Defra wants to spend close to £400,000 of taxpayers’ money (that’s our money) on a trial in England to reduce buzzard predation of pheasant poults by, amongst other things, shooting out buzzard nests and permanently imprisoning adults. You can read the Defra tender document here.
I want to tell you why I think that this approach is fundamentally flawed, why I am angry and why we need help to call on Ministers to think again.
Buzzards are one of the nation's best loved birds of prey. I remember as a boy walking on the Long Mynd being inspired by seeing a buzzard soar over head and I've always had a soft spot for these fabulous animals.
In the early 19th century, buzzards were a common sight throughout the UK, but persecution resulted in widespread declines and by 1875, they remained only in western Britain. Subsequent recovery was undermined in the late 1950s, when rabbit populations were decimated by myxomatosis and it was not until the 1990s that the rate of spread accelerated, with birds recolonising much of their former range.
Happily for me and for anyone else who loves these birds, buzzards now breed in every UK county. It is a sad fact in some areas the rate of expansion has been restricted illegally. Buzzards are still the most persecuted bird of prey, with 291 having been confirmed as poisoned in the last 10 years. And as always with wildlife crime, this figure is only the tip of the iceberg.
But not everyone loves buzzards.
Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Buzzards will take pheasant poults, given the opportunity. Although generally scanvengers, buzzards can be lazy and will take the easiest meal available – no different to you or I nipping down to the fish and chip shop to save cooking. Current estimates suggest that pheasant shooting leads to 40 million non-native gamebirds being released into the countryside, often at very high densities. The result is a meat feast that any self-respecting buzzard is unlikely to ignore. So how many pheasants do buzzards eat? An independent report for the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) found that on average only 1-2% of pheasant poults were taken by birds of prey. This is tiny compared to the numbers which die from other causes, like disease or being run over on the road (which accounts for about 3 million pheasants a year). Even if predation levels are higher in a few instances, there are plenty of legal, non-contentious techniques for reducing predation, which don’t involve destroying nests or confining wild birds to a life spent in captivity. Scaring devices, visual deterrents, more vegetation and diversionary feeding of buzzards could all make a difference, if done well. A few years ago we endorsed a BASC produced guidance note advising gamekeepers on how to reduce bird of prey predation using some of these techniques.
And is capturing buzzards likely to work? If you swat a wasp, but leave a pot of sticky honey open to the air, it won't be long before another wasp takes its place. The same is true of buzzards. Two gamekeepers previously employed on the Kempton estate in Shropshire were convicted of, amongst other things, illegally killing buzzards in 2007. They had killed over 100 buzzards in less than six months in one small part of Shropshire. As soon as one buzzard was removed, another (ill-fated) buzzard took its place. We think that the research project is the wrong answer to address what we see as a minor problem.
We think Defra is taking the proverbial sledgehammer to a walnut in reacting to calls from a small part of the pheasant shooting community to do something about buzzards.
And I am angry at what I see as bad use of public money.
At a time when there is so little to go around, when we know that there is a massive shortfall in funding required to meet the coalition government's ambition "to protect wildlife... and restore biodiversity", it seems ludicrous to be spending a large slug of public money to protect private interest.
I can think of loads of ways to spend £400,000 on nature conservation. Helping save hen harrier from extinction in England would seem a better use of cash.
I should point out that ours isn’t a knee jerk reaction. We’ve been working with Defra for a while to try to identify possible solutions for the small number of pheasant shoots that – we are told – are experiencing losses to buzzards. I genuinely hoped that we would find common ground and that I wouldn’t have to write this blog. That has not been possible.
Buzzards are a conservation success story, due in no small part to effective legal protection and a general warming of attitudes towards buzzards and other birds of prey on the part of many lowland land managers. While some will simply see this as a pilot project and will tell us not to get over-excited. I think that misses the point. If we have a perceived conflict in the countryside, let's first look at whether the conflict is real and serious and then look at the underlying causes of the conflict - in this case the release every year of c40 millions pheasants into the countryside. What are the environmental consequences of those releases? Addressing the symptom will do nothing to address underlying problems in the long term.
I would like to publicly call on Richard Benyon MP, the Minister responsible, to think again and pull the plug on this project.
If you are as angry as I am by this misguided use of public money and attack on buzzards, please step up and write to your MP and ask them to pass on your concerns to Mr Benyon. I will come back to this subject soon, and may seek your further action and support in the coming weeks.
If you do write to your MP, you may like to highlight;- Predation by buzzards is a relatively small cause of loss of pheasants- Buzzards are a native and recovering species, while pheasants are a non-native gamebird- The good that £400,000 could do for species of highest conservation concern, such as the hen harrier
I consider it a huge privilege to see buzzards nearly daily on my way to work. Let's not do anything to undermine the protection which led to their spectacular comeback.
Do you think Defra should spend c£400,000 on a trial to reduce buzzard predation of pheasant poults in England by, amongst other things, shooting out buzzard nests and permanently imprisoning adults? If not, what would you prefer them to spend the money on?
It would be great to hear your views.
One is almost lost for words about this. It is absolutely outrageous that it could even be contemplated that a native bitd should be persecuted legally in favour of an introduced species that has a serious delepeting effect on our small reptile and insect population by preying on young reptiles and caterpillars. The number of live pheasants taken by buzzards must be minute compared to the number killed on the roads by traffic. I know the RSPB will fight this hard, to the highest courts if needs be, and The Society will have my fullest and most active support in doing so. I am certainly writing to and e-mailing my MP today. What a terrible thing, What credibility DEFRA ministers had or has will be totally lost by this. .
Totally agree. I completely fail to understand the mindset of this minority that seem to want to look for a scapegoat to a problem which really doesn't exist. The biggest worry however is that this minority seems to have some serious leverage when it comes to swaying the powers that be to their own agenda.
