Yesterday, I was supposed to be thinking about pheasants as I am writing a fantastically interesting article about them
for a well-known and excellent wildlife magazine. And following the disclosure of Defra’s wrong-headed plans to pour £375k of taxpayers’ money into a study of how to allow more pheasants to be shot and fewer to be eaten by buzzards (even though very few are eaten by buzzards) I did think about pheasants a lot.
I was pleased to see Martin Harper’s blog on the subject, and glad to see that he is angry. That’s good. In the RSPB press release the RSPB described itself as ‘stunned’ which isn’t what I wanted to hear. This is the time to act like a piranha, not a mullet!
Thinking back a little in time, on the approach to the last general election, the RSPB organised a petition on protection of birds of prey. It produced 210,567 signatures and was still going strong when we called it a day – it clearly could have raised many more signatures (although at the time, I’m proud to say, it was the most successful RSPB petition ever). See here and here for links to those days.
The thinking behind that campaign was that there is always pressure from landowners to bump off a few more raptors and with the victory of a Conservative Party appearing imminent, it seemed wise to rally support around birds of prey before the election. And I am sure that it was a wise move.
As rehearsed yesterday, Defra now has two Ministers with a shooting background and that will undoubtedly colour the way Defra civil servants, and those in ‘delivery bodies’ like NE, look at all issues. The civil service is indeed a service, it is there to carry out government policy, whatever that policy is. And that’s one reason (there are others) why I couldn’t easily be a civil servant – I’d want to choose which side to be on.
But whatever your views on shooting, this study of buzzard impacts on pheasants should not be funded by the taxpayer. It is a subject of commercial interest to a few people – it is not about public goods such as nature conservation, it’s about private profit. Defra should think again about this study. Indeed, my guess would be that the minister, Richard Benyon, may not even have been aware of the study before this furore broke out. He would do his fraying conservation credentials a lot of good if he were to intervene and knock this study on the head, right now.
To help the Minister make the right decision please sign this petition.
The Shadow Secretary of State, Mary Creagh, tweeted (@marycreagh_mp) yesterday as follows: Defra will waste hundreds of thousands of taxpayer £s destroying native
#buzzard nests to protect non-native pheasants. #outoftouch. That was good to see. I do wonder why the Shadow environment team has not thrown its weight behind the epetition on vicarious liability as this is a subject where the working class gamekeeper carries the whole can which should be shared by his employer. I would hope the Labour Party might be able to get its act in gear on this subject, although, even as a Labour Party member, I have been in despair as often as I have been elated by Labour’s performance on wildlife matters (long term).
Please write to your MP on this subject – I have. My view is that this isn’t a proper subject in which Defra should invest my money. It is near-market research which should be funded by the industry which stands to gain, if it should be done at all. At a time when we are sacking teachers, extending the pension age of public sector workers and slashing expenditure on nature conservation why is Defra spending £375k on buzzards and pheasants? Why?
What with disappearing hen harriers, poisoned red kites, persecuted goshawks and now Defra wanting to take pheasants out of the mouths of buzzards this isn’t a good time for birds of prey – just as we feared when we raised those 210,567 signatures. Now is not the time to be stunned; this is the time:
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;