The news that Defra is going to spend £375,000 on looking at how to reduce buzzard impacts on pheasants shows how deeply this department has now fallen into the hands of the shooting brigade.

I have no doubt that buzzards take a few pheasants but why a government department is spending my taxes (and yours, and quite a few other people’s) on the trivial consequences of a native predator on a non-native gamebird escapes me completely.  Maybe Defra will be funding research on the most efficient poisons with which to bump off raptors next?

Even if buzzards eat every pheasant in the land I  don’t see what business it is of Defra to fund research that should be funded by the shooting industry, if anyone at all.  Why is this a subject for government to fund? Does it deliver public benefits – not that I can see?  Is it a subject of huge scientific import – certainly not?

Given that Defra is now pursuing a badger cull, is interested in control of cormorants, is against vicarious liability (please be in favour of it), has a delivery agency which suddenly, and mysteriously,  pulled out of prosecuting a grouse moor for alleged offences, cannot bring itself to answer properly a parliamentary question about threatened hen harriers and now has it in for the rather stupid old buzzard we might as well have the biodiversity minister doing a job-share with the Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance.

If Defra has £375k to waste on this project then it’s time I got some of my taxes back.



94 Replies to “Buzzards”

  1. Couldn’t agree more Mark. Complete waste of time and money, and at a time when the country has re-entered recession.

    I have e-mailed my local MP (I urge others to do the same) to ask her to write to Richard Benyon (Chairman of Defra) to get him to explain this decision and consider changing his mind.

    In my opinion, this is clearly a decision made on land holdings, rather than on evidence. A decision made in country clubs, rather than in the interest of the tax payer. It is the wrong decision, made for the wrong reasons, and therefore needs reversing.


    1. Adam – I will certainly write to my MP and agree that otehrs should do the same, please.

  2. Shooting is worth millions to the UK rural economy, as well as brining all sorts of conservation/bio-diversity benefits. Managing birds of prey is also an incredibly sensitive and difficult issue. With both these considerations in mind surely Defra are best placed to hold the ring on this. And funding some research seems like a sound place to start.

    1. Shooting is worth a lot to the UK economy.
      But worth to the economy is apparently null and void. SSSI’s and BAP species conservation are worth £1.5bn to the economy. Conservation as a whole is worth even more, with 380m annual visits to SSSI’s alone, with people willing to pay £3-8 per visit (I will gladly find you the references if you want), generating billions for the UK economy on well distributed, nationwide scale. I have no doubt that shooting generates money, but does it match that of conservation? I would like to see evidence to the contrary. If it cant be produced, then purely using your argument of economic worth, shooting should cease and the land managed for conservation, surely?

      So if we go on overall economic worth, shooting loses. If we go on the economic worth of the research planned, it loses again.

      An independent study found that the financial cost of “average” bird of prey predation to a shoot releasing 1,000 poults per year, would be just £30 (peanuts compared to ‘the millions shooting is worth to the UK economy’). Quick bit of maths, 40m pheasants, birds of prey costing £30 per 1000 pheasants released = £1.2m a year. This study will cost £125,000 a year and will no doubt not protect 1/10th of the pheasants released (only focusing on 6 shoots up north if I have read the proposal right). Clearly making it cost more than it could ever possibly save. The same is no doubt true in the long run.

      But it isn’t just about money, it is about the clear statement this makes about Defra’s links to the shooting fraternity. This decision shows beyond doubt that Defra will jump when the land owners say to do so; something that shouldn’t happen. To suggest that we should persecute native birds to protect non-native birds; birds that are released in their millions each year, just so we can kill them ourselves, is at best ill-informed, at worst idiotic.

      1. Adam your response seems a little simplistic and seems to assume that we can only have shooting OR conservation and therefore have to choose between the two. What about shooting AND conservation? Indeed why not throw farming, country sports and other rural leisure pursuits in as well. Lets have a thriving, multi faceted healthy countryside.

        1. Michael’s argument was that shooting is worth doing on an economic basis. My argument was that conservation brings more to the economy than shooting. So on an economic basis alone, as brought up by Michael, shooting should give way to conservation.

          It is a bit of a daft argument to make from either side, and I was only pointing out that using economic value of an activity is null and void; both shooting and conservation pale in comparison to big business, and none of us want the moorlands covered by Tesco’s. It wasn’t a way of saying shooting or conservation, just pointing out the flaw in the argument.

          Shooting may have some part to play in the countryside, but I don’t see what it delivers other than recreation to a handful of people. The conservation could be provided better if sites were nature reserves instead, and we’d have less birds of prey magically disappearing. I still remain unconvinced shooting should play any major part in any conservation based decision.

          1. “The conservation could be provided better if sites were nature reserves instead” How would you fund that?

