which you cover well on your blog. Maybe a ministerial change needed again in the light of this building pressure? He’s possibly also on track for inclusion in your raptor haters hall of fame? Would be great if you could get a guest blog from him Mark.

  3. Another piece of good news but one wonders when the minister will act on the report. It may be no coincidence but it likely that Benyon gets most of his wildlife advice from his Moorland Association pals as it is alleged they meet once a month.
    This is of course the organisation that denies there is any Hen Harrier persecution, thus shielding its members, their pals and employees in the NGO whilst the poor old protected harrier is driven to extinction in England.
    As one keeper has apparently claimed recently– we’ve kept you talking at the Environment Council whilst we’ve nearly completed the cull.
    If this is true it is both supremely cynical and of course very very criminal.

    We need government to act very quickly on this report but I’ll not be holding my breath.
    incidentally Mark, Fair Isle was wonderful!

  4. Mark, this comment was posted on Raptor Politics earlier this week. It refers to making a search on Natural England’s web site for hen harrier, I presume.
    The news is not too good, as Stephen Murphy’s PhD would have possibly been useful to the findings of the Law Commissions review if it had been available. Perhaps finding all those dead hen harriers is taking much longer than expected.

    If you type “hen harrier” in the search box, you will find some links. The third one refers to the so-called hen harrier recovery project. Note that the technical report isn’t due for nearly 6 months and the PhD thesis not until March 2014. So I’m extremely pessimistic about them providing anything helpful to the Law Commission review.

  5. It is an offence to possess cannabis, for which custodial sentences can be set, yet someone possessing a small amount of cannabis will at worst be harmful only to him/herself (I am not talking about possession with intent to supply for which more severe penalties are available to the courts). In contrast the Minister thinks that it is ‘disproportionate’ to make it an offence to possess a pesticide that has no legal use but which is known to be used illegally to kill rare birds of prey that are supposedly protected by the law and which are subject to levels of persecution that are putting them at risk of extinction. There is a very bad smell about this which seems to convey the message that there is one law for the Minister’s chums and another for everyone else.

  6. Mark, sorry but I have just located this comment on the Raptor Politics web site. It was a request sent to Natural England on October 5th by e-mail to Stephen Murphy: You may wish to add this additional comment below the one I sent earlier this morning, or add it as a new commet all together, or not at all as you wish.

    Hello Stephen,

    I am a bird lover with a particular interest in birds of prey. I understand that you have been involved in satellite tracking of hen harriers from the Bowland area. The supplier of the transmitters has recently stated that you have been “pretty successful recovering downed PTTs and none of the recovered PTTs returned …. for refurbishment were defective”. It therefore seems to me that the circumstances of the recovery of these transmitters would be of great interest to raptor protection groups, the RSPB and potentially to the police. Have you shared your findings with any of these groups?
    Also, as the Law Commission is currently carrying out a review of wildlife legislation, have you submitted, or will you be submitting, your evidence to them?
    Hoping for a positive reply.”

    Today I received the following reply:

    “Thank you for your enquiry. I apologise it has taken a few days for us to reply. Stephen Murphy is currently on leave so I am answering your enquiry myself.

    Your first question was whether Natural England shares the details of recovered tags with other stakeholders. We do share this information with others involved in the conservation of Hen Harriers including the police.

    Your second question was whether Natural England would be submitting a response to the Law Commission enquiry. Natural England will be providing a full consultation response to the Law Commission which will be publically available.

    Yours sincerely

    Rosemary Budd

    Team Leader – Landscape Scale Delivery Northern Team

    Natural England

  7. Thank you again Mark for such an informative blog. i see only one solution; removal of said Minister as Richard Benyon is clearly unfit to be in his position as there is such a conflict of interest!

    1. Lorraine – welcome and thank you. You are a hard women aren’t you? Do you not think he could just see the light and do much better? Hmmm – not sure I do either.

  8. Its not very often I can agree with what Paul Irving has to say, but recently what Paul has been saying makes a lot of sense and he is to be congratulated for speaking out. I recall not too long I read another comment from Paul when he was agreeing with what I had to say. Things must be looking up at last. Several weeks ago I wrote an article for Raptor Politics titled “The Hen Harrier is Dead, Long Live the Hen Harrier.” I read in Paul’s latest comment he had reached the same conclusion I enclosed within my article. He commented that gamekeepers used the time spent talking about saving hen harriers at the many hen harrier meetings hosted by Environment Council simply to stall for time while they were culling them.

    I would like to take this opportunity Mark if you would permit, to add a link to what I had to say just in case any of your readers would wish to read my thoughts about hen harrier and why we are where we are now.

  9. But who could replace him Mark, any suggestions? Does the coalition have anyone with true green credentials that we trust?

    1. There does appear to be a paucity of suitable candidates within the coalition. Ken Clarke may be the solution, however the chances of the tory backbenchers consenting to the appointment of a bird-watcher as Under-Secretary for Natural Environment, Water and Rural Affairs, are at best remote. It is also seems highly unlikely that Ken Clarke would wish to serve under Sir Les.

      I can’t honestly say that either of the obvious Lib Dem candidates Andrew George or Tim Farron possess suitable credentials for the job, decent chaps that they are.

      And as bad as Dithering Dick currently appears to be (which admittedly is very bad), it is perhaps worth bearing in mind some of the alternative candidates that possess some of the tory prequisite qualities such as previous experience within the Dept, right wing, euro-sceptic, landowning background, enjoys killing things. Nicholas Soames anyone?

      Perhaps the best we can hope for is for Richard Benyon to undergo some form of Damascene conversion. Perhaps Mark may care to send him a copy of ‘Fighting For Birds’ ?

