NE issued four Buzzard-killing licences

Photo: Snek01 via Wikimedia Commons
Pheasant poults. Photo: Snek01 via Wikimedia Commons

nehouseNatural England, the former independent conservation agency which now spends much too much of its time issuing licences to kill wildlife, has issued four licences this year to kill Buzzards, a native species of predator, because they might be causing serious damage to livestock known as Pheasant poults (a non-native species released into the UK countryside in its millions so that it can be shot for fun).

This information is available in an update on the NE bit of the utterly hopeless GOV.UK website.

The world is a strange place under this government where Defra has turned into the enemy of wildlife rather than its friend, its persecutor rather than its protector, its destroyer rather than its comfort.

I find this very, very sad. And it is very, very weird too.

common_buzzard_-_catalonia_-_spain_mg_5018_24850065319
Common Buzzard. Photo: Francesco Veronesi, via Wikimedia Commons
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56 Replies to “NE issued four Buzzard-killing licences”

  1. The only good point that comes out of this debacle is that we have some clarity from government that the pheasant plague are livestock. We can now use this to challenge the damaging impacts.

    Natural England are not fit for purpose.

    1. I’m not sure there was ever any doubt that the shooters’ poultry are livestock, at least to start with. At some point, however, they magically turn into ‘wild birds’ (in a strictly legal sense). Confusion still reigns as to when this strange metamorphosis actually happens (or even if it ever does, some would argue – and remember, again, this is in legal terms not, biological). This has a significant bearing on the type of licence that can be issued and the circumstances.
      Not that this will stop the ever-more-wonderful NE from handing out chits for buzzard slaughter. In fact, it probably makes it easier for them.
      And what happened to assurances that there would not be a proliferation of licences?
      I always thought that was an empty reassurance. They now have very little leagsl basis to say ‘no’ to licence applications. Bye bye buzzards! It was nice having you back for a wee while.

      1. If you search the internet there are at least two cases where this livestock has been allowed to roam free, causing fatal road accidents. I have not pinned down the inquest reports yet, however, my money is on the the birds that caused the death being described as wildlife. If you have livestock, you have responsibility.

  2. Isn’t it interesting that the applicant for this piece of public business is kept anonymous by Defra ? Doesn’t that suggest there is something to hide and that this action on the part of Government and applicant together perhaps lacks public support ? At least Defra Ministers seem to think so.

    And for those in doubt, Defra was MAFF in sheeps clothing from day one – its just that, carelessly, the sheepskin is slipping a bit.

  3. Trying end fox hunting ban, take away rspca prosecution ability, allow destruction of birds if prey. Oh bit of a trend here and coincidental a Tory government with no one to challenge them.

  4. Mark, do you mind me asking whether you object to all predator control if it is carried out to protect gamebirds? Or is there something that sets Buzzards apart?

    1. Ian – there obviously is something that sets Buzzards apart – they are a protected species and not on the general licence. I don’t mind you asking at all. And I do not object to predator control under the general licence although i think it is a bit over the top and I am uneasy about the level of ecosystem disruption just so that a few can shoot an introduced gamebird for fun.

    2. Inglorious is invaluable! The other book I find indispensable in these situations is Bird Populations by Ian Newton in the NN series. Packed with facts and fully referenced it is a vital source of peer reviewed scientific research. Look in the index for Buzzard (26 refs.) and Pheasant (27 refs)!

  5. Whats the difference between this and getting a licence to shoot Cormorants to protect a fishery. Pheasants are a commercial (agricultural) crop as much as are trout/salmon in a fishery or sheep for that matter. If it wasn’t for pheasant shoots Buzzards would never have increased their population the way they have in the UK or Ireland. A pheasant shoot near to me in Scotland, the owner of which who is expressly against raptor persecution, that puts down 40,000 birds every year has as many as 24 Buzzards in the air at one time. At least one pair of Goshawk breed on this particular estate. Then you look at the orchards in Kent where Bullfinches are removed to protect crops. Whats the difference between a Bullfinch and a Buzzard, apart from size obviously!!, nothing they are both birds that breed in the UK. I personally would be just as upset if I hit a Wren or a Buzzard in my car. This obsession with raptors as opposed to other species of birds in the UK is beyond me. All birds are the same. There are reckoned to be 70,000 breeding pairs of buzzards in the UK. As far as Im aware there are many ,many species that have less than this which we should be far more concerned about. I dip into this blog every now and again and I suspect Mark that you are really trying to sell your books and revel in your twitter fame more than anything else. I suspect if it wasn’t for social media you would be an ex RSPB employee and that is as far as it would stand. Then as far as the Grouse shooting debate it looked as though the House of Commons reckoned you had a chip on your shoulder and just didn’t have the facts behind you.

    1. Rachel – welcome to this blog. Thank you for your comment. If you hadn’t got so quickly into abuse then I’d have answered your perfectly sensible questions.

