Bempton Cliffs RSPB visitor centre is an internationally important nature reserve in East Yorkshire has reopened after a £1.3m upgrade were the headlines in April 2015. The centre, which attracts about 76,000 people a year has the UK's largest mainland seabird colony. These visitors are encouraged to come not just in the seabird breeding season but throughout the year. One way of ensuring constant birds is by having a feeding area for finches and buntings close to this new centre. All this food is not just for the birds but attracts a number of mammals the RSPB would prefer not to be there – RATS!
Rats are also the prey of other birds that visit the reserve as the area is not just sea cliffs bur grassland bought by the society to encourage a number of owl species like Barn, Short eared and Long eared Owls to use the reserve and encourage the visitor to come off peak away from the sea bird breeding season. This is where the conflict starts. To remove the rats the RSPB uses poison! This poison is used ‘professionally’ but where it falls down is that no one tells the rats and other creatures that can eat the poison like mice and voles that they should die in enclosed areas where they will not be eaten by predators. This is called secondary poisoning as the rat poison builds up in the predator and can finally kill them.
Other reserves around Britain either RSPB or Wildlife Trust reserves may also be using this poison which is ironic as the RSPB also campaign against ‘secondary Poisoning’ as species like Red Kites, Buzzards and even eagles could find themselves eating such prey. Recent shot Red Kites in Yorkshire were found to have 3 different rat poisons in their bodies! The simplest way to remove the rats without poison is to take the food sauce away. Yes stop feeding but also encourage the Stoat, Weasel and Polecat to the site free of poison as they too will die if found eating this secondary poisoned rodents. Rats hate Polecats and will move away just due to their smell.
With wide spread poison being used around Britain especially by farmers many of these birds are now at risk. Kestrels can have large amounts of poison in their bodies and one report by the Barn Owl Trust suggests that every kestrel carried some poison in its system! The problems start when food is short. The poison is concentrated in the liver and when food is short the liver decreases in size making the poison a larger % of the liver area. Often it is the poison now that kills the species rather than starvation.
2017 sees new laws set out to try and reduce the amount of secondary poisoning but sadly they will not work as shown before there is now safe way of stopping the poisoned mammal not dying in view of a predator. The only safe way is to reduce the poison leading to non at all and use proper predator control. This has a massive advantage which is farmers understanding the food chain in nature and may be in the long run even farming more sustainably.
All this poison has a worst effect on cats and dogs causing the BIG C – cancer. So what if this poison is leaking into our food chain? Cancer is an ever increasing event in our lives and no one is immune to knowing a family that has been touched by this tragic event. So a clean environment needs to get its act in place and remove this deadly poison from out towns, cities and countryside remembering the British shooting industry kill millions of Stoats, Weasels and Polecats every year and then you wonder why you get ‘rat plagues’ !!
A New Year
February 4, 2019
Wildlife of Madeira and the Canary Islands by John Bowler