Patrick Goldsworthy: Protect againt poisons
Stride regularly across the countryside and you’ll come across the work of farmers and gamekeepers fighting a range of pests that threaten their crops and livelihood. Most pesticide use is perfectly legal, but occasionally there is misuse and even abuse. What do you do? Well, there is guidance and a reporting system, but in the words of Michael Caine: ‘not a lot of people know that’. The Campaign against Accidental or Illegal Poisoning (CAIP) aims to help.
The campaign is run by the Chemicals Regulation Directorate, part of the Health & Safety Executive. The aim is to prevent poisons, particularly pesticides, harming wildlife, pets or livestock through misuse or abuse. For the past two years it has been managed by a consortium which includes the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Farm Wildlife Advisory Group and other independent experts.
The newly formed group began by establishing a base line of awareness by surveying key audiences including countryside users. There was good news and bad news. First, despite the siren voices that often hit the headlines, there is broad support for the work of farmers and gamekeepers in controlling pests. Also, many who enjoy the countryside have come across dead wildlife. But, while there was a willingness to report such incidents, especially deer and badgers, very few people had a clue who to report to. Suggestions included the police and RSPCA, and while they can have a role, just one respondent had the right answer – the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS).
So part of the focus of the revitalised CAIP is to inform those who regularly enjoy the English countryside, and the leaflet enclosed in the current issue of walk magazine (Autumn 2010) is intended as a quick aide memoire to alert ramblers to what they may come across in the countryside and what to do about it. So what might you find? What should you do? And who can help?
This autumn, there is a particular hazard for those who enjoy the company of pet dogs as they stride out. From October onwards farmers will be battling against the threat of slugs to their newly sown oilseed and cereal crops. That means the application of slug pellets (very similar to those used in gardens). Based on cereals, slug pellets are tasty morsels for any pooch. The odd one may pose little threat, but in a heap –as you might get from a split bag or an overflowing applicator – will provide a tasty, yet lethal, treat.
Unfortunately, while the taste repellents added to many pellets in recent years are good at stopping accidental human consumption, they are much less effective for dogs. If you suspect your dog has eaten slug pellets, you need veterinary help immediately. If you know where the heap is you could alert the farmer to the hazard. In addition, contact WIIS.
Across the year, you may find dead animals that most likely have died from natural causes, but some that might have been poisoned. And, sadly, these can be the result of deliberate abuse. If you find a dead bird of prey, or several animals in an area it is time to get suspicious. You may even find a dead carcase, such as a rabbit, staked out. Don’t touch – it could be laced with poison. But contact WIIS.
So what happens if you ring the WIIS helpline? After your details have been taken, a wildlife expert from Natural England will be in touch to ask you a series of questions to see if what you have found is suspicious. If it is, then further investigations are carried out. Deliberate abuse or reckless misuse may lead to prosecution; details of unintentional misuse that leads to poisoning are recorded and if necessary instructions for pesticide use are amended.
Pest control does not always involve pesticides. Gamekeepers depend on traps to control corvids in spring and rodents across the year. But there are many instances of perfectly legal and humane traps being damaged or destroyed. CAIP now provides posters to alert ramblers of the legality of traps in use. If you think a trap is illegal, do not interfere with it, but do seek advice from the police, ask for their Wildlife Crime Officer.
As well as making countryside users aware of CAIP, the campaign is also working to educate farmers, landowners and gamekeepers in best practice when it comes to pest control. Across the country there are daylong training sessions providing practical advice on issues such as slug and rat control, safe storage of pesticides and alternative approaches to pest control.
There is much more information about the campaign on its website www.caip-uk.info and remember if you see something suspicious you can help make our countryside a safer place by phoning 0800 321600.
Patrick Goldsworthy is the campaign director of CAIP