  3. Mark

    I’ve already written to my MP to ask ‘why’ along with hen harriers. I wonder who will undertake the research? A university? A consultancy? An independent consultant? Would they be members of IEEM and therefore need to comply with the Code of Practice. I’d turn the work down on ethical grounds. I work with developers who may now wonder why they can’t get Defra to research into controlling the great created newt.

    £375K is a lot of money-how much land could the RSPB purchase for their latest campaign? What would this mean to the Grassland Trust?

    I do know that the Highways Agency monitor road kill so it would be interesting to get some data on the number of dead pheasants on motorways and trunk roads? Does this compare with the figures promoted by the National Gamekeepers Association (pro rata)? Perhaps the Department of Transport should fund research in to the potential to control cars? We could spend millions (why not?) and come up with a conclusion.

    The irony is of course that the pheasants are going to be shot anyway and they’re reared artificially. Perhaps the £375K could be spent on the cost to rear and release the extra handful of pheasants that buzzard take?

  4. It is high time that instead of government money being used against a native species it is spent on proper scientific studies into the damage pheasants are doing to native fauna and flora, particularly after the shooting season has ended. The many millions of pheasants surviving the winter feed on a huge range of items including, plant corms, moth pupae, small amphibians, birds eggs etc Who is monitoring this damage done by an introduced species?

    1. I think any such study would have to be weighed against any advantages pheasant shooting brings to conservation. If it is helping to produce some of that native flora and fauna in the first place it may not be so bad. And also lets have some research into how pheasant shoots can be run to better help contribute to a bio diverse ecosystem.

      1. Giles – any such study has to be weighed against all the otehr ways that Defra could spend the money. This comes way down the list, surely.

        1. I was actually referring in that post to the suggestion by Wendy of a study into the damage pheasant shooting does. Maybe an independent study funded by a range of organisations + government would be a good idea. There must be lots of ways in which shooting can improve its credentials and also offset negative impacts by habitat creation &c.

        2. ps it certainly isn’t the study I’d be funding into pheasant shooting if I was Richard Benyon

  5. Here is Defra’s tender invitation to this study. What I find incredible is that they are prepared to jump into action due to ‘claims’ and ‘hearsay’ and spend vast amounts of money at the drop of a hat. As if the government has the money to spend on this rubbish!

    I have no doubt that there will be some claiming that as the RSPB controls Crows, what’s wrong with Gamekeepers controlling Buzzards – let’s nip that one in the bud right away – one is for conservation purposes the other for commercial interests. In any case Buzzards aren’t a threat in conservation terms anyway.

    This whole thing is badly conceived, driven by vested interests and has no base in reality. It’s opening the door to whole sale ‘controls’ of raptors to protect the few that enjoy killing an introduced species. But then I’m a Townie what do I know..

  6. I just downloaded and read through the DEFRA info pack for the research competition. Incredibly flaky – note the phrases ‘it has been claimed’, ‘survey suggested’, ‘anecdotal evidence’ and ‘stakeholder input’. In other words, no scientific evidence base exists for this research at all!

    Compare this to a sentence from one of the other proposals: “In a time of fiscal constraint it is increasingly important to ensure that government interventions are providing maximum possible value for money” Well, indeed, DEFRA, please listen to your own advice!

  7. I am not sure why the proposed research would breach any IEEM code of practice terms or be unethical in its own right. The competition pack does after all refer to an emphasis on non-lethal means of mitigating buzzard predation on pheasant release pens. Controlling buzzards to further the commercial interests of pheasant shoots doesn’t seem to me to be different in principle from controling G C Newts to further the commercial interests of a property developer.
    However, it is very difficult to see the public interest in this proposal so I would agree that it seems inapropriate that Defra should be funding it, especially at a time when cuts are being inflicted across all government spending and far more worthwhile projects are losing funding.
    With regards to Chris’ comment above about the flaky justifications for the proposed project I would agree and would also mention the reference to the 146% population increase shown by the buzzard since 1995 which conveniently disregards the fact that this increase was merely recovering lost ground from its historic distribution and population levels.

  8. I agree with everything that has been said already with regard to the incredible waste of money and the apparent jumping to the demands of the shooting fraternity. There is a possibility that in response to what must have been intense pressure this action is merely to drag the whole issue out until people lose interest. We can only hope!

    I do hope that all who feel the way we do will campaign vigorously to get this stupidity stopped. Let’s hope it goes the way of the Forestry sell-off. Where will it end? Red Kites, Marsh Harriers etc

  9. The Hawk and Owl Trust’s policy relaunch, headed by Chris Packham when he became President, states clearly that all alternatives should be explored where humans and raptors come into conflict: it does not specualte on whether lethal control is ever justified; personally I doubt it – but it’s consideration should be the last, not the first resort. At the moment whether it is shooters, pigeon fanciers, fishermen and fish farmers the 19th century assumption that if you’ve got a problem go out and kill it as the first resort remains all too prevalent.

