Dead eagle found in Dorset was poisoned but case closed, police confirm
Rare white-tailed eagle had high level of rodenticide in its system but no further police action will be taken
A rare white-tailed eagle found dead in Dorset was poisoned, police have confirmed – but they have shut the case, in a decision the RSPB has called “baffling”.
The eagle was one reintroduced on the Isle of Wight, where a successful programme has been taking place since summer 2019. The white-tailed eagles had become extinct in the UK in the early 20th century after they were poisoned and shot by gamekeepers.
Those who run shoots are often opposed to birds of prey being in the area, as when they fly over a shoot, the birds scatter. They also occasionally prey on game birds.
The eagle was found dead on an unnamed estate in Dorset in January, and police launched an investigation into its death. Many conservationists in the area suspected it had been poisoned.
The toxicology results have confirmed the eagle had high levels of brodifacoum, a rodenticide, in its system. But police have closed the investigation and will not be naming the estate on which the dead eagle was found.
A spokesperson for Dorset police said: “An investigation under section 1 of the Wildlife Countryside Act 1981 was carried out in conjunction with the RSPB, Natural England, National Wildlife Crime Unit and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation. A detailed examination and tests have been carried out on the bird, which were inconclusive, and it has therefore not been possible to confirm that any criminal offence has been committed.
“While high levels of brodifacoum were detected, it has not been possible to establish whether this was as a result of a deliberate act or due to secondary rodenticide poisoning. As a result, no further police action will be taken in relation to this report.”
The local MP, Chris Loder, a Conservative, was opposed to the police investigation, arguing that looking into the death of an eagle was a waste of funds. He also said that white-tailed eagles were not welcome in Dorset.
An RSPB spokesperson said: “We are completely baffled by the decision of Dorset police to end the white-tailed eagle investigation so prematurely.
“Brodifacoum – the rodent poison that killed the eagle – is highly toxic and it is clear that it was either used incompetently or with intent to kill the eagle – either way an illegal act.”
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Excellent article from ‘The Guardian’ (London as always:
‘Loder told the Guardian he did not feel he was influenced by the money from the estate, and his distaste for eagles in his constituency was because he had fears for their impact on farming. He said he had spent much time campaigning for animal welfare since being elected’.
MP who said eagles not welcome in constituency received funds from shooting estate
This article is more than 1 month old
West Dorset MP Chris Loder caused outrage when he seemed to imply police should not prioritise eagle death
A Conservative MP who said eagles are not welcome in his constituency had his election campaign funded by a shooting estate, the Guardian can reveal.
The West Dorset MP, Chris Loder, caused outrage when he seemed to imply police should not be prioritising the investigation of the recent death of an endangered white-tailed eagle, found dead on an estate in his constituency.
After police confirmed there was a multi-agency investigation into the death of the eagle, including a toxicology report, Loder said: “Dorset is not the place for eagles to be reintroduced. I’m not challenging government for more money for Dorset so it goes on this.” He added that officers should be focusing on crimes such as those involving county lines gangs instead.
The eagle was one reintroduced on the Isle of Wight, where a successful programme has been taking place since summer 2019. The eagle went extinct in the UK in the early 20th century after they were continually poisoned and shot by gamekeepers.
Loder’s 2019 election campaign benefited from a £14,000 donation from the Ilchester Estates, which runs shoots in his constituency. Those who run shoots are often opposed to birds of prey being in the area, as when they fly over a shoot, the birds scatter, disappointing those who paid to kill them. They also occasionally predate on game birds.
The estates are run by Charlotte Townshend, an aristocrat worth almost £500m who has both farming and shooting interests. She also says she is the only person other than the Queen who is allowed to own swans.
Neither Townshend nor a spokesperson for the Ilchester Estates could be reached for comment, and there is no suggestion the eagle died on their land, nor because of anyone associated with the estate. The police have not as of yet revealed where the eagle was found.
Loder told the Guardian he did not feel he was influenced by the money from the estate, and his distaste for eagles in his constituency was because he had fears for their impact on farming. He said he had spent much time campaigning for animal welfare since being elected.
Loder added: “My views on sea eagles come from me being a farmers’ son and my continued best efforts to represent the needs of West Dorset’s farming community. I am not convinced that sea eagles being here are in their best interests. No briefing or consultation has taken place with me or others that I know of by Natural England, campaigners, nor the RSPB to explain how these risks are managed, nor to inform the farming community that indeed these birds are in Dorset.
“My policy views are formed in the best interests of the rural community I represent, which is also my home and where I was brought up. Any suggestion that I have been unduly influenced in this view is completely wrong.”
The Guardian understands that the government is considering action to stop raptor persecution on shooting estates by tightening licences in problem areas. There were 137 cases of confirmed raptor persecution in 2020, according to the RSPB.
Rebecca Pow, an environment minister, said: “There is always more we can do to tackle wildlife crime and we will carefully consider all of the UN’s recommendations – including those relating to raptor persecution – to help us build on the positive progress we have already made. Defra [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] sits on the police-led Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, which takes forward activities to raise awareness and facilitate intelligence and incident reporting, leading to increased prevention and enforcement activity.”
