Satellite tagged hen harrier found poisoned with carbofuran in Ireland

Given that the purpose of this blog is to follow the progress and movements of the Hawk-Eyes Project in Northern Ireland, and that birds know no borders, we thought it was important to share this breaking news.

A female hen harrier, which was satellite tagged as a chick in 2019 on the Isle of Man as part of the EU Hen Harrier LIFE project, stopped moving on the 2nd of November in Co. Meath. The RSPB Investigations team then worked alongside the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to locate the bird, and they found her body on a pheasant shoot near Drumconrath in Co. Meath. She was lying beside a pigeon carcass with other chunks of meat nearby.

Juvenile hen harrier ‘Mary’ was found dead in Co. Meath thanks to satellite tracking technology, and was later confirmed poisoned with carbofuran (Image: RSPB)

Testing by the Irish State Laboratory have now confirmed that the bird died as a result of poisoning by the banned pesticide carbofuran. Carbofuran was also found on the pigeon carcass and chunks of meat. More on this story can be read in the RSPB press release HERE.

Carbofuran has featured highly in the PAW NI Raptor Persecution Reports (which can be accessed HERE) and its use has been shown to be fairly widespread in Northern Ireland through the 10 year hot spot map of confirmed raptor persecution incidents HERE.

Carbofuran and/or the closely related banned aldicarb have been the confirmed cause of death in 31 raptors, in 27 incidents, in Northern Ireland between 2009 and 2018. These carbamates were also confirmed in a further 11 cases of poisoned baits and/or other poisoned animals (including fox, cat, dog and corvids). Carbofuran use has been confirmed in 27 x 10km squares across Northern Ireland in this period.

The confirmed poisoning of birds of prey in Ireland is also all too common and can be seen documented in the NPWS reports which can be seen HERE. There were 11 cases in which raptors were confirmed poisoned with carbofuran in Ireland in 2018 alone.

Confirmed incidents of persecution of birds of prey and poisoned baits and other wildlife, reported in Northern Ireland 2009-2018. Please note the number of incidents does not indicate the number of birds killed and symbols only represent an incident in that square, not the actual location of the incident. (Source: PAW NI Raptor Persecution Report 2009-2018)
The number of confirmed incidents related to bird of prey persecution which involved carbofuran and/or aldicarb in the period 2009-2018 in Northern Ireland (Source: PAW NI Raptor Persecution Report 2009-2018)

Carbofuran, most commonly marketed as ‘Furadan’ was used as a pesticide on plants up until it was banned in the late 2000s, when evidence made it clear that the chemical is highly toxic to human health and the environment. The authorisations for plant protection products containing carbofuran were withdrawn by European Member States by 13 December 2007, with any period of grace granted expiring in December 2008 at the latest (regulation 2007/416/EC). This followed the banning of a similarly toxic substance, aldicarb, most commonly marketed as ‘Temik’; authorisations for plant protection products containing aldicarb were withdrawn by Member States by September 2003 and a phased withdrawal of uses expired by December 2007.

Both aldicarb and carbofuran are extremely toxic to humans and wildlife and should not be used under any circumstances – there is no legal reason to possess these chemicals.

We know that these confirmed cases are only the tip of the iceberg. Poisoned baits are indiscriminant and are often placed in remote locations. Without the use of satellite tracking it is unlikely that this hen harrier would ever have been found.

Please be vigilant for any suspicious baits or dead birds in the countryside. Please call 101 to report a suspected wildlife crime if you are in Northern Ireland or call NPWS on 01-8883255 ( or the nearest Garda station if you are in Ireland. Please don’t touch the carcass or bait in case they are contaminated with toxic substances – and never put yourself at risk. For more information on how to recognise and report suspected raptor persecution please see the earlier blog ‘Things to look out for’ .