August 2017: Bird Deaths Linked to Common Insecticide that is Banned in Europe. Pesticide: Imidacloprid

Bird deaths linked to common insecticide that is banned in Europe

August 9 2017

A commonly used chemical is being blamed for the deaths of native birds in Victoria.

Lab results obtained by the ABC confirm that the chemical, which is used as an insecticide, killed at least 12 birds near Horsham last month.

The same chemical has been banned in Europe because of concerns it is behind a dramatic decline in bee populations.

Cath De Vaus, from Natimuk a small town western Victoria’s cropping region, started making the grisly discoveries, finding dead birds around her house last month.

She said the deaths had not stopped and the numbers were adding up.

“It’s lovely watching them in the evenings and every morning when you see new dead ones it’s incredibly sad.”

Ms De Vaus, along with other residents, reported the deaths and Agriculture Victoria has been investigating.

Lab results obtained by the ABC confirm traces of imidacloprid, a chemical commonly used in insecticides.

Imidacloprid is used to kill insects and termites, and can often be found in flea control for pets.

Farmers also use it to treat barley and wheat seeds.

In a statement, Agriculture Victoria has acknowledged that while the initial lab results show traces of chemicals used in crop management, there was not clear evidence that this was the single cause of death of the birds.

Associate Professor Vincent Pettigrove, a chemicals expert from the University of Melbourne said imidacloprid affected the nervous system.

“It actually mimics nicotine and it’s really quite toxic to insects and it shouldn’t be toxic to mammals and birds, but in certain circumstances we’ve found many reports of bird deaths associated with the use of this insecticide,” he said.

“Some work in the European Union showed that a sparrow if it ate just one and half beet seeds would be enough to kill the bird.”

European ban in place

In 2013 the European Union put a ban on these kinds of insecticides because of concerns they were behind a dramatic decline in bee populations.

Associate Professor Pettigrove said research published this year backed up the EU’s concerns.

“There was a study in France where they looked at 103 wildlife mortality incidents and they found in 101 cases the birds had some concentrations of imidacloprid in them,” he said.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority were unable to comment on the situation as they had not been advised on the matter.

People urged to report incidents

Associate Professor Pettigrove said he thought it was time to be ”much more vigilant about recording these deaths and trying to understand what is the reason for it”.

“Once the APVMA get a good body of information they’ll have to consider reviewing how this chemical is used,” he said.

Associate Professor Pettigrove said the way to do that was for more people to report incidents to the authorities.

“That will help us develop a better strategy for trying to use this chemical in a more environmentally safe way.”