, via Wikimedia Commons”]Please sign this petitionto persuade Defra to think again if you are already convinced that 375k of your taxes could be better spent than a poorly thought-through study of buzzards and pheasants.

How might £375k be better spent?:

The idea of spending my taxes, your taxes and the taxes of many other hard-pressed people on a rich man’s sport is highly distasteful.  Sign this petition please.

Today’s Independent carries a stinging attack on the Defra plan and lays the blame squarely at Richard Benyon’s door. Not only an article – but a leader too.

Of course buzzards eat a few pheasants, it’s a good job they do, and foxes do, and crows do otherwise we would be knee deep in pheasants very quickly.  The field ‘sports’ industry releases about 35 million reared pheasants into the UK countryside each year.  Only 15 million or so are shot – which leaves, even George Osborne will get this right, 20 million surplus pheasants to die in the countryside every year.

, via Wikimedia Commons”]It is a serious concern that 35 million, non-native, predatory birds (everything is a predator – and ask that grass snake whether pheasants are predators!) are released, unlicensed into the UK countryside every year.  yes pheasant shooting has a range of positive impacts on local economies (as do prostitution and drug trafficking under certain circumstances) but it isn’t all about money — it really isn’t.  Pheasant shooting can certainly have some good ecological impacts too – habitat protection, provision of extra food resources which help feed other wildlife etc.  But we really don’t know whether this industrial field sport has a net benefit or disbenefit to our native wildlife.

Do the 35 million pheasants gobble up the seeds that would otherwise feed declining farmland birds? or does the food that is provided for pheasants and goes into yellowhammers etc outweigh that impact?  We don’t know – and that would be a really serious subject for some really serious research.

Does the gross over-release of pheasants fuel increases in predator numbers – foxes, rats, magpies, crows – that cause any problems for native fauna?  Another interesting and strategic research question.

Do the 3 million pheasants killed on the roads every year cause increased insurance premiums that increase the cost of motoring?

Are the pheasants in woodlands at all implicated in the declines of woodland invertebrates?

There are many questions to be asked about the wisdom, sustainability and economic costs and benefits of industrial pheasant shooting.  Let’s look at all of those to gauge the overall public cost or benefit of this bizarre and particularly British practice before we start studying how many of the 20 million unshot pheasants are eaten by buzzards.  And remember, we would be knee deep in pheasants if they didn’t die of something.  Let’s thank the buzzard for solving part of that problem – although, I would be pretty sure, that buzzards are not deserving of much praise in this regard as they don’t bump off many pheasants.



34 Replies to “Buzzards”

  1. “Fight the good fight”, one might say which, in this case, is wholly justified. Whilst I agree with everything you say and the comparisons you provide, I’m also concerned about what might ensue should the proposals proceed ( see the piece I’ve put on my Blog “Buzzard controls… excuse by any other name” ). While I could be accused of assumption, I’m genuinely concerned that other raptors will be “conveniently” controlled under the guise of this ill conceived approach. The track record associated with game management as far as persecution is concerned is hardly unblemished and I doubt the opportunity to gain the best out of a situation ( as far as their interests are concerned ) will be resisted. It has to be stopped!!

    1. Raptor persecution by gamekeepers was a problem in victorian periods. A lot has changed since then. Today, around 1% of gamekeepers are involved in raptor persecution based on raptor persecution figures.

  2. Definitely not on vicarious liability imo. The essence of our criminal justice system is that criminal offences require proof of criminal responsibility to be prosecuted. Vicarious liability short circuits the need for that proof. The petition talks about bringing people to ‘justice’ but that is precisely what vicarious liability does not bring them to.

    1. I think Giles that you are misunderstanding the proposals, is it that you think that just because an offence takes place on a piece of land you believe it will result in a conviction of the owner?
      That is not the case I believe, Let us suppose that a keeper has been successfully prosecuted for an offence against Hen harriers, far fetched though that might seem. I will now give you three REAL examples of what could have preceded it, remember these are real.

      1 An agent is responsible for the management of a grouse moor for a tenant of a large company. In the tenancy agreement is a clause which states that all bird of prey legislation must be obeyed. That agent states in a casual conversation with those he thinks like minded ( it included me!) that he followed the rules when it came to peregrines but that the keeper was instructed to kill hen harriers at every opportunity.

