Fine for buzzards' death

A woman farmer whose gamekeeper used a rat poison that killed two birds of prey was fined yesterday - securing the first ever prosecution for "secondary poisoning".

A WOMAN farmer from Wramplingham whose gamekeeper used a rat poison that killed two birds of prey was fined on Tuesday - securing the first-ever prosecution for "secondary poisoning".

Magistrates expressed concern that the poison, Difenacoum, was freely available to the public at garden centres without guidance on how to use it safely.

Central Norfolk magistrates at Swaffham heard that the build-up of poison in the two dead buzzards - found last year in woodland on a farm at Carbrooke, near Watton - was among the highest recorded in a bird of prey in England.

The birds had eaten dead and dying rats that had consumed the poison on land at Scoulton, making them a "secondary" recipient of it.

Farmer Rosalyn Vincent, 55, was fined £2,000, after pleading guilty at an earlier hearing to not providing her gamekeeper Leslie Brooks with training in the proper use of pesticides. But she had declined to enter a plea to two charges of allowing him to use rat poison in breach of regulations.

Prosecutor Nicholas Crampton said establishing liability for secondary poisoning had proved very difficult in the past as the poison did not kill the rats immediately. This explained how such high levels of the chemical could be found in the birds, as the rats could continue to eat it for several days before dying, he said.

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The gamekeeper had a legal duty to ensure dead rats were removed, but he had failed to do so.

"The words printed on the side of the container are the law of the land," Mr Crampton said. He added that Vincent, of Home Farm, was responsible for the poisoning as "managers of a game-keeper could be held criminally accountable for his failures to comply with regulations".

Malcolm Savory, mitigating, said: "It might be a pernicious pesticide but it is completely legal and available at garden centres."

And he said Vincent and her gamekeeper cared passionately about the land and "believed there is space for everyone". He said it was very difficult to find dead rats, as they crawled away to die.

Mr Brooks, 78, could not be expected to catch the poisoned but still alive rats, which were easy for the birds to snatch.

Wildlife adviser for Defra Ed Blane said after the hearing that liquid Difenacoum had been used, which was much more concentrated than the product that could be bought by the public.

Vincent was also ordered to pay £400 costs.