Another poisoning in North Yorks?

A sparrowhawk has been found in Ryedale, according to local press reports “convulsing and clenching its talons” symptoms which would indicate poisoning. The dying bird was found in woodland close to Gillamoor village near Kirkbymoorside in Ryedale, taken for veterinary care, but died a short time later.

Officers from North Yorkshire Police are investigating the incident, and are now awaiting toxicology tests being carried out by Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS) based near York.

A spokesperson for North Yorkshire Police said: “At this time, we are keeping an open mind as to the cause of death.

“However, toxicology results may not be known for a number of weeks, so we want to make the community aware so they can take precautions to keep pets, children and themselves safe.”

Haven’t we heard warnings exactly like that from the same police force only recently? We have indeed, and that would be because of the ‘Nidderdale Cocktail’


First though, a quick look at the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS) before circling back to North Yorkshire’s burgeoning claim to ‘illegal poison capital of England’.

WIIS investigates “the deaths of wildlife, pets and beneficial invertebrates in the UK if there is evidence to suggest that they have been poisoned or put at risk by pesticides“. The scheme is part of Fera Science, a “national and international centre of excellence for interdisciplinary investigation and problem-solving across plant and bee health, crop protection, sustainable agriculture, food and feed quality and chemical safety in the environment”. The scheme is based at the National Agri-food Innovation Campus a few miles from York.

According to their website, during a typical year, Fera’s Wildlife Incident Unit (WIU) investigates around 150 cases, and over a third of these will be attributed to pesticides. In many cases, the pesticides have not been correctly used and this may result in enforcement action, such as criminal prosecution. In these cases, the WIU team can provide expert witness statements.

In 2017 they co-authored a report “Poisoning of reintroduced red kites (Milvus Milvus) in England” which stated that:

Poisoning of red kites may be slowing their rate of population recovery and range expansion in England…

…in all, poisoning was attributed to 32 (20%) of the 162 red kites, including anticoagulant rodenticide poisoning in 19 red kites, other pesticide poisoning in 9 kites and 6 with lead poisoning (two birds were categorised as having two types of poisoning)…

…Of the 25 red kites analysed for ‘other pesticides’, this category of poisoning was attributed to nine red kites (four juveniles, three adults and one of unknown age). Mevinphos was detected in five of these birds, and alphachloralose, bendiocarb, carbofuran and strychnine were each detected in single individuals. A further three red kites …were in poor body condition (excluding them from ‘other pesticide’ poisoning diagnosis) and were without signs of haemorrhage or infectious disease. Aldicarb, alphachloralose and carbofuran were detected in each one of these birds…

…Anticoagulant rodenticide poisoning, illegal pesticide poisoning and lead poisoning, all of anthropogenic origin, may be slowing the recovery of red kites in England. Natural recolonisation from population centres established by reintroduction is potentially being limited by these unnecessary and preventable deaths, which amount to at least 20% of the birds found dead in this study.

Poisoning of reintroduced red kites (Milvus Milvus) in England, 2017

Alphachloralose, bendiocarb, carbofuran. Don’t those pesticides sound familiar? Of course they do, they’re mostly constituent parts of the now infamous ‘Nidderdale Cocktail’, which killed a family’s spaniel recently and was determined to be “a deadly mixture of chemicals including bendiocarb, alphachloralose and the banned pesticides carbofuran and isofenphos“. As we said at the time, whilst Chloralose is licenced for use in England in a low concentration as a rodenticide, Bendiocarb, Isofenphos and Carbofuran are all banned from use in the UK. None of these chemicals should ever be used in an environment where domestic animals and/or wildlife could come into contact with them. (Mevinphos, incidentally, is an organophosphate insecticide banned in the EU and considered to be deadly: “fatal if swallowed, is fatal in contact with skin, is very toxic to aquatic life and is very toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects“).


How much do you have to hate birds of prey and the local environment, not care less about who or what might be caught up as ‘collateral damage’, and be so morally-bankrupt that you would even consider – let alone use – illegal pesticides that cause such pain and damage as these? We’d love to ask the people who have the answers, but oddly while they’re ‘brave’ enough to lay poisoned baits they’ve not been brave enough to talk on the record about why they do it (we’re waiting lads, drop us a guest post when the pubs close).

The other question we’d love to ask them is why they’re so bold? Don’t they fear being caught? A criminal conviction? Losing their jobs? We’d guess that given the ferocity with which employers have protected, for example, gamekeepers in the past (and recently, see “Three gamekeepers ‘suspended’ over killing of goshawk“, where of three keepers involved one ‘worked his notice‘ before resigning, the other two were ‘reinstated following their colleague’s resignation and ahead of the start of the grouse season’) those are not major concerns.

Of course, in the case of the Sparrowhawk we began this post with, there is no proof yet that the bird was poisoned and no proof that a gamekeeper did it. But North Yorkshire has form (even the local media is recognising that now). If it turns out be a baseless presumption, we’ll apologise, but if it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, and dies of pesticide poisoning in a region seemingly stuffed with ‘professionals’ willing to break the law with impunity…chances are good-to-high that it’s a metaphoric poisoned duck.


In the meantime, if you find a bird of prey that you suspect may have been poisoned:

Please call the WIIS (Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme) on 0800 321600 if you see:

  • Any animals you suspect may have been poisoned by pesticides.
  • Any spillage of a pesticide, particularly coloured seed, grain or pellets.
  • Any potentially poisonous baits, such as dead animals cut open and staked out.

Please provide the following information:

  • The location of the incident.
  • The number and type of casualties, or suspected poisonous baits.
  • Why you believe pesticides are involved.
  • Your name and contact telephone number.