In the 1800s, buzzards were common in Britain and Ireland, but widespread killing brought dramatic population decline.
Like other birds of prey they were considered by landowners with shooting interests to be a threat to game bird numbers.
Reduced illegal killing during the two World Wars allowed the species to start to recover. The population increase continued until 1955 when rabbit populations were decimated by myxomatosis, therefore reducing an important food source.
Buzzards, like many other birds of prey, were also affected by the use of organochlorine pesticides in the 1950s and 1960s, reducing their ability to reproduce. Populations and range remained restricted until the late 1960s when these pesticides were withdrawn. At the same time, there was a reduction in illegal killing, as gamekeepers in many lowland areas came to appreciate that buzzards pose a very limited threat to game shooting interests. As these threats lessened, buzzard numbers started to slowly increase in Britain and Northern Ireland.
During the 1990s the rate of spread accelerated and they recolonised the south and east of England and eastern Scotland, thanks partly to the enlightened attitudes of lowland gamekeepers. Since 2000 they have nested in every UK County.
Today, the buzzard is our commonest raptor, having recolonised all the areas occupied in the 1800s. In their strongholds of the West Country, Wales and Scotland almost all suitable habitat is now occupied. But, though there are false reports that numbers are out of control, there are still areas of the UK where their numbers are restricted by illegal activity.
In 2000 the UK population was estimated at around 31,000 to 44,000 territorial pairs.