    What this and the Hen Harrier debacle are actually doing is putting shooting under the public spotlight ion the most unfavourable possible light – if shooting really wants to continue it should not be exploiting what it probably sees as a temporarily favourable political view but thinking about how it is going to sell its positives to a broader, largely urban audience who are never going to shoot themselves.

  10. When I was a boy (which is some time ago now) and spending my summers on and around the Hexhamshire common, the bird books at the time showed buzzard absent from Northumberland. I was 15 before I first saw a buzzard and very exciting it was too. I can now enjoy the sight and sound of buzzards from my office window, yet the perpetrators of the plague of pheasants across the countryside want to use my taxes to destroy buzzard nests and take birds into captivity – only to see how much difference this makes to the economics of attempting to shoot 40 million pheasants? The lunatics surely have taken over the asylum?

    I shall be writing to my MP seeking a stop to this madness. I shall also take the opportunity to ask whether it isn’t high time that there was some external control over this sordid ‘sport’ and its offensive pollution of the countryside.

  11. As a tenant in the centre of a large shooting estate in the soft south, I can recall only 3 instances in 5 years when I have seen evidence of buzzards taking game birds (and one of those was already dead). There is a thriving buzzard population, and thousands of pheasants and partridges are released every year. Obviously one observer in the middle of 5000 acres can’t keep tabs, and there must be a considerable loss to predators – but foxes seem to preoccupy the gamekeepers, who shoot them at night. A measure of the low value of pheasants – apparently there is no point in risking getting caught poaching when the birds are only worth thirty bob a brace. There are plenty of little old ladies to be mugged in town, so there’s no poaching. Market forces at work here.

    I find it surprising that anyone is surpised by Defra wasting our money, as it has a very good track record and is constantly honing its skills. What I do find surprising is the huffety-puffiness of the RSPB, who encourage the killing and disturbance of birds by endorsing the construction of wind farms. Someone’s head will surely explode under the overwhelming pressure of cognitive dissonance.

    1. If the experiment proves that buzzards control would have very little impact on pheasants then surely it would bolster the argument for them NOT being controlled.

      Maybe also we need to do something about what we do know kills large amounts of pheasants, animals and people – fast rural car traffic.

      1. Giles – why is this a job for my taxes? Why should Defra fund it? Why isn’t the shooting community funding it? Why, when we are sacking teachers, extending the pension age and reducing the money spent on UK nature cosnervation are we even considering spending tax payers’ money on this subject? Except we have two Defra ministers (maybe more) who are keen shooters…

        1. All good questions Mark. I was merely pointing out that if Buzzards do have little impact as is claimed then the study might demonstrate that. I’m also pleased to see that it is looking into non lethal means.

          In general IMO we need to look at how all land uses – farming country sports, leisure, housing can have as low an impact as possible and/or be steered towards benefiting conservation. The best way to do this is by aligning economic interests with nature. I try not to take an exclusively pro or anti position on all these thing s as they generally have good and bad sides to them.

        2. “cosnervation” – there’s a term I should have copyrighted all those years ago. Along with “nature conversation”.

          Who pays? – I thought the Thatcher administration established the principle that near-market research should be paid for by the market. So let the market do it. There’s plenty of dosh sloshing around in that pit – witness the convoys of Chelsea tractors that carry the “guns” around at high speed between twice-weekly reenactments of El Alamein.

          Last point – why has this topic popped up now, more than 3 weeks after the closing date for full proposals, before which the research competition details could have been posted for 4 weeks, judging from the creation date in the document properties. 7 weeks without comment?

          1. Filbert, this story broke on the Raptor Persecution Scotland blog on Monday ( Before that nothing had been heard. Perhaps DEFRA anticipated the public’s response and deliberately kept this under the radar? It’s hard to find another reason that explains their exclusion of RSPB from the project advisory team. Mind you, BTO, Natural England and Northern England Rator Forum all listed on advisory team….why didn’t they say anything?

          2. Ruth Tingay
            May 24, 2012 – 12:45 pm

            The tender doc has 30 March in its link and notes 2 April in the text as a start date for responses. I can’t find any posting date, and Google cache has 17 May as last update. Maybe the PAG members were embargoed until the bird hit the turbine

  12. Is it me or do things seem to get worse by every passing day?

    I’ve never held Defra in high regard, mainly due to their bureacratic, inefficient, profligate, formuliac, top-down modus operandi. However, I’ve always generally regarded the department and its Ministers as having their heart in the right place, despite the fact that more often than not they generally make a pig’s ear of most issues they are tasked with.