Only in extreme cases and on the back of peer reviewed scientific evidence should wildlife control of any sort take place. This type of reaction just harks back to the bad old days and it's something that should be stopped not just on financial ground but on moral grounds as well.
Perhaps the RPSB should set-up an online form from which they could send to their MP. Make it easy for people to do something and they're more likely to.
Like redkite I am lost for words but is it not interesting that the RSPB, not being a member of the project group, will presumably also not be able to comment on the report.
Its a bit of a double whammy today, isn't it ? Shooting appears to have achieved the first extinction of an English breeding species for quite some time - and at a time thanks to tremendous efforts by RSPB and others (including Government !) the general trend for rare birds is the opposite. And now they want to consolidate that achievement by attacking Buzzards. The real question is where does shooting go from here ? The politics may look favourable now but in the longer term is this the way to make friends amongst the big, urban majority who will never shoot and love seeing Buzzards, Kites, Ospreys and other raptors once more back in our skies after centuries of persecution ?
The Hawk and Owl Trust which is right alongside RSPB in this has stated clearly that all possible means must be tried where humans and raptors come into conflict before lethal control is even considered - and if it is it is up to all of us to take a view. My view is that it is hard to see that it could be, and that Government must act immediately to enforce the law as far as Hen Harriers are concerned.
i cannot believe that yet again humans are trying to change natures ways. pheasants are only their to be shot and make lots of money for the estates on which they are shot. that's fine if people still want to shoot birds. let that be done at private expense. we do know that any relaxation in the laws regarding wild life in general usually leads to some very serious consequencies. have we not learnt that our want to alter the balance of nature always ends in disaster. many of us spend alot of time, effort and money protecting nature. why is it that all birds of prey are seen as a pest. is this yet again the greed of some land owners. it's not the birds fault that they are being offered a FREE meal. stop it now or we will reap the consequencies. i want to walk in the country side with my grand kids and see all types of wild life or do i tell them that we used to see buzzards but they have all been shot!!! an on line form for all to send would be a great idea.
I think that £375k spent on an EIA of the practice of releasing several million captive bred game birds into the natural environment every year would be far more illuminating as well as better value for money.
Im slightly confused. If 3 million plus Pheasants are killed through disease or cars in a year and Buzzards take say 2% which is a tiny number by comparison how many pheasants are there in the UK? According to the RSPB site there are on average 35,000 breeding sites. Lets assume that then 70,000 buzzards. If 2% is a tiny proportion of those killed by cars etc then even assuming 10% that means 300,000 pheasants a year eaten by buzzards or +/= 3.5 pheasants per buzzard per year. That doesnt sound too bad to me.
We need some hard numbers put forward for this argument from both sides.
Andrew - c40 million game birds are released into the wild each year. In 2008, the post office recorded c3 million pheasants being killed on the road each year (as the PO counts the cost of wild bird accidents). This is likely to be an underestimate of the actual numbers killed as this only relates, I think, to insurance claims.
And thanks to the many of you that have offered support today. Much appreciated.
As many people on here I love seeing buzzards flying overhead everyday and feel privilleged to do so. This is such a step backwards. May I make a suggestion? The petition sites are getting some success in mass email petitions to MPs ... maybe try and involve them or have a direct link to an email to mps on your site .... the easier it is for people to help get the word out the more folks will help.
I doubt if any sensible individual would agree with this proposal. But as ever, like Grouse Moors and Hen Harriers, its down to money and political lobbying as to who wins or gets away with culls, legal or otherwise. Perhaps the RSPB can get a nationally known individual to come out against this on TV or in the news papers ?
Personally £400K would be better spent trying to find out why we have almost no breeding Hen Harriers in the tradional strongholds in England in 2012, maybe as a reward for information as to who goes around shooting winter roosts of this species!
Well this DEFRA idea beggars belief.. next must be closing down my local motorway as this has been the death knoll for hundreds of pheasant this year.
I'm not that up on all the politics and specifics involved but I am a lover of nature and amateur bird watcher. I just don't understand the logic of the sanctioning of killing one bird species that has taken so long to recover from its' last persecution, just so that people can get a better chance to shoot another species for fun??? Pure madness! Why is it being given such a priority for funding by DEFRA? Surely there are more immediate and important issues that need to be addressed in our countryside and wildlife, as stated so eloquently by others in comments above. I'm maddened by the stupidity, the financial irresponsibility, misplaced sense of priority etc. etc.
This is an outrageous proposal. It appears to be a response from DEFRA to lobbying by a few wealthy and influential people. If you or I took Buzzards from the wild to captivity and destroyed their nests we would soon find ourselves (rightly) in court. I thought this to be an illegal activity. It also appears to be poorly thought through, assuming this atrocious act is perpetrated is DEFRA proposing a sort of 'No Fly' zone for Buzzards to prevent their return, how ridiculous!
Also what is next on the hit list, Red Kites perhaps or maybe Harriers!
Thanks for your support and comments. And welcome to those of you that have posted a comment here for the first time. I think it is clear from the sentiments here and the many emails that I have received today supporting our stance that Defra has misjudged public opinion here and I hope they see sense quickly. Marian - thanks for the suggestion of the petition. We'll put it into the pot of ideas for keeping the issue alive.
The countryside seems at times litered with pheasants - especially so at the end of the shooting season. So if the shooters cant keep the place tidy let the buzzards carry on!
More senseibly those shooters with a problem will leave something dead out for a rogue buzzard if it starts becoming a problem around the release pens, they normally only take one a day. A pro-active approach should be the way forward not wholesale destruction. If one puts bars of chocolate on a table outside a school dont be suprised if they go! What happens if Red Kite become a problem?