Yesterday, 7th September, an Argyll farmer was fined for possessing the banned substance carbofuran.
Tom McKellar, 50, from Bridge of Orchy in Argyll, pled guilty on 18th April at Oban Sheriff Court under section 15A of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. We reported on this at the time. Yesterday McKellar was fined £1,200 for the offence.
Carbofuran is a highly toxic pesticide and a single grain the size of a poppy seed can kill a bird.
A quarter of a teaspoonful can be fatal to humans.
Following a search of his property by police on 17th June 2009, McKellar was found to have quantities of Carbofuran in three separate containers – and traces of it within a syringe. When interviewed by police, he indicated that he had, in the past, placed it on meat for foxes to eat.
Craig Harris, Head of the Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit (WECU) at COPFS, says: ‘/Carbofuran is an extremely toxic pesticide and even the tiniest amounts can be fatal to our wildlife.
‘Possession of carbofuran is illegal and those who unlawfully retain stocks can expect to be brought before the court.
‘This conviction and sentence should serve as a warning to anyone who thinks about keeping this substance.
‘We remain committed to ensuring carbofuran is removed from the countryside and we will continue to work with our PAW Scotland partners to find the best way to achieve this.’ (PAW Scotland is the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Scotland.)
McKellar had previously pled guilty at the High Court in Glasgow on 5th November 2010 to four charges relating to the illegal possession of a Webley revolver and a Browning pistol, recovered during police enquiries on 17th June 2009. On 3rd December 2010 he was sentenced to a Community Service Order of 300 hours.
Products containing Carbofuran as an active ingredient were formerly used in the UK as insecticides to control agricultural pests in crops. Their use was restricted to farmers or contractors providing services to farmers for drilling into the ground.
Approval for the use of Carbofuran was withdrawn in 2001 and its possession is now illegal in terms of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Section 15A and the Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005/66, Article 2 and Schedule 1.
Carbofuran poisoning has been identified as the cause of death in over 240 incidents submitted to the WIIS scheme in Scotland since 1988 (this system records incidents of specific chemicals to provide feedback for regulations).
At least 95% of these incidents were attributed to the illegal abuse of a pesticide to poison non-target animals. The most frequent casualties were birds of prey, with the remainder comprising corvid species, cats and dogs.
In the last decade, Carbofuran formulations appear to have become the poison of choice for individuals involved in illegal poisoning activities in Scotland.
PAW Scotland partners include a wide range of bodies committed to tackling wildlife crime including conservation, land management, shooting and law enforcement organisations.
McKellar’s actions and the courts’ feeble response to wildlife crime
On 7th June 2009, a party of hillwalkers descending Beinn Udlaidh in north Argyll, came across the body of a eagle, lying face down in the grass on a remote hillside near Bridge of Orchy.
The following day, the group contacted RSPB Scotland, who immediately notified Strathclyde Police.
That afternoon, the local police wildlife crime officer and RSPB Scotland investigations staff recovered the eagle carcass from the remote hillside. It was photographed and seized as evidence by the police.
Meanwhile a post mortem by Scottish Government laboratories confirmed the bird had been poisoned with Carbofuran, a substance banned since 2001.
Further police investigations, including a search of land and buildings at Auch Estate, Bridge of Orchy, recovered a quantity of carbofuran (items shown in the photograph above), a carbofuran-poisoned dead fox, and two handguns – found in the attic of a house occupied by estate employee Tom McKellar.
In subsequent days, the carcass of a sheep, laced with Carbofuran, was also found on a hillside in the area where the eagle had been found dead.
Commenting on yesterday’s sentencing Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, said: ‘RSPB Scotland has invested considerable resources in assisting Strathclyde Police in the investigation of this significant case.’
We heartily commend the efforts of the police in their rigorous follow-up to the illegal poisoning of the golden eagle on Beinn Udlaidh, leading to this successful prosecution.
‘We are very disappointed that, at the conclusion of the investigation, no-one has been charged with the poisoning of this golden eagle, one of our most vulnerable and iconic bird species, or with the laying out of poison baits in the open in our countryside.
‘Whilst we welcome the conviction, yet again, we are dismayed that the final result of a high profile enquiry poses little in the way of a deterrent to those who continue to flagrantly disregard our wildlife protection laws.
‘The illegal killing of protected birds of prey remains a persistent problem in some parts of Scotland, with, for example, six further golden eagles confirmed as illegally poisoned since this incident, including one in Lochaber earlier this year.
‘We call upon the Scottish Government to urgently review the penalties imposed by the courts on those who break our wildlife laws.’
There can be no argument that a fine of £1,200 is remotely appropriate to the actions for which Mr McKellar pled guilty. His former convictions demonstrate that Community Service did nothing to persuade him to revise his responsibilities to society.
Any government should only enact where it means to ensure that the legislation impacts strongly on the behaviours concerned.