    Reading yesterdays blog was bad enough, particularly NE’s reply (or lack of) to points 1-4 and the astonishing admission that NE intend to spend some (likely to be around £1.11 million over 10 years!) of the ailing HLS budget to reward dubious land management practices that until a few months ago were considered so inappropriate and unsustainable that NE were compelled to take legal action against the owners.

    Then to learn that Defra plans to spend £375k of taxpayers money on a study that by any standards of fairness ought be funded by the ‘shooting industry’, simply beggers belief and adds further strength to my opinion that the current administration is intent on steering Defra into a dark abyss, a world where the idiology of individual ministers (and their advisers/shooting chums) takes precedence over evidence-based policy, one where an anecdote shared over a Carlton Club lunch can carry equal weight to a peer-reviewed study.

    I wonder how much more money Dick Benyon has earmarked for his chums over the next few years ?

  13. The points about use of public money to research non-native species and the lack of any previous evidence substantiating the need for this research have been well made so I won’t reiterate though as I understand it it was prompted by anecdotal notes from one estate here in Northumberland. The same estate is proposed to be the trial site. This leaves me wondering how valid the results will be given that other factors such as poorly sited release pens on the estate may well have contributed to an increase in the predation by Buzzards. Surely any study needs to be more widespread across several sites to ensure ‘valid data’ not skewed by the methods and actions of a single set of gamekeepers?

    As for the proposed ‘management techniques’ DEFRA seem to be avoiding dealing with the question over how it is planned to implement ‘non-lethal’ nest destruction. Will every nest be checked for eggs before destruction? Will any containing eggs be left intact? This method along with the capture and removal of wild birds should be dropped from the research in favour of non-invasive mitigation.

  14. So, what chance of the RSPB actually doing or saying something that makes an impact? None. As usual.

    I can’t recall ever seeing an RSPB spokesperson looking or sounding genuinely angry about anything despite during over 30 years of my birding life the countryside being slowly cleansed of avian life. Everything the RSPB is involved in is spun so positively, particularly their work with landowners and farmers on scandalously inefficient agri-environment schemes that seem to be little more than a gravy train for landowners, that you can hardly blame people for not really noticing birds disappearing from the wider countryside. And when the ex-heads of the organisation end up in the House of Lords, it’s no real surprise. Knowing just how ‘outraged’ to be about something whilst keeping your job is an essential trait these days for a conservationist.

    1. Steve – thanks for your comment. Interesting for me to read as a former rather prominent RSPB spokesperson. Didn’t get the impression that the NFU or shooting community thought (or think) that I was as you describe. But I value your perspective.

  15. I am willing to fund a study looking into the various ways in which we can control the activities of Richard Benyon.

    Factual evidence suggests that Richard is having a serious effect on this countries bird of prey populations. Ways in which Richard’s activities could be controlled include permanent translocation to another Government Department or planet. Whilst I have received requests to undertake licensed lethal control, Richard like other humans, is protected under statute law so this option at present is not likely to receive support.

    1. Mal – I like it. There are persistent rumours that Mr Benyon, formerly of the Royal Green Jackets, would love to be off to the MoD. Maybe that will happen one day. The tragedy is, Mr Benyon is quite possibly one of the most nature-friendly Tory MPs I know (obviously I don’t know them all) and started his Defra role with the best wishes of all of us because he had been a good Shadow minister too. He has dropped the ball along the way though.

      Defra is almost unique in not having a single Lib Dem minister.

  16. As Joe W mentions above I also do not think much of Defra. This lunacy justifies my opinion.
    Buzzards certainly do take pheasants but generally those that are ill. A buzzard would prefer an easy meal of worms or carrion rather than the bother of taking a healthy pheasant.
    There is only a short period of maybe 2-3weeks when buzzards can be a problem & during that time other measures can be taken.
    Here we collect any road kill & put it at different places away from pheasants for buzzards to find. Also any myxi rabbits that are despatched are also left for buzzards.
    It is up to individual keepers to assess their own areas & not resort to killing. This relates to other species too.
    The extra work is most rewarding & should be encouraged.
    I would certainly prefer Defra to spend on more beneficial studies than this.

  17. This one really beggers belief. Some of the agruments above suggest that just because it makes money it is OK to slaughter native species, I could not disagree more with this position. If you provide unnaturally high levels of a potential prey species (one introduced to provide sport) then its hardly surprising that native raptors will take a few.

    What will be next on the agenda? Marsh Harriers perhaps? I already hear grumblings from local shoots about them as I’m lucky enough to live near some breeding sites.

    Of course we can’t expect much help from the “greenest” government can we? Half the front bench probably shoot anyway!

