It's no surprise that the UK's most-used rodenticide finds its way into non-target species
There are 150 million rats in the UK, and the majority of people would have no qualms in putting down a rodenticide – or asking a professional to do so – if they had a rat infestation in their home or premises. Brodifacoum is a rodenticide known as a SGAR – Second Generation Anticoagulant Rodenticides (SGARs). It’s one of the most commonly used rat and mouse poisons, mainly because it’s a powerful rodenticide which is proven to be effective. As well as being available to buy off the shelf, brodifacoum is one of the most popular rodenticides among professionals. The power of a rodenticide matters: it obviously means an animal needs to ingest less of it for the poison to be effective. But this also means you need to put down less poison for a shorter length of time; with less effective poisons, the bait is likely to be down for longer, making the poison more of a threat to both children and non-target species. There is a strict code of conduct regarding the use of rodenticides, which exists almost entirely to ensure that non-target species – ie any animal that isn’t being targeted by the poison – is not affected. These include the use of bait boxes, recording the distribution and location of any bait used, and the retrieval and disposal of rodent bodies, in order to prevent them being eaten by scavengers. But anyone can buy brodifacoum in the shops; and with a lot of rats in this country, there is a lot of rodenticide, too. Look carefully and you’ll see those little bait boxes all over the place; round the back of the petrol station; in the car park at your local chippie; in the supermarket loading bay.
So despite there being numerous rules regarding the use of brodifacoum and everyone’s best efforts to stop it reaching non-target species, its popularity means that it will sometimes reach them. Hedgehogs are often found to have accumulated SGARs, while predatory mammals such as polecats and scavenging birds – such as the red kite – are vulnerable to secondary poisoning. Numerous reintroduced red kites which have been found dead have had brodifacoum in their system. Barn owls, buzzards and kestrels are also susceptible; so it’s sadly no surprise that sea eagles, including one found dead in Dorset in February, have also had the poison in their body. Dorset Police said in their statement that “it has not been possible to establish whether [the high levels of brodifacoum] was as a result of a deliberate act or due to secondary rodenticide poisoning.”
It’s also no surprise that numerous people automatically assume that gamekeepers or farmers must have been to blame for the bird’s death. In reality, it’s farmers and keepers who are most likely to be a member of a compliant assurance scheme, or to taken their proof of competence course. They know the rules, and they have learnt how to control rodent infestations correctly and safely. They also have the most to lose by using it incorrectly. But why bother with the reality when it’s far easily to place the blame on the people you most dislike?