      1. Joe W – love it! I did send Mr Benyon a copy of my previous book, Blogging for Nature, but never got a reply (which surprised me as he is quite a decent chap really).

  10. He just needs to get on with it does Dithering Dick!

    It isn’t a magic bullet and prosecuting possession has been the easy option for the Fiscal Service (and maybe the Police) in Scotland rather than pursuing ‘use’ BUT for those receiving public support – these payments become vulnerable when their staff are found with a shed-load of the stuff…if that makes any difference to people who spend these sums of money on a leisure activity.

  11. Mark,
    I’ve got a couple of canine companions, my mum ever since I was a kid has bred and showed dogs, and is herself a highly respected dog show judge, as a result she reads two news publications 1)Dog World 2)Our Dogs. Just as spring started this year the two papers ran a story warning dog owners to be wary of their dogs walking off lead in certain areas. These areas were North Yorkshire, Lancashire and the Scottish Highlands and Thetford forest. The concerns were dogs retrieving carcass’ of dead birds and were asking dog owners to keep an eye out for dead birds and OTHER animal carcass’ they highliighted the risk theses carcass’ could be laced with poison and highlighted the increase of poisoned Golden Eagles in Scotland. I found it interesting that in the story they highlighted “over animal carcass” not just birds. It seems it’s just not “raptor fans” like so many of us on here are concerned with the use of carbofuran. I would love to be able to find the author of the stories but can’t find the story on the websites of said papers.

    1. Douglas – interesting example indeed. I believe there are cases of dogs being poisoned – it would be surprising if there weren’t. Good point!

      1. Mark.
        just the tip of the iceberg, after all a certaing dog food comapny (and several others are following suit) produce a “game flavoured” can of food, imagine if all those dog owners were to think of the possibility of their dogs eating lead! Would love to know if there’s ever been a study on the dog food and it’s lead content! ?

        1. I was also going to say that it would be good if FMC could be persuaded to included “markers” in each batch, so that tracing misuse would be much easier.

    1. Chris – thanks for this. The use of Section 43 of the NERC Act would help with those pesticides which (unlike carbofuran) are not banned for all uses (eg, I think, alphachloralose) where someone possessing it would have to show a lawful excuse for having it. It would also make the trying of pesticide misuse cases much easier for the courts – at the moment the pesticide aspects can go to the Crown Court and the wildlife aspects to the Magistrate Courts and so the danger is that no court hears all aspects of the case (and sometimes the wildlife aspects are dropped if a conviction is likely by the pesticide route, I gather). Also, and very importantly, only, at present, if proscribed under the NERC Act would someone in possession of carbofuran be subject to potential custodial sentences. All these arguments were accepted when the NERC Act came in and so it is surprising that the provision to proscribe named pesticides, which doesn’t entail much time or effort, has not been done by previous Ministers. Perhaps it was never brought to their attention but it has been brought to this Minister’s attention and he refuses, so far, to implement this legislation fully. indeed, he came up, as i wrote, with a list of reasons why he wouldn’t.

  12. If the Government ignores the findings of the Environmental Audit Committee, the opinions of the eminent scientists on the Badger Cull and the petiton of 150,000 signatures, then we can all be sure that they are embarking on a strategy of appeasing their landowner voters.

    Where are their Coalition partners the “green” Liberal Democrats? It does suggest that we are getting ultra Conservative policies not all concerned with reducing our deficit. It is hard to remember now but things were surely never this bad when John Gummer was Minister for the Environment.

    This lot have so far shown an enormous achilles heel with the amount of “U”turns when public opinion rises against them.

    Now is the time NGO,s gird your loins and take this lot on – your memberships and funding will grow accordingly.

    1. DavidH – see comment to Chris above, read the blog again and read the Environmental Audit Committee report.

      Also read what Mr Benyon said to the EAC – if anyone is confused, and many of us may be, he is certainly one of them!

      Thanks, though, for the comment.

      1. OK Mark
        So you are pointing me to things which suggest that MPs do not have a clue about the environment and environmental legislation. I think I already knew that!. The same is true of all governmental committees right down to a local level.

  13. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that Joan Walley MP can heap pressure on other MPs to get all poisons used against BOP listed and banned,trouble is we also need Judges to give long sentences to anyone involved in any way with BOP persecution.

  14. Hopefully pro wildlife MPs will shortly be questioning David Cameron about his game boys refusal to implement the required poisons order. I’m sure he’d welcome it as a diversion from questions about the publication of emails between himself and fellow country supper enthusiast Rebekah Brooks heldback from the Leveson enquiry. I hope those country suppers don’t contain too much game. Perhaps the lead content explains the odd behaviour of many top tories?

    1. Even that couldn’t excuse the report in today’s Independent of Gideon O calling those asking for action on climate change “environmental taliban”. Good to see the RSPB, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and WWF-UK writing to him asking for an explanation of exactly who he’s referring to!

  15. Mark, apologies if you have already pointed readers to this, but you may find Mr Benyon’s written evidence to the committee interesting:
    In particular the second paragraph:
    “Many of our UK birds of prey are doing well, and many populations are either increasing or are stable. However, there are areas where land use activities may be in conflict with the presence of birds of prey and we are aware of offences including poisoning and nest disturbance being committed. Government works with the statutory nature conservation organisations and a range of stakeholders to try and resolve these conflicts.”
    Land use activities may be in conflict with the presence of birds of prey ???? Bl**** cheek!!

  16. This reminds me of the one about the gamekeeper who shot a Red Kite, then ate the evidence.

    The judge threw the case out, for the want of said evidence, then said to the keeper…

    “We can’t convict you now the case has been dismissed, (pre “double jepardy”, of course) so may I ask, what did it taste like?”

    After much thought, the keeper replied…

    “About half way between Hen Harrier and Golden Eagle.”

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