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Are we being poisoned!?

The other day I was phoned by a farmer who wanted a barn owl box on his farm. He already had one pair of Barn owls nesting on his farm but had seen a single bird in an area of the farm that had no nest box. One of the questions I ask farmers wanting boxes is ‘do you use poison [rodenticide] on the farm?’ The reason being in a recent study in the south west of England over 75% of Barn owls were carrying poison in their liver and slowly they will die if the amount increases. The farmer replied that he had to use poison or his insurance company would not insure him!

New York itself spends $2.1 billion on controlling the rat and claims they can not defeat the 2 million rats that live in the city!

This started alarm bells ringing. With the National farmers Union claiming 90,000 farmers in their Union how many were ‘forced’ to use poison!

The Barn owl is well named from the historical fact that most farms in Britain had the bird nesting in their buildings especially the barn. These buildings were built to withstand the weather with wide walls and the roofs making dark ledges on these walls to nest on. The barn normally held hay and straw for a good part of the year leaving the building undisturbed other than taking the contents for food or bedding. Modern farm buildings do not offer the nest sites needed so hence the nest boxes needed. Many old barns have either fallen down or being converted to houses.

The process of harvesting using a thrasher to extract the grain from the straw also allowed many mice and rats to use the farm for a feeding and a breeding area hence the need for Barn Owls the natural predator along with many others like cats and Polecats. Polecats were seen to move to farms in the winter to feed on this feast. Most farmers were happy to have a free predator control on their farm and never thought of the use of poison.

The use of rat poison can be traced back to 1500BC when a plant called the red squill was used to kill rats. The rats soon learned how to avoid it and new poisons would have to be found! Both Strychnine and Arsenic were used by the Greek and Roman period and poisons have been tried for centuries to try and rid towns and cities of the rat and mouse but still they survive often with the doses having to be increased as the rodents adapt to the present poison. A recent article in the Mirror claimed that there are super rats which have evolved to feed on the poison!

To find out more from the farmer I visited the farm and asked again about his insurance which led me to phone not the insurance company but 'First Milk' the buyers of the milk. They said they followed the guidelines of the ‘Red Tractor scheme’ so I phoned there. This brought me to the wording on documents with insurance mixed up with assurance! Farmers need to assure clean premises which are inspected by the milk buyer. So if the premises can be kept clean of mice and rats then there would be no reason for poison.

Which creates the question can natural predators keep these rodents down to acceptable numbers?

Trials in Malaysia with mass use of barn owl nesting boxes have worked –

As well as in Israel, Palestine and Jordan -

Which then begs the question, why have there been no trials in the UK with large charitable organisations like the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, National Trusts etc? I few years ago I contacted the manager of the RSPB’s farm called ‘Hope Farm’ who confirmed that they were using poison! Some ‘hope’ there then! The farm was set up to show the farming community that arable farming could make a profit but still work to increase wildlife especially birds on the reserve/farm. I phoned back in February 2016 and spoke to a researcher there called Derek Gruar who confirmed that finally the poison had not been used for 3 years and the Barn Owls had actually increased!

This is a small step in the right direction but still a large scale experiment is needed both in the countryside and in towns as your councils are paying £millions to keep the rats and mice at a reasonable number in residential areas. You can see that the two species can never be removed completely in the UK unless on an island where new stock cannot reach. A recent eradication of rats did effect other species on the Aleutian Islands where 41 Bald Eagles were poisoned.. This brings me to the new law coming out in 2017. You can read it here -

CRRU is the Campaign for Reasonable Rodenticide Use. So why have they not thought of doing an experiment to get rid of this poison? Why you should be bothered is that we are looking at most of the 90,000 farmers in the NFU using poison, over 1000 private companies going out into the communities using poison, 3000 gamekeepers and 3000 part time keepers using poison. [Remember that these folk have killed off most of the predators that would have controlled the rats and mice!] and until 2017 the general public buying poison off the shelf.

This is not just about saving wildlife from secondary poison it could be saving your vets bills. Cats are effected even going as far as cancer after eating these contaminated rodents. In America a consignment of grain from China in 2007 was used for pet food not human consumption and killed over 1000 dogs due to rat poison in the grain! What if it had been used for bread!! Rats falling into a silage heap then fed to cows then producing milk! How close are we to having poison in our foods? We all know about insecticides and herbicides in our food and the effects on the food chain but no one I mean no one seems to know about this one.

Red Kites, Kestrels, Barn Owls, Polecats, Buzzards, Foxes, Stoats and Weasels all play a part in reducing mice and rats and all are affected by this poison and more of them are eliminated by shooting estates to protect their own interest in game birds. This means more and more poison is needed to eliminate the rats and mice at a cost to the public at large. If the rats adapt to poison, in future, a more powerful poison will be needed and I am sure we are next in line to be affected .

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