      2 A land owner hears of a previously committed offence near his estate boundary and as a result has all of his keeping and estate staff individually come to his office where he reminds them that he expects the law to be obeyed in all aspects of their jobs and that if he even thought one of them was responsible they would be sacked. This is followed up by letters reinforcing this.

      3 a land owner employs a keeper but gives him little or no supervision or instruction, except to say he expects the moor to continue to shoot well.

      under vicarious liability if witnesses come forward 1 the agent is guilty , 2 is not guilty and it is up to the magistrate or jury for 3. That is how it is envisaged just the same as any other law. There needs to be some evidence that the owner /agent was somehow complicit in any offence or just negligent.

  3. I’d agree thatb the shooting industry should fund it though – if anyone.

  4. Love the Indie article Mark, looks as though you could have written it. Find the whole thing bonkers and another example of bent Benyon trying to bend over to help his mates out. The justification is poor, the use of tax payers money is criminal and the precedence it sets its dodgy. Is Mr Benyon on a suicide mission to loose his credibility like the ghostly Nick Clegg has done by alienating many of his party’s core voters? I think Benyon is out of control and may have ended up scoring an own goal with this one as I imagine backlash to the shooting community will be fierce and they will all get tarred with the same brush (regardless if they are raptor loathing/killing low life’s or not). Think we need BASC to step up here to save its credibility and drive home the message that the ADAS work found out.

  5. Thank you again for an excellent summary of the case for proper scientific research into the effects of releasing millions of captive-bred birds for sport, Mark. As you say, there are far better things that could be done with the money being spent on the buzzard study, but then NE and EA no longer seem to be in a position to provide this sort of advice to ministers – possibly a reason for their emasculation in the first place.

    I’ve wondered for a while about the effects of controlling apex predators in the UK on middle-ranking predators, like crows, and their impacts in turn on the rest of an ecosystem. Research clearly shows that the absence of top predators has the effect of increasing lesser predators – the absence of wolves and mountain lions allowing coyote numbers to explode, resulting in livestock loss in North America, for instance, or the loss of lions and leopards leading to the destruction of crops by baboons in sub-Saharan Africa.

    There is a very real case for taking a larger view of this dynamic in UK habitats and researching what effect restoring the top predators to (nearer) their rightful place would really have on our countryside – I suspect the real downsides for those earning from the land would not be as great as feared.

    But it is fear that is standing in the way – for instance, I read that some farmers in Scotland are again blaming sea eagles for lamb losses, in spite of recent research that undermined this fear-generated prejudice. But prejudice it is, and one that has existed for hundreds (if not thousands) of years, and will remain deep-rooted for a long time to come. Only a long period demonstrating the real facts will help – and even then we have to accept that many who make a living from the land may never lose that fear.

    1. Excellent comment Rob which I 100% agree with. My worry is entirely yours on fear – you wont ever change the views of some entrenched individuals no matter how much evidence you fund and show them. There is the other set also that wont ever be won over as they are so commercially driven (no pun intended) and wont tolerate a single predator in their quest to make the red grouse apex predator in the UK uplands.

      1. Gamekeepers tolerate predators. Predation is necessary to an extent. Some predation helps weed out the weaklings and it balances the ecosystem. But huge flocks of crows, huge numbers of stoats and weasels and a record number of buzzards is not balanced in any way. Predator control is about control, not eradication. Except for the non native invasive species such as the mink and grey squirrel.

        1. Reece – glad you think predation is necessary to some extent. Imagine the world without it? And glad that you think it does some good – must weed out the sick and unhealthy pheasants then? Although probably not enough since buzzards take so few – let’s ahve some more buzzards?

    2. Buzzards are not naturally apex predators – they are meso predators although above crows. But you are correct that when apex predators are removed then meso predators can become over abundant and this can cause a loss in bio diversity. Behavorial changes induced by apex predators are also very important. I’m not sure we are there yet with buzzards though.

