Environment Audit CommitteeSupplementary written evidence submitted by Richard Benyon MP, Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

When I gave evidence to your Committee on 12 July I promised to provide further clarification and information regarding the decision not to pursue an Order under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (NERC) to make possession of pesticides containing certain ingredients an offence.

Many of our UK birds of prey are doing well, and many populations are either increasing or are stable. However, there are areas where land use activities may be in conflict with the presence of birds of prey and we are aware of offences including poisoning and nest disturbance being committed. Government works with the statutory nature conservation organisations and a range of stakeholders to try and resolve these conflicts.

We have a good balance of legislative and enforcement measures in place to address wildlife crime in the UK where we have the National Wildlife Crime Unit, a specialist UK police-led Unit which gathers intelligence on national wildlife crime and provides investigative support to police and Customs officers in tackling wildlife crime. Raptor (birds of prey) persecution is a wildlife crime priority for the Unit with a particular focus on golden eagle, goshawk, hen harrier, red kite and white-tailed eagle. Raptor persecution includes shooting, nest disturbance or destruction, egg theft, chick theft and poisoning.

Section 43 of NERC states that “a person is guilty of an offence if he has in his possession a pesticide containing an ingredient that is prescribed for the purposes of this section by an order made by the Secretary of State.” However it goes on to say that “The Secretary of State may not make an order under subsection (1) unless she is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient to do so in the interests of protecting wild birds or wild animals from harm.” In this respect we have undertaken pre-consultation with key stakeholders which revealed that the majority of ingredients likely to be cited in wildlife poisoning have either not had approval for use in the UK or have had their approval revoked.

Of the 12 ingredients on which we originally consulted five have never been approved for use, four have had their approval revoked (Carbofuran is one of these) and two have not, as far as we are aware, been associated with wildlife deaths. This leaves one ingredient, Aluminium phosphide, which is currently approved for use. On expiry or revocation of approvals it becomes unlawful to advertise, sell, supply, store (a form of possession) or use the products for the uses concerned.

We are carefully considering the laws surrounding possession of pesticides that are harmful to wildlife but so far conclude that an Order may not be a proportionate course of action and that there could be alternative ways to handle the issue. These may include voluntary codes of practice such as those published by the Health & Safety Executive,
http:/www.pesticides.gov.uk/guidance/industries/pesticides/topics/using-pesticides/codes-of-practice/code-of-practice-for-using-plant-protection-products.htm

Or encouraging participation in amnesty initiatives such as that run for farmers through Project SOE (Security of the Operational Environment), http://www.projectsoe.org/ Under the first phase of that project nearly 1,000 stores were cleared of 40 metric tons of redundant and unapproved pesticides. It was deemed so successful that the scheme was continued and, to date, a further 33.3 metric tons of unwanted pesticides have already been, or are currently being, collected.

The intentional use of poisoned bait to kill any wild bird is already prohibited under section 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the abuse or misuse of pesticides is also an offence under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985. In addition the Government monitors misuse or abuse through the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS) and where there is sufficient evidence, enforcement action will be taken against those who misuse these chemicals. WIIS is supported by the Campaign against Accidental and Illegal Poisoning of Wildlife (CAIP). CAIP aims to prevent misuse of pesticides by advising farmers, gamekeepers and other land managers on legal ways of controlling pests, and advising the public on how to recognise and report illegal poisoning incidents.

In view of the findings of the pre-consultation, the legislation already in place, and the other initiatives detailed above, the decision was taken not to pursue an Order under Section 43 of NERC at this time.

I hope this information is helpful and answers the questions raised with me on 12 July.

30 July 2012

Prepared 16th October 2012