Let me introduce you to the Buzzard. Most people in Europe have seen one. Roughly 1/2 a metre long. It’s a brown bird of prey that looks like a cross between an eagle and a falcon. It’s a hawk and has been accused of being an eagle many times. I myself have had at least 6 or 7 arguments about this- and that’s just counting the times I was there for the sighting. You usually see them in woods, or over open ground such as fields or roadside verges. In fact, they can be a common sight perched on fenceposts by the side of major roads such as motorways. You can also see them over towns and cities- I’ve seen them in Bedford, Cambridge, Brighton and Harringey, North London, as well as in the country and various woods. It’s a handsome bird that feeds mainly on small mammals, preferably rabbits, but they will occasionally eat birds carrion, or even worms. It’s preference for rabbits is enough that during the myxomatosis crisis, the numbers of Buzzards dropped to the point where it’s extinction in Britain was feared. Then, as numbers of rabbits increased, so did the Buzzards. It’s willingness to eat carrion has led to it being accused of killing prey it can not or did not. Very occasionally, it will attack a newborn lamb, but when it does eat them it usually eats the ones that are already dead. The same goes for young pheasants. This hasn’t stopped it gaining a reputation amongst gamekeepers. In fact, it spent decades with it’s numbers declining due to persecution by gamekeepers and their ilk. Today it’s numbers are rising, mainly because it is legally protected, though this doesn’t stop some gamekeepers taking the law into their own hands.
You’re probably wondering why I’m telling you all this, so now I’m going to tell you. DEFRA, the government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has decided, in it’s infinite wisdom, to spend £375,000 on a trial to control the number of buzzards around Pheasant shoots. Or as the Raptor Persecution Scotland blog beautifully and eloquently puts it: “DEFRA is interested in finding measures of controlling a native species (at the request of gamekeepers), that not only is recovering from past persecution (by gamekeepers), but still is undergoing illegal persecution (by gamekeepers) in the interests of protecting a non-native species that is reared and released (by gamekeepers) for people to kill for sport. Amazing.”
If you think back to something I mentioned at the end of the first paragraph, the Buzzard is a protected species. That means these trials are illegal. Even worse are two of the methods to be trialled. The first is destruction of nests. Need I say more? This is also illegal. You cannot tamper with bird’s nests. You can’t even move them unless they pose a threat to health and safety. This is NOT that. This is a (wrongly perceived) threat to making money. The second method is moving all the Buzzards in the area to a new home. This doesn’t sound too bad until you find out that what they mean by “new home” is “captivity” in a place such as a falconry centre. Are there that many falconry centres? I don’t know, maybe somebody has plans to make a fast buck setting up Buzzard rehabilitation centres or something. Any way, that’s irrelevant. How are these birds going to cope with being taken from a life where they soar and drift for miles and miles, and being put into a cage, flown on a rope until they learn not to stray?
None of this is fair, right, or legal. It’s a despicable act borne out of either cowardice, greed or both. The RSPB and others have reacted exactly how you’d hope, and I’d like to use a couple of excerpts from their statement: “We are shocked by DEFRA’s plans to destroy Buzzard nests and to take Buzzards into captivity to protect a non-native gamebird released in it’s millions. Buzzards play a minor role in pheasant losses, compared with other factors like collisions with vehicles.” He then goes on to say that removing the Buzzards is unlikely to work as another one will move in to take it’s place, and that the measures are illegal and that the RSPB thinks the public will find the trials unacceptable.
Before I give the second quote, I should briefly mention something I found out about a week ago regarding another bird suffering from illegal killing in areas used for shooting (this time grouse), the Hen Harrier. This year there are no breeding pairs of Hen Harrier in England. There are between 500-600 pairs in the rest of the UK, but studies show that England has habitat suitable to support another 300. I mention this as background so the second RSPB quote makes more sense: “At a time when funding for vital conservation work is so tight, and with another bird of prey, the Hen Harrier facing extinction as a breeding bird in England, I can think of better ways of spending £400,000 of public funds. This money could work harder for wildlife, and I hope the Government will therefore put a stop to this project”
As you can imagine, practically everyone in the worlds of birds and/or conservation have something to say about it, so I’d like to quote the Northern England Raptor Forum: “Given that Buzzards are still recovering from past persecution and there is no evidence they are a significant cause of loss, this is a scandalous waste of public money.”
I will keep you updated on any developments as I find out about them, by commenting on this post, and I ask you to please do the same. In the meantime, contact DEFRA and tell them how you feel, but please stay polite, don’t use swear words and don’t threaten. Then they have no excuse to ignore you. You can contact them in the following ways-
Telephone: 0845 6014523 (local rate)
Letter: Customer Services
First Floor, Temple Quay House
2 The Square
You can find the full RSPB response here
The Raptor Persecution Scotland Blog is here
I’m off to my local park, Porthkerry, where we have a nesting pair.
Please don’t be like DEFRA- you don’t have to be scared just because the other side has a gun.