Barn Owl Hazards: Rat poison

Donate Support Our Work Button 2The vast majority of rat poisons used these days (such as Neosorexa and Slaymor) are highly toxic SGARs –‘Second Generation Anticoagulant Rodenticides’.

Most birds of prey are contaminated

The extent to which SGARs have contaminated small-mammal predators is shocking. The Rat Poison Rodenticide Neosorexa On Farmproportion of Barn Owls contaminated reached its highest level in 2010, an alarming 91%. The latest results from the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme show that 100% of the Kestrels they examined in 2011 were contaminated along with 94% of Red Kites! The problem is not restricted to a particular area. The analysed corpses were sent in by the public from across Britain. In other words, virtually the entire populations of these 3 sentinel species have been feeding on rodents that contain rat poison. Sparrowhawks (93%), Buzzards (48%), Peregrine Falcons (35%) and even Hedgehogs (57%) contain SGAR poisons. Read about the background to the rat poison problem

The big question; are sublethal doses having any effect?

Sidebar 2 Rodenticide CampaignAs the rodenticide industry is quick to point out, there is no evidence that sub-lethal doses have any effect on Barn Owls. But in fact, there is no evidence that it is not affecting them. Nest cameras such as those used by BBC Springwatch have revealed marked differences in the behaviour of breeding Barn Owls and it is clear that some are far more energetic than others. We know that safe medicinal doses of the anti-coagulant Warfarin can have side effects in humans including nausea and that the poisons found in Barn Owls are 100 to 1,000 times more acutely toxic than Warfarin. Even if behavioural changes are slight, with 76% of farms using highly toxic rodenticides and up to 91% of Barn Owls contaminated, the overall effect could be dramatic because almost the entire population is affected.

The problem with rats

Rat Poison Brown Rat Simon BoothA great many EU member states are opposed to the use of SGARs and in 2013 the prospect of an EU-wide ban sent a shock wave through the rodenticide and rodent control industries, particularly because there are no new rodent poisons on the horizon. Rats are clearly a threat to human health and their colonisation of some small UK islands, with devastating consequences for ground nesting seabirds, shows that they can do real damage to some of our native wildlife too. It is an inescapable fact that rats need to be controlled. How to control rats as safely as possible.

Resistance to SGARs is an increasing problem

‘Resistance’ means rats in some areas are no longer affected by some poisons; they are feeding on SGARs and surviving. In the worst-affected area (South Midlands down to Berkshire) Local Authorities and other Pest Control Operators have been seeking special permission from HSE (Health and Safety Executive) to use the strongest SGARs (those only licenced for indoor use) to control rats in open areas accessed by the public. So far, none of these applications has been granted and Authorities have been unable to discharge their responsibilities for protecting public health.

Poisoning is set to continue

Despite the fact that poisoning is not the best way to deal with most infestations, the use of poisons is set to continue. Indeed the EU has now allowed member states to continue licensing the use of SGARs for periods of up to 5 years provided that certain criteria are met including the minimisation of environmental risks through mitigation measures.

To date, mitigation measures such as use-restriction regulations and statutory safety notices on SGAR products have failed to prevent increases in wildlife contamination, or increases in resistance to SGARs in some parts of the UK.

HSE review of SGAR authorisation in the UK

Against a background of EU pressure, widespread wildlife contamination, and rising resistance to SGARs amongst rats, HSE launched a major review of the regulations covering the sale, use, and labeling of SGARs (which is still current). This provided a fantastic opportunity for our campaign.

What the Barn Owl Trust is doing

  • Hard-hitting presentation at the HSE SGAR Seminar: in 2013 we applied pressure during the HSE’s Stakeholder Engagement process and subsequently attended HSE’s SGAR Seminar in Merseyside where our Senior Conservation Officer gave a hard-hitting presentation to representatives of rodenticide manufacturers, pest controllers and government regulators. Read a PDF of the Barn Owl Trust SGAR seminar presentation.
  • Published Article: we were subsequently invited by Jonathan Peck, Chairman of the Killgerm Group and member of the National Pest Advisory Panel of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, to submit an article for publication in Pest Control News. Read the Barn Owl Trust article in Pest Control News.
  • Delivered a petition containing over 126,000 signatures to the Minister responsible for pesticides in 2014. See the detail of our petition.
  • Providing detailed comments and recommendations to HSE in response to the draft SGAR Stewardship Regime Proposals and CRRU Code of Best Practice prepared by the rodenticide industry.
  • Responded in 2016 to the EU consultation on alternatives to rodenticides making a strong case for the use of Environmental Management as a substitute for highly toxic poisons. This means substantially reducing rat numbers by preventing or reducing their access to food and harbourage. Read the Barn Owl Trust submission to the EU European Chemicals Agency.

Sidebar 3 BOCH Everything You NeedOther relevant pages:

There’s more information on this topic in the Barn Owl Conservation Handbook.