    2. I think you have one or two valid points there Rachel, certainly no more than that.
      You have a valid point about cormorants, and other species of birds that are of conservation concern, after all, all birds are birds, so one could think that there is no difference between a cormorant and a buzzard.
      However, raptors are key indicators in the bird world, indicating when our natural environment goes wrong, eg DDT. They are the birds that excite most people who have a keen interest in birds.
      Perhaps cormorants or bullfinches, or any of the other species of birds that have a less population than buzzards, can act as indicators too? Perhaps your passion for those species can help to prevent unnecessary licensed control? Perhaps you can fight for those other-than-raptor species whilst Mark keeps fighting for vulnerable birds of prey?
      You say “If it wasn’t for pheasant shoots Buzzards would never have increased their population the way they have in the UK or Ireland.” I’m not sure where that view comes from, perhaps you could expand on that theory?
      I feel that you are unfair in saying that Mark is blogging purely to sell his books or revel in his twitter fame. Have you read any of Mark’s excellent books? If not then perhaps you might make an effort to read one or two of them, ’Inglorious’ would be a good start.
      You seem happy to use social media to air your views, so what is wrong with Mark using his blog to air his views? It is because of social media, and books written by passionate-for-birds people like Mark, that many of us also similarly-minded people are able to have a view on the subject of raptor persecution, amongst many other nature subjects. After all, this blog is about ’Standing up for Nature’ so there may be future blogs about the wrongs of cormorants being destroyed because anglers dislike them.
      Your comments about the grouse shooting debate are not helpful at all; it is not Mark’s fault that this present government have no real care for our natural heritage nay even our environment. Some of the MP’s acted disgracefully in their defence of driven grouse shooting despite many years worth of raptor persecution evidence shown to them, but they just ignored that evidence.
      I could read from your post that you side with the shooting fraternity, and are perhaps even anti-raptor, but I could have read that wrongly.
      Chips and shoulders come to mind.

    3. I think that you make several good points in what you say and there has always been a male obsession with raptors (for obvious reasons). However, I am against the killing of wild animals to protect livestock or crops. Your contribution here adds balance I think.

    4. Rachel I don’t think two wrongs make a right. The general licenses issued against cormorants should have been campaigned against far more strongly, they did set an unfortunate precedent – killing of an animal in the belief that it would assist what is essentially recreation. There are parallels with pheasant shooting in that farm raised trout and other specialist fish are released into waters for anglers. Like ringing a dinner bell while at the same time many fisheries have taken away natural cover such as reedbeds, water weed and dead wood in water to make it easier to catch the fish – result it’s easier for any predator to catch the fish, but even then that does not necessarily mean they willl denude the water of all fish. As an ex angler I can confirm the general level of ecological awareness and interest in natural history within that community is generally bloody awful and progress in conservation has been very slow. Raptors traditionally have been the highest profile target of the rabid anti predator sentiments of all too many in the fieldsports sector so they are emblematic and indicative of how far we have come on or not in terms of conservation awareness. Many of us are especially touchy about what happens to raptors because of on top of all the other things our wildlife deals with – development, pollution, habitat degradation – birds of prey get an especial level of abuse and are particularly susceptible to it. Letting buzzards be killed so someone can shoot an extra one or two, that could well be landfilled, isn’t helping cormorants or bullfinches either.

    5. It’s not birdwatchers & the RSPB that has an ‘obsession’ with birds of prey but those involved in game shooting too many of whom illegally (and now it legally) want to destroy them. If their destructive obsession didn’t exist we could all get on with doing other things rather than focussing time and resources on trying to prevent longstanding illegal activities that have robbed us all of many hundreds of pairs of Hen Harriers, Goshawks, Golden Eagles, etc. etc

  6. I’m sure you also mean “and former conservation agency” as well formerly independent. The emphasis on both is necessary.

    Given that they’re just about to issue licences to destroy hen harrier nests as well (as long as there are two within ten kms of each other) all wildlife is now vulnerable to the intolerance of the shooters.

    What a lovely country we live in.

    1. Nothing wrong with the country we live in that couldn’t be addressed by reform of parliament and land ownership / agri-welfare system? It’s the people that are the problem?

  7. Disgraceful behavior by Natural England are they not an organization that is supposed to be taking care wildlife and the natural world.Anybody paying a subscription should stop as a protest.Again the EU directive is overruled to appease the hunters.

  8. What angered me most is that when I raised FOI questions with NE about the decision criteria used to determine whether to issue these licences, they had no information on the number of pheasants taken by buzzards nor the value to the applicant of any pheasants taken by buzzards. It seems the only decision criteria was that the shoot returns were low than industry standard! I have asked them again whether there was any evidential link between the low shoot returns and the buzzards, but given they don’t know how many pheasants were taken by buzzards, I’ll be intrigued to see how they answer that one. The reduced shoot returns could be down to any number of causes.

