The annual Sidmouth Biodiversity Festival ran from Friday 7th to Sunday 9th June 2024

From 15:00-17:00 on Friday, Stephen Blakeway of Vetwork UK, helped by Mick Street of the Sid Valley Biodiversity Group, held an event on Pets, Pesticides and Nature.

The event was designed to raise awareness about the impact pets can have on the environment. It focussed on pet parasiticides, their persistence and toxicity to invertebrates which play a central part in the great global eco-web. Emerging evidence highlights the various ways parasiticides get from pet to environment, where they contribute to the devastating global decline in invertebrates.

It was held in the Sidmouth Byes by the River Sid alongside three others focussing on the new River Sid Catchment Plan, ‘Bugs in the River’ showcasing invertebrates living in the River Sid and how they are being monitored, and the ‘Sid Balsam Bashers’ a volunteer group who are controlling Himalayan Balsam in the River Sid catchment.

Structure

The event was based on conversations supported by a handout (see end of article for download) and three exercises laid out on a table (see photos):

1. How do you currently manage parasites on your pet, what products do you use and where from?

People were asked to tick the relevant line or use the options to explain what they do.

2. The balance between care for your pet and care for nature? Each participant was given ten kidney

beans to distribute as they liked between two circles, one representing nature, one representing

their pets.

3. What impacts do pets have on the environment? An accumulating brainstorm with participants given post-its and asked to add points to a diagramrepresenting the IPBES 5+2 drivers of global biodiversity loss.

Findings:

Parasite products:

16 people explained their parasiticide choices and sources.

• 3 used no routine products, though a guinea-pig owner had used careful grooming with essential oils to get rid of a parasite problem (possibly mites/lice) when first acquired.

• 9 subscribed to monthly programmes from vets, 7 buying just tablets, 1 just a spot-on, and 1 buying both (1 for worms, one for ticks and fleas).

• 3 occasionally bought products from pet shops or vets (2 buying spot-ons, 1 buying tablets).

• 4 always or mostly used ‘natural products’ such as essential oils.

Pets vs Nature:

12 people completed this exercise, each given 10 kidney beans, with

• 90 beans allocated to Nature, and

• 30 to Pets.

Impact of Pets on the Environment (against the IPBES 5+2 drivers of global biodiversity loss):

Several people engaged with this more detailed exercise contributing the following points:

• Habitat change/loss: Destroying riverside vegetation; Destroying fish eggs.

• Pollutants: Flea, tick, worming treatments (x2); Sewage pollution (urine).

• Climate Change/Carbon footprint: Pet food meat; Driving to parks to take dogs for walks.

• Invasive alien species: Spreading seeds (eg of Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed).

• Direct exploitation of specific species: Cats hunting small animals; Exotic pets taken from the wild.

• Human detachment from and undervaluing of nature: Prioritising pets over everything; Not understanding the implications of your actions.

• Other: Dogs worrying farm animals.

Discussion and Conclusions

The afternoon was full of interest and engagement. We would have liked more dog walkers to drop by. A Saturday morning might be a better for that when the Byes are busier with dogs and their humans.

Screenshot

The neutral environment outside a professional and commercial setting allowed open conversations. Vets at work can worry that on the rare occasion a pet becomes sick as a result of parasites, the owner might complain to the RCVS. This can push them towards over-caution and over-prescribing of drugs. Increasing commercialisation of veterinary practice can also put pressure on vets.

Unfortunately, veterinary pharmaceuticals require no environmental risk assessment even when as with

fipronil and imidacloprid to invertebrates, and ketoprofen to vultures, we know the ingredients can be highly toxic. Now however, specific research is highlighting what should have been obvious, that these preparations get into the environment in a variety of ways, and cause harm. We are signed up to international treaties eg on global biodiversity, that mandate precaution.

The veterinary profession is engaging with veterinary sustainability with some very impressive initiatives (eg Vet Sustain). Now that we have irrefutable evidence of harms, we need to do more, consider nature more.

Engagement events like these are an opportunity both to learn from and educate the public about pets, their impact on nature, and how to minimise the impact. The exercises worked well to collect information and to stimulate thought.

Afterword

The Tuesday after this event, BBC Springwatch reported on this issue with the Professor Dave Goulson adding that … The report starts at about 24.04 minutes in at

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m002059t/springwatch-2024-episode-10

Downloadable Handout on Pets, Pesticides, and Nature

Image Credit: https://www.so-motive.com & Stephen Blakeway

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