With rodenticide increasingly being discovered in the bodies of non-target animals, Tim Weston looks at alternative methods we should be using to tackle rat problems on our shoots
Ioften find that I am writing about best practice within gamekeeping and other areas of shooting sports. As gamekeepers, we have a responsibility to keep within the law, stick to the codes and know what is considered best practice. The press don’t differentiate between full-time, part-time or amateur keepers, so all of us need to know what the principles of best practice are and we all have the same responsibility to follow them. Just within the next couple of years, keepers are going to be forced to look at how they set Fenn traps, snares and we have already had to rethink our rat control.
Across Europe, governments and conservation bodies have been concerned about the fact that more and more wildlife is being found to have detectable levels of anticoagulant rodenticide within them.
Other than rats and mice, it is illegal to target wildlife with these products, and because it is on a landscape scale, the assumption must be made that the poison is getting into the non-target animals by accident.
Barn owls were the first to show signs that things were going wrong and were found to carry rodenticide residues, but when scientists started looking closer they discovered that kestrels, sparrowhawks and even peregrines had levels of rodenticide within them which is surprising as few of these consume rats or house mice as a primary food source and some eat birds on the wing, so something was going wrong. As a result of this, the UK Rodenticide Stewardship Programme was introduced in June 2015. You might have noticed that you are not able to buy rodenticide now unless you have taken one of the courses that are available through each sector group; there is even one specifically aimed at gamekeepers. The key message from the training is that rodenticide use should only be considered as a last resort. As a gamekeeper, you should conduct an environmental risk assessment and judge if you should be adding poison into the environment or using other methods. If you do decide to use a rodenticide, the object is to get enough bait into key areas so as to get on top of the problem as quickly and as effectively as possible. We should never aim to use permanent bait stations as these increase the chances of rodenticide entering the food chain and causing environmental contamination. Consider using a combination of traps, terriers and aluminium phosphide gas (which in itself has its own dangers and requires training) along with shooting before you go in with the rat bait.
Shooting can be a really effective way of controlling rats, especially with an air rifle and night vision scope around buildings. I spoke to a professional pest controller recently who had a job on a pig farm in the Midlands where he was unable to use rodenticide because of the risk of the pigs eating the bodies of the rats and becoming contaminated themselves, so he elected to shoot.
Over a two-week period he killed just over 10,000 rats and he showed me photos to prove it. It goes to show that given time and ability, you can get on top of a rodent problem without going straight for the poison.
Most full-time gamekeepers have now been through one of the rodenticide training courses and have taken on board what has been put across to them and changed some of what they do to keep them within the stewardship rules and best practice, but we still need to get many of the DIY syndicates on board, trained and keeping within best practice.
Some won’t be doing any rodent control, but if you have rats on the shoot, which you probably will if you are running a low ground pheasant or partridge shoot, you have a responsibility to the farm, your neighbours and the wildlife to keep the numbers of rats in check.
You also have a responsibility to gamekeeping and ultimately shooting to keep within the rules of stewardship and best practise and the only way to do that is to get yourself trained.
‘Conservation bodies have been concerned about the fact that more wildlife is being found to have levels of rodenticide in them’