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31 May 2022

Three decades in wildlife management

Technical | PPC107 June 2022

At PestEx in March, Paul Butt gave a seminar on his experience working in the pest control field, with a focus on the highs, the lows and some examples of cases he worked on during his tenure in wildlife management.

Three Decades in Wildlife Management Paul Butt PPC107 PestEx seminar British Pest Control Association

The talk began with Paul ticking off the years and realising that it should really be titled ‘Four decades in wildlife management’, laughing that time has a way of getting away from him. We can all relate to that!

But how did he get started all those decades ago? Paul tells us that prior to going to agricultural college, he completed an apprenticeship. This was followed by his first full-time job at the National Institute for Research in Dairying (“it inevitably became known as a NIRD!” he laughs).

In 1974, he joined the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) as a Field Officer in Maidstone, Kent.

“This was a varied role involving three main areas,” says Paul, “authorising grants and subsidies, farm safety monitoring and advising on vertebrate species pest control.” 

“Farms had the potential to be dangerous working environments, and remain so to this day. Machinery hazards were regularly encountered and worker exposure to a wide range of pesticide compounds (including organophosphorus) was a concern.

Paul Butt

During this time he developed an interest in wildlife-related problems and pesticides; providing advice, responding to complaints, and handling incidents related to the storage and use of a range of pesticides.

Paul explained in detail the hazards associated with working in agriculture. 

“Farms had the potential to be dangerous working environments, and remain so to this day. Machinery hazards were regularly encountered and worker exposure to a wide range of pesticide compounds (including organophosphorus) was a concern.

“Large air blast sprayers were routinely employed to apply a range of chemicals to the large areas of fruit and hops grown in Kent at that time.

The images of machine operators kitted out in varying levels and efficiency of PPE, receiving head to foot significant doses of colourful pesticides, live long in the memory!”

Subsequently, responsibility for farm safety transferred to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), a career option that Paul chose not to follow.

Three Decades in Wildlife Management Paul Butt image 1

Countryside conflicts

Continuing on his path in the pest control and wildlife management fields, Paul’s casework was generally dominated by seeking the co-operation of land occupiers to address the damage to growing crops caused by rabbits harboured on their land. 

“This was covered by the Pests Act 1954, a piece of legislation now lost in the sands of time,” says Paul. “Many an hour was spent walking land areas, which included rail and major road embankments that provided ideal habitat for these animals.”

He expresses frustration at some of what he calls the “countryside conflicts” he had to deal with.

“It often became apparent that the main motivation for the complaints were neighbour disputes over aspects such as boundary issues and claims of rabbits being used as a weapon in ‘the fight’.”

One of the stories Paul tells during his talk is that of an individual who was turned down for a licence to remove badgers from land she wanted to build on, and wrote a letter to call him “the worst type of uncaring civil servant”.

Paul tells the audience that he took this as a compliment and was one of many points in his career that had an influence on him.

However on a positive note, these cases did help to develop his negotiating skills and the art of persuasion proved useful in a wide range of future situations.

“After all, how often do we complain that it is the people involved that are the problem, not the wildlife that are unfortunate enough to be present!?” he exclaims.

It often became apparent that the main motivation for the complaints were neighbour disputes over aspects such as boundary issues and claims of rabbits being used as a weapon in ‘the fight’.

Paul Butt

As in many roles, people-skills were key factors that could only be developed through experience.

MAFF had a close working relationship with local authorities who ran their own pest control departments, and this provided an early opportunity for Paul to become involved in providing training on a range of mammal and bird-related topics. 

“I consider myself fortunate to have received training and instruction from both experienced local colleagues and staff at the Pest Laboratory in Worplesdon, Surrey,” says Paul.

“It was established to develop improved methods for preventing damage by harmful mammals and birds, and their colleagues in the laboratory at Tolworth were charged with undertaking research into food losses caused by rodents.”

An opportunity arose for Paul to be seconded to the Worplesdon site, to become involved in a study of rabbit clearance societies. These were formed by groups of local landowners/occupiers and supported by MAFF. 

This work also involved field trials on fencing to exclude rabbits and other control/damage reduction measures.

On the move – again!

Three Decades in Wildlife Management Paul Butt image 2

A change of location to Oxfordshire came next for Paul, and his role became focused on the wider issues of mammal and bird management, and helping to develop policies and procedures for the wildlife teams as a whole. 

Providing guidance to advisers and setting up training for staff became a regular responsibility.

Promotion followed, with a move to Norwich where similar work continued, accompanied by the inevitable management responsibilities.

“My last move was to Kent, virtually coming full circle to ‘home territory’ despite it taking about 20 years to achieve,” says Paul.

“Here I took on a new role at Natural England, with responsibility for wildlife management work across Kent, Surrey, East and West Sussex.”

It triggered a new era that enabled Paul to develop contact and effective working practices between Natural England and the pest control industry. 

Over the subsequent years, significant wildlife management issues provided a great deal of work for the teams across the UK. 

Protected species licensing of otherwise illegal actions formed a major part of this, and included badger damage and site development casework, the impact of fish eating birds on commercial fisheries, and numerous other mammal and bird-related problems.

Challenges and changes

Paul says that the actual or potential involvement of wildlife in the transmission of disease to humans and livestock became a real issue.

These included the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak of 2001, where demand for the control of rats on affected farms resulted in a large-scale national programme. 

Three Decades in Wildlife Management Paul Butt foot and mouth

Avian Influenza had a serious impact on poultry enterprises and again, rodent control was required. 

Longer term problems relating to the presence and spread of Salmonella in commercial egg production farms, where significant infestations of house mice were often present, resulted in collaboration on projects with the Defra Veterinary Laboratory Agency.

Concerns regarding anticoagulant residues in wildlife had a big impact on the availability and use of rodenticides particularly in outdoor locations. 

“Joint working with manufacturers, distributors, users and regulators enabled important changes to be introduced and guidelines published under the guidance of CRRU,” he commented. 

“This demonstrated the importance of dialogue between Defra, HSE and the industry as the way forward in resolving problems, particularly where there are diverse interests and pressures.”

Major changes to the approvals, availability and use of a wide range of pesticides in all sectors played a major part of the work that Paul undertook, as education, awareness and, where necessary enforcement, played a significant part in encouraging responsible use. 

Three Decades in Wildlife Management Paul Butt rodenticide spoon

Incidents and cases involving the misuse (careless, negligent use) and abuse (deliberate targeting of wildlife and other animals) were investigated under the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS).

This encouraged working relationships with a number of agencies including the police, RSPCA, RSPB and other organisations.

“I am of the opinion that building relationships with the numerous action groups, industry bodies and individuals who often undertook work behind the scenes contributed significantly to advancing an understanding on sensitive and complicated issues,” explains Paul.

“Feeding back information to Defra and others, and introducing such subject matter through training and briefing of wildlife adviser groups, helped considerably in achieving a better understanding of respective interests and responsibilities.”

Changes to Natural England, and the direction of policies involving wildlife and the role that should be adopted by the advisory teams involved, persuaded Paul that the time was right to step away.

“However, despite having taken this decision I look back with very few regrets and count myself as fortunate to have been allowed the time and latitude to develop what was a unique role,” summarised Paul.

“And to have met such a diverse range of individuals (despite my earlier comment that it’s the people not the wildlife that are the problem) was the most stimulating and rewarding thing.”

FEELING BLUE AT MISSING PESTEX?

If PestEx was too far for you to travel to see great presentations like Paul's, you can join us in Harrogate for PPC Live in March 2023.

More info

Source: PPC107

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