  6. I find it encouraging that 24% of gamekeepers don’t think buzzards have a harmful effects on gamebirds.

    1. In many cases it doesn’t. I work a lot on shooting estates helping out gamekeepers and even I will tell you that one or two buzzards do not do any real harm. The game cover planted by gamekeepers helps reduce losses to predators such as buzzards. It’s when there are loads that they can become a problem.

  7. I would like to see a proper study into the sustainability of the shooting industry in general.

    I’m not convinced by the economic argument and would like to see where all that money that gets made goes in local rural communities.

    As for the land management argument, it has definite positives on one hand but these are a lucky by-product of intensive management to support the yield of game birds. I remain unconvinced the land management practices are ecologically sound.

    Then there’s the ethics and welfare which are obviously touchy issues which instantly earn you a townie and treehugger stamp for even raising.

    I’m not sure I want an outright ban but an industrial scale shooting industry is the core problem in my view. Personally, I would like to see it all scaled back massively and better ways found of generating sustainable income on these estates.

    1. “I remain unconvinced the land management practices are ecologically sound.” I think that all depends on what land management might replace it if shooting did not occur. In cases where it would just mean more intensive agriculture or development then the land management from shooting might well be preferable.

    1. Robin – yes the link to Mike’s article is in my blog and the leader too. I don’t know when it starts. Ask Defra?

  8. All this light starting to focus on DEFRA and Mr Benyon in particular with his attitude towards buzzards, and coming hot on the heels of the hen harrier map that doesn’t exist (but does!) and Walshaw, its starting to get interesting. He appears to be using his loathsome interests to influence policy for his mates in the shooting community. Surely there must be loads of mileage for an investigative journalist – do you know anyone Mark or have contacts at Panorama?

    Think the wider public need to know about this as it stinks. What’s next, overturning public access in the uplands – some have already managed this for dog owners due to commercial grouse reasons, not to protect ground nesting birds.

  9. I understand that a recent copy of The Field has a Buzzard on the cover with the headline “Buzzard Plague”. How outrageous is that?

    A member of the upper class shooting fraternity once informed that there were too many Sparrowhawks at large. My irritated retort was “Well how many can we bloody well have?” The matter was never entioned again.

  10. Already signed the petition and PM-ed my local MP and Richard Benyon on Facebook to make my objections.

  11. Well you certainly did your usual good job on identifying lots of alternative uses for that money.Think the interesting one could be what damage all these released pheasants do.One lovely cemetery in Peak District has all the flowers left on graves destroyed by a relatively small number of released pheasants.

  12. Another question. Why is Defra not more concerned about the effects that pheasants have on agriculture? Their remit after all is also for “Food and Farming”. There are examples of pheasants doing severe damage to seed potato crops and barley as well as ripping silage bags apart and polluting cattle and sheep feeding areas. Often the farmers with problems are tenants and have no power to control pheasant numbers. Many local people here avoid eating pheasants knowing that they are pumped full of chemicals to keep them free of disease.

    As far as research into pheasant damage to our native fauna and flora is concerned, it would be so easy to pick up any number of road casualties throughout the year from different areas of the UK and for professionals to analyse their crop contents. However there is obviously no money remaining in Defra’s wasteful pot to research the undeniable damage being done by millions of non-natives.

    1. Peter – yes, looks like good news. Await full details and confirmation. Will blog tomorrow.

  13. DEFRA have announced a u-turn by tweet!

    See below.

    Defra UK ‏@DefraGovUK
    We’ve listened to public concerns, so we are stopping current research and developing new research proposals on #buzzards.

  14. Hi Mark

    Sorry please delete my last comments, someone beat me to it. But it looks like better news eh!

  15. You say that pheasants could have an impact on flora and fauna. This is rubbish. Pheasant estates are managed well to provide food for pheasants and can easily support pheasants and a range of other wildlife.

    If pheasants impact on wildlife, then why are shooting estates wildlife havens? Because they are well managed. Land managed for game shooting has more birds than land that isn’t. Game management involves predator control and habitat management which benefit game birds and other wildlife, including many rare and threatened species. Even birds of prey thrive on many shooting estates because there is an abundance of prey and large areas of suitable habitat, yet some groups insist on demonising gamekeepers when it would benefit said groups more to work with gamekeepers rather than alienate them.

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