Luke Steele, the executive director of Wild Moors and a campaigner against raptor persecution, urged that this crackdown be implemented “without delay”, adding: “Birds of prey including eagles, hen harriers and red kites have a rightful place and an important ecological role in the British countryside. To persecute them to preserve game birds for sports shooting flies in the face of the 68% of the public who support reintroduction of birds of prey.”
Britain’s sea eagles are a magnificent sight – so why are people poisoning them?
This article is more than 1 month old
Unless estate owners are held responsible for what happens on their land, our largest bird of prey will be driven to extinction
The sight of a magnificent white-tailed eagle has once again become common for those lucky enough to live in the flight path of those recently introduced to the Isle of Wight. Thousands of Britons have seen and heard the giant two-metre wings beating overhead, and seen the cruel-beaked birds dramatically dive for fish. For us, living in a nature-depleted country, seeing such a large predator in the wild takes the breath away.
White-tailed eagles were driven to extinction in Britain in the early 20th century, and persecution by landowners was the leading cause. Shot at and poisoned by those hoping to protect their game birds, Britain’s largest bird of prey didn’t stand a chance.
Yet thanks to the work of conservationists, these raptors are now frequently spotted in the skies above the Isle of Wight and Scotland – and sometimes even further afield. It’s the result of years of breeding programmes and negotiations with the Scottish and English governments.
But the tragedy that originally robbed us of perhaps our most awesome airborne predator looks as though it could repeat itself. Two of these giants have now been found dead on estates in Dorset and Sussex. While the cause of death has not been established, the multi-agency police investigation suggests that foul play could have been involved.
Currently, officers are conducting toxicology reports, suggesting they believe the eagles could have been poisoned.
Sadly, this is all too common. In 2020 there were 137 confirmed incidents of raptor persecution, according to RSPB figures. However, these are only instances where a body is found quickly enough to determine the cause of death. Many more tagged birds of prey simply disappear, never to be seen again. A 2019 study found that of 58 hen harriers tagged over 10 years, 72% were either “confirmed to have been illegally killed or disappeared suddenly with no evidence of a tag malfunction.”
Gamekeepers have previously been found to be behind the poisoning of our raptors, as they prey on grouse and other birds stocked by estates for shooting parties. A bird of prey soaring above a shoot also makes the birds scatter, disappointing those who have paid to kill them. After a series of poisonings of rare white-tailed eagles on grouse estates in Scotland, the Scottish government took action, suspending general shooting licences in the hope it would reduce these crimes. But sources at the Home Office have told me it is very difficult to secure prosecutions for the crime of taking an endangered bird out of the sky.
And for many of the Conservative MPs who represent constituencies full of shooting estates and the homes of the landed gentry, wildlife crime is not a priority. Chris Loder, MP for West Dorset, has said that eagles are not welcome in his constituency and suggested that the police shouldn’t even be investigating their deaths.
He said: “Dorset is not the place for eagles to be reintroduced. I’m not challenging government for more money for Dorset so it goes on this. I don’t condone this at all, but I want Dorset police to focus on county lines rather than spend time and resources on this.” The local wildlife crime team pointed out to their representative that county lines gangs are not in their jurisdiction, that they work overtime to help Britain’s wildlife, and that wildlife crime is often linked to other serious crimes, including gun offences.
What message is Loder sending to those who want to kill wildlife in west Dorset? The MP has essentially given them a free pass, and signalled that eagles are not welcome in the skies above his constituency. And, despite what Loder says, eagles were not reintroduced specifically to Dorset; rather they flew out of the constituencies of wildlife-friendly MPs into those represented by the likes of Loder.
His constituents could benefit from the eagles if they were to be reintroduced – a study found that those released on the Isle of Mull in Scotland brought millions to the economy, as people travelled to see the birds and spent money in local businesses.
But his attitude perhaps comes as no surprise. Of the 10 biggest landowners in Dorset, eight are country estate owners, and many of these host shoots. This is not to say they had anything directly to do with the raptor deaths, but it perhaps shows why the MP is likely to consider the traditional concerns of the landed gentry over the right of everyday British people to enjoy wildlife.
The problem is, there is no way to meaningfully help these birds recover and properly repopulate in the UK if there are no real consequences for those who kill them. Unless those who own estates are properly held to account for poisoned birds found on their land – perhaps having their shooting licences suspended until they can get a handle on crimes occurring under their noses – this will likely keep happening.
There are few things that make me shake with anger more than the idea of a rare and magnificent bird curling up to die, a burning stomach full of poison, never to fly again. But even those who do not feel so strongly about this matter should take issue with the fact that criminals are getting away with destroying our wildlife and the country’s natural legacy, and we are seemingly powerless to stop it.
Until those who own estates are held to account for what happens on their land, I am afraid history may repeat itself and we may once again see our largest bird of prey silently slip into extinction.
- Helena Horton is an environment reporter for the Guardian
WAV Comment: well said Helana; with you and your comment all the way.