    If the shooting fraternity really want to be able to claim they have any interest in conservation they need to lern to live with native birds of prey, which are, unlike Pheasants, a vital part of the ecosystem.

    I too will be writing to my Tory MP, not that I expect to get much change out of him.

    Andy Field.

    1. Andy – Thank you. I have emailed Mr benyon and my MP, Louise Mensch, on the subject too.

    2. ” Some of the agruments above suggest that just because it makes money it is OK to slaughter native species” – the study is on non lethal controls.

  18. Filbert (1.33pm) sorry, got to reply down here as can’t find the ‘reply’ link under your post. Yep, an embargo sounds plausible, but what concerns me more than their willingness to accept an embargo (if indeed they did) is the implication that as project advisory team members they had already agreed to the four proposed trial methods. I could see NE possibly agreeing, and maybe the BTO, but the Northern England Raptor Forum? That doesn’t make sense to me, especially as their spokesman later objected to the study calling it ‘a scandalous waste of public money’ ( Something doesn’t quite add up.

    1. These are the actions of a corrupt government! I urge all who are truly concerned about our natural heritage, to express their disgust on whatever social media that Benyon inhabits. Send a stiff message to him, and his CA pals, that decent people won’t let this pass.

    2. Ruth Tingay
      May 24, 2012 – 1:54 pm

      It doesn’t add up, or no-one was looking.

      Is one’s MP the right target for protest? And better than Benyon, perhaps we should focus on his boss, Mrs Spelperson, or maybe the organ-grinder-in-Chief George Osborne might have something to say about wasting money.

      1. Filbert – I’d stick with your MP and Benyon for now. The first because it spreads the word through government and other parties alike that there is public anger at this decision. The latter because it is entirely possible that Mr benyon did not know of this decision (possibly by well-meaning civil servants0 and putting the heat on him to change the position is only fair – he could regain some conservation kudos by throwing out this project.

        1. ” … putting the heat on him to change the position is only fair”
          I don’t have a service level agreement with Mr Benyon which involves me being “fair”. Neither does his administration extend fairness to “us”

          “Why, when we are sacking teachers, extending the pension age and reducing the money spent on UK nature cosnervation … ” – and the rest!

          Fairness is off the agenda.

          1. Filbert – OK, don’t be fair, get even – it’s still the not-as-bad-as-you-might-think Mr Benyon who should get your complaints.

    3. Ruth as Chair of NERF, yes a representative attends the stakeholder meetings, no we are not, despite DEFRA claims of otherwise on the advisory panel of the project, we refused. We have all the way through the process said that the only priority should be the gathering of proper evidence nationally to first see if there is a real problem.

  19. Although I’m vehemently anti-hunting, I’ve recently begun to pragmatically accept the value of a well-managed shooting estate for local wildlife. Not all gamekeepers and shoot managers have an anti-wildlife point of view – I know a number who are very pro-wildlife, including buzzards and other birds of prey, and are genuinely delighted to see them and the joy they bring to visitors to their estates. They also understand that these ‘eco-tourists’ bring in much-needed funds to the rural economy (they stay and eat locally, buy in local gift shops and so on) – as argued above by Adam Machin.

    What I find to be the most disturbing aspect of this new initiative is that it appears to signal a very narrow interpretation by the Government of the importance of biodiversity: nature is seen purely in terms of any damage it does to an established (but not very successful) human enterprise. Is this how Defra chooses to implement the thinking on ecosystem services? Wildlife is a purely expendable commodity if Conservative supporters claim it adversely affects their businesses?

    Key figures (including Benyon and the Prime Minister) in the Government are keen hunters or benefit personally from industrialised hunting. It is now hard to escape the impression that they are forming policy only on the basis of anti-wildlife prejudice, as discussed with their friends over dinner or a glass of wine between shoots.

    I fear that Government has abdicated its responsibility for a balanced and scientific approach to the environment – ignoring all impacts and what ecosystem services really mean – and this will, in turn, lead to a perception by some that it is open season on all wildlife.

    It is a very worrying time for nature in the UK.

  20. One worrying factor is that the project specification implicitly assumes that there is a problem of buzzard predation, for example: “The overall aim of the study is to develop mitigation techniques that significantly reduce predation levels of pheasant poults where serious damage is being caused by buzzards.”

    This worries me because all published data indicates buzzards have a minimal impacts on pheasant populations and where they have been seen to have an impact it has been due to poor husbandry (see references within this handy review).

    None of this data is mentioned within the project specification document, which alludes only to unsubstantiated and alarmist anecdotes such as “In one case, it is claimed that 25-30% of pheasant poults were lost to buzzards.”

    It appears that DEFRA are once again disregarding rigorous scientific evidence in favour of what influential land-owners are whispering in their ears over a convivial sherry.

