A survey was carried out to investigate terrestrial wildlife incidents with pesticides in 18 European countries over the period 1990-1994. Only in seven countries does a systematic incident registration system exist. Compared with the other countries, relatively high numbers of incidents were registered in France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Over 1000 incidents were investigated to establish their causes: approved use, misuse or deliberate abuse, and the compounds, species and mode of application involved. It was found that most registered incidents are due to deliberate abuse. Approved use is responsible for only a minor fraction of the incidents, and these are due to particular practices such as use of treated seed, bait or wood preservatives and the spraying of grassland. Hardly any incidents were due to crop-spraying. The reason why so few incidents are registered for normal crop-spraying is discussed: do they not occur, or are the casualties not registered? It is doubtful whether incident registration is a reliable instrument for obtaining a proper understanding of the occurrence of the side-effects of agricultural pesticide use. (C) 1999 Society of Chemical Industry.