    In my opinion the first questions should be 1. did one estate really lose 25-30% of their pheasants? and if they did, 2. why hasn’t the gamekeeper been sacked for incompetence? Neither of these questions are worthy of investigation via public funds.

    1. If there is not a significant negative effect on pheasant populations then all the mitigation measures tested won’t have any impact and the project will conclude that they aren’t worth carrying out. I guess probably the only experimental way to discover if there is an effect or not is this sort of study? Hopefully they will have a suitable control in place where the buzzards aren’t getting relocated, stopped from nesting &c.

  21. Giles, I couldn’t reply to your reply directly for some reason. So I’ll do it here. I’d fund it by not wasting money on a badger cull, reassessing ELS and HLS payments on quality not quantity, by looking at the subsidies given to farmers (and their inheritance tax exemption) and reassessing them, and by not wasting £400k on a pointless research project. I also earlier highlighted the amount generated by nature reserves at a national level. I am sure opening up more of these private estates to the public, with small charges for parking and a cafe/shop would fund a warden, tools and money to pay volunteer expenses; in fact I know these things generate more than enough income to fund the things stated from experience.

    1. Adam, I’m not completely sure you would, you’d need something in the order of £10 billion just to buy the land in the first place – quite possibly more as land prices would rocket if someone came into the market with that much money. I suspect the running costs would also be huge even if you could suddenly summon up a million or so extra volunteers.

      1. A million volunteers? Nice to see you haven’t resorted to exaggeration and making up figures…oh.

        1. £10 billion doesn’t seem too bad an estimate to buy over a million hectares – what figure do you have in mind? As for the number of volunteers required – obviously that would depend on how the land was managed. I’d be really interested in what your estimates would be?

  22. Surely the most hapless PR team in the world wouldn’t allow this to go through at the present moment when many eyes are focused on the plight of trees in face of unprecedented attack by pathogens – publicised widely by Defra themselves at Chelsea this year, (albeit 10 years after they should have been and following cuts of over 25% to the Forest research budget!?) and Mrs Spelman is about tell other governments at Rio+20 that Britain has “a pretty good story to tell on the environment”. This ludicrous madness just doesn’t make any sense and the conspiracy theorist within me can’t help but wonder whether it is surely just a mechanism to get rid of Richard Benyon who has proved to be capable of listening to a broad spectrum of interests and has committed the government to several measures – not least the European Landscape Convention.

    1. Pip – interesting perspective, thank you. ‘The most hapless PR team in the world’.

  23. I have read this so many times and every time I get more confused. This isnt a proposed tender, that process finished in early April and the project starts next week.
    There have been comments about relocation; it is not relocation it is taking the birds totally out of the wild environment. There have been statements that this is not a cull but it does include the destruction of nests which are about to raise young.

    There is one paragraph that no-one seems to have picked up yet and that is the proposal to compensate the control areas where no action taken against buzzards. That surely is paying someone to obey the law and not break it.

    There are 2 elements in the documents about diversionary feeding and protection of young birds that don’t need any licencing and could be a cost free piece of work that is surely already standard practice by gamekeepers (or at least I would hope it is).

    I now note DEFRA have released a myth buster statement which only seems to reinforce the position that they have placed themselves in.

      1. Actually Giles I believe Bob made good points all the way through his piece. Do you disagree with other aspects other than compensating the control areas? It seems you are popping-up on here with replies to posts, but singularly fail to reply to the direct question posed by Mark “Why is Defra paying for it?” Any chance you can answer a straightforward question?

        1. I would guess because they feel that there is a lack of knowledge of the extent that buzzards are affecting pheasant mortality and to what extent actions might mitigate that and that they feel that such knowledge would be useful in guiding public policy. However I am not Defra so it’s not really for me to answer.

          If people who say they make little difference are correct then this study would confirm that. However if they make a lot of difference then there would clearly be a big question as to whether such actions were justifiable on a wider scale. Relocating birds to aviaries seems to me to be a particularly nonsensical option. I’d personally hope that such tactics as diversionary feeding would be a better option. However maybe that would just end up multiplying numbers further.

          I love to see buzzards personally – we have quite a few down here although maybe not as many as a few years ago,. I hope no one is shooting them.

  24. Michael:
    ‘Managing birds of prey is also an incredibly sensitive and difficult issue.’
    Erm, no. They are protected by law. That means that here in a democracy the majority support the protection of birds of prey from the minority who want to kill them. Not sensitive or difficult: if you are a a gamekeeper or a landowner, stop killing birds of prey. There is a law stopping you. We the majority want you to be stopped. Get over it.

    1. Jamie McMillan
      May 24, 2012 – 6:05 pm

      “That means that here in a democracy the majority support the protection of birds of prey from the minority who want to kill them. … We the majority want you to be stopped.”

      Wrong – here in looking glass land, anything the minority wants, it gets: such talk could lead to the compulsory killing of pheasants and raptors alike, and the imprisonment or loss of employment of anyone who says, or more ominously, thinks differently.

      There is an unusually lucid blog by The Moonbat today:

      1. Hazel – I don’t quite get your point, but liked the Monbiot article. What nobody has pointed out yet is that there are at least two bits of Defra. One is the old Environment Ministry, and the other the remnant of the dear old Min of Ag, who were basically CLA and NFU stooges in government. I think this could be a last hurrah from the Min of Ag brigade, those who think that there are only two kinds of wildlife: food or vermin. Anyone in Defra like to confirm this?

  25. Sorry but if people want to create an artificial environment in which to pursue a ridiculous pasttime, try getting a big floating island, floating it out to sea and shoot each other.

  26. Sorry I’m just flabbergasted at the whole idea but too tired to put in a reasoned argument so am very grateful to you and many others who are able to be completely sensible!

  27. It’s a shame we can’t get together a group of photographers large enough to complain about the impact shooters have on the animals we want to shoot in our way.

    And as for the DEFRA Tweet “No plans to cull buzzards. We’re looking at research on how to protect young pheasants while ensuring buzzard population continues to thrive” surely that’s the gamekeepers job? Or have they managed to find someone else to do it for them, a bit like a barman who manages to convince the customer to pour his own pint?

  28. Hi Mark,it is crazy and in this instance we are united in not wanting our taxes used in this way.Have to agree with all the comments saying it is a disgrace that a UK natural bird is not as important as a imported species.The Buzzards do not take many chicks but this just shows how influential the shooting lobby is to all Governments in the UK.
    Did not recognise you from Steve’s description think he was talking in general terms.

  29. Investigating lawful methods to mitigate the potential effects of buzzard predation using private, and not public, funding is a good idea. It might even stop a few buzzards being killed. Investigating unlawful methods to mitigate unproven claims of significant damage using public funding is totally different.

    The two unlawful elements are the destruction of active nests and buzzard removal. You cannot derogate from the Birds Directive until all other satisfactory solutions have been ruled out – it is not acceptable to test unlawful and lawful elements simultaneously. It also fails to meet any of the reasons for derogation listed in article 9. Either this has been pushed through without any proper legal consideration, or it is a calculated risk on DEFRA’s part that nobody will take this matter to Europe – RSPB’s response suggests otherwise.

    Depressing to see how readily government responds to anecdote of significant damage by raptors to gamebirds, yet apparently seem so reluctant to respond to the overwhelming scientific evidence of significant damage to raptor populations by those who manage gamebirds.

  30. Hapless PR indeed! We have long since passed the day when the introduction of PR for nature has been proven to be a monumental mistake.

    Shooting is not what it once was! A strange comment I agree, but there used to be considerably more self control than the ‘nouveau riche’ clamour for pretend decadence there is now. I have heard from many stalkers and gamekeepers, who themselves are being replaced as they retire by a new ‘less dignified’ class of gamekeeper, that ‘the gloves have come off’. It is about money now and any vestige of ‘conservation’ is solely in the mouths of those left trying to continue to defend what is no longer a sport but merely an initiation into a new rich class, not high class. Oh if we had regulation! but the anti hunting lobby were fed such glorious trash from the Countryside Alliance, making this all black and white.

    Those who now pretend to enjoy this sport are bad at it, they could not tell lemonade from champagne let alone a pheasant from a peasant. The shoots need to blanket the ground with animals in order to satisfy these city clients (whose grasp at their own financial profession is questionable) and it has become more bloody literally pointless than ever before.

    To the myth busting Defra PR intern; I have no doubt there is no imminent cull of Buzzards. It is the phenomenal, despicable wastage of funding that we have a problem with. It is as though there is a need to counterbalance any recent pro ecological view with the most downright ruddy cheeked nature-fascist research project that could be imagined simply to not upset the ‘old boy’ who has started grumbling to the extend that his party donations may halt.

    1. Lesley – welcome! Thank you for your comment which is simply superb – keep coming back please!

  31. Giles,
    I have just seen your response to my earlier comment. Maybe “non-lethal” at presant but what if the trial shows Buzzards do have an impact? And what is capture and removal of wild birds and nest destruction if it it not persecution? My point was that comercial sporting ventures involving unnaturally high concentrations of introduced species should not take precedence over the welfare of our native fauna.

    1. “should not take precedence over the welfare of our native fauna” – let’s face it – almost everything else we do does! Humanity is in the process of wiping out quite a few species. I don’t want buzzard persecution but I do want to see human interests aligned with nature

  32. The Defra myth-buster is a carefully worded fob-off. While Defra may not have a proposal currently on the table to cull buzzards or any other raptors, they state they work on the the basis of sound evidence and want to know the truth. Fine.

    At present the intent is to determine “how best to discourage birds that may cause damage to legitimate businesses … using non-lethal methods. … The results of this scientific research will help guide our policy on this issue in the future.”

    If the “sound evidence” shows that all non-lethal methods are ineffective, they have left the door open to culling in the future, whatever the blandishments are today.

    The money for this work should not come from the public purse. It should come from the gun licences – they are far too cheap. 500% raise would seem about right.

    1. “If the “sound evidence” shows that all non-lethal methods are ineffective” – that'[s a tricky one. It might be inneffective because buzzards aren’t actually causing a problem! In which case culling them wouldn’t help either

  33. Thank you Mark for raising the profile of this one
    There are so many good and interesting comments in here but it is a great relief to know that there are many out there who share the concern about birds of prey and who are proud of what we have done to bring them back in many cases and will now make a stand for them.
    I am truly shocked by the lack of science in this programme funded by a government department. It is nonsense to approve of this project on the basis that it will show buzzards have negligible effect. The question that needs to be answered first and foremost is what effect are buzzards having on pheasants. As is pointed out in the comments above you cannot act on unscientific notions about how many pheasants are killed. We need the facts at our fingertips and we need population biologists to assess these facts. The UK has produced some of the finest population biologists in the business. The government needs to heed Lord Krebs on the badgers, and should be looking to the expertise of the likes of Ian Newton on buzzards. Lack of doing so are signs of weak governance.

    If buzzards are shown to be having a significant impact only then should game managers be looking towards mitigation. Mitigation starts with taking responsibility for releasing thousands of naive exotic birds into a semi-natural environment. I think there are many gamekeepers who have a good idea of how to do this but there is a loss of the older generation who understood the significance of birds of prey in removing sickly individuals and maintaining population health. Trashing the nests of protected species is not the way forward. But the provision of refuge (cover) is the only good element in this project that I could see. Refuge stabilises predator-prey relationships and preserves more prey lives (not that their future chances are very good in this case). They use the wicker structures in France for partridge shoots to great effect I believe. No reason why it couldnt be successful in Britain too but I would imagine the major role for it to play is on grouse moors with hen harriers where there is little natural cover. And I see in the shooting literature that some keepers are reverting to raising pheasants under chickens so they at least know what a buzzard is when they are released. Clever solutions would be the way forward, if there is a problem to solve.

    It is great to see the reactions to this misguided programme. On controversial wildlife population issues, DEFRA need to take the lead from the top wildlife population scientists in this country.

    (Please sign up to this petition circulated by Ruth Tingay:

  34. “should not take precedence over the welfare of our native fauna” – let’s face it – almost everything else we do does! Humanity is in the process of wiping out quite a few species. I don’t want buzzard persecution but I do want to see human interests aligned with nature”

    That doesn’t make it right though Giles does it? Human interests can be ‘aligned with nature’ but it needs a sea change in attitudes and it is issues such as this that can and do have a fundamental part to play in raising awareness and changing public perception. The view that nature is simply there to be exploited, used and abused as we see fit should be as redundant as slavery, apartheid, whaling, badger baiting, cock fighting and the death penalty, no place for it in a civilised, modern society.

    1. Not disagreeing with you on that one but of course the question is how do we use and exploit nature without abusing it. We cannot stop using and exploiting nature because we need to do so in order to survive.

  35. “We cannot stop using and exploiting nature because we need to do so in order to survive”.

    ‘Sportsman’ need to shoot pheasants on an industrial scale for survival reasons? Even the most vociferous apologist for the shooting industry can’t possibly link ‘survival’ with slaughtering birds on estates. And if that wasn’t what you meant then it was blundering to bring up such a facile point in an argument against taxpayers funding the interests of a few selfish gunners over our native birds of prey.


    Have written to my local MP on this issue today protesting at this *&^%$£+ ludicrous proposal.

  37. Only a few months ago DEFRA attempted to introduce killing buzzards on pheasant shoots. There was a public outcry with twitter, FB etc. buzzing with the scandal and MP’s inboxes filled with a constant stream of emails and letters from an outraged general public.

    So when they are faced with this level of public pressure, what do they do? keep it quiet for a few months then just do it anyway but on the sly!

    How can these so called public servants be trusted? ?

    The public have spoken, we do not want to see our endemic wildlife killed to protect introduced species which are only released for the sole reason of being shot !

    It beggars belief that we should as a nation be killing our native raptors so that more introduced game birds can be killed.

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