    1. You make a good point here; it would be interesting to know what response you get.

      A government departmental joke: ‘Evidence based policy’

  9. This is an utter disgrace and only highlights what a complete waste of space (Un)Natural England are. Anything the CA want can now be granted by NE so deeply are they entrenched in that orgainisation. Be they badgers, buzzards or anything else that gets in the way of commercial gain our wildlife will pay the price.

  10. I’m sick of all this; utterly, utterly sick of it. And what we are witnessing in relation to raptors is just one small element of the damage being done across the spectrum of environmental protection – it is multiplied a hundred fold across other species and habitats.

    Many years ago I worked for the Nature Conservancy Council; it was a forerunner of NE, but the two organisations might as well be on different planets now. I know NE was legally challenged on the non-issue of buzzard licences, but really, is this what the Government’s “nature conservation advisor” has become?! A colleague was at a meeting earlier this week where one of the DEFRA reps basically said we (i.e. the people present at the meeting who did not work for DEFRA/NE) had to fight for environmental protection in the current climate. FFS. The word “environment” may be in your departmental title but apparently it means absolutely nothing,

  11. Feel sick that these licenses had been issued.

    Its worth reading this though:

    R.E. Kenward, D.G. Hall, S.S. Walls and K.H. Hodder (2001) Factors affecting predation by buzzards Buteo buteo on released pheasants Phasianus colchicus Journal of Applied Ecology, 38, 813–822.

    Its free to download. You might want to edit my post? I quote this from page 813:

    “Only a minority of buzzards associated frequently with pheasant pens, and predation was heavy at only a minority of sites, where pen characteristics and release factors probably made it easy for individual buzzards to kill pheasants. We suggest that the occasional heavy losses could be avoided by encouraging shrubs rather than ground cover in pens, by siting pens where there are few perches for buzzards, and perhaps also by high-density releases.” Quote

    So did the scientists misinterpret their results or could some game keepers be doing more to reduce predation?

    Kenward, Walls and Hodder have written some really interesting stuff on buzzards in the Journal of Animal Ecology and Journal of Applied Ecology which can be searched for using ‘Google Scholar’. Based on all the buzzard work by RSPB, Biotrack and Centre for Ecology and Hydrology issuing licenses to destroy buzzards is the best option? Err let me think for bit err, err, oh okay.

  12. Mark, the starting point is that all birds are protected species. Their control is then licenced either through individual or general license. I was just trying to establish whether you object in principle to the control of a native species to protect a non-native or if there is something that sets the buzzard apart. I don’t think the general licence argument is sufficient because many are pushing for buzzard to be added and I doubt that would result in you changing your view. Surely a few killed under carefully scrutinised individual licence is better than the current situation for, say, the lesser black backed gull which can be killed in limitless and unreported numbers under the GL.

    1. Ian – ‘surely a few killed…’ – there will be hundreds in a few years time.

      The argument of your organisation is that it’s OK provided there is no population level impact. Funny that isn’t the criterion for Buzzard impact on the 40 million Pheasants released into environment isn’t it? If Buzzards were owned then they wouldn’t be culled. I reckon I own a bit of those Buzzards and I don’t give my permission for them to be killed so that someone else’s Pheasants can survive.

  13. Not ‘my organisation’ these days. I largely agree with your arguments about ownership but I think they apply equally to all the other species that are killed in large numbers including stoats, foxes, gulls, corvids etc. I do think the levels of outrage generated in relation to buzzard control is disproportionate to any impacts on conservation status and ultimately that could weaken calls for action where populations really are in peril. I see 10 to 20 buzzards a day here in Devon but I’ve seen just 1 stoat and no foxes in the last few months. I feel I partly own those too but they can be almost wiped out across intensively managed game estates with no licence required. Why the focus on Buzzards other than the novelty factor.

    1. Ian – because of their legal status (which is partly a consequence of their biology).

      This is the thin end of a wedge that ends with lots of things being killed.

  14. Partly a consequence of their biology? Maybe, but more especially a consequence of their taxonomy!

    1. Ian – no, I think of their ecology. In shorthand, K-selected species which we know will suffer population declines if the sort of local culling authorised by government in England becomes much commoner. Not the same with the Carrion Crow. If everyone shooting estate were allowed to do what they want to do to Buzzards then the Buzzard would move towards being another Hen Harrier (although its biology (again) would allow it to do rather better because of the difference between mashed potato and soup – see Inglorious).

  15. Non-native pheasants saturate the countryside, do unknown ecological damage and are a danger on the roads, but a native predator that might kill a few of them now and again gets a death sentence. It’s all part of the Tory war on wildlife, which they see as there either for their entertainment or in the way of their profits on moor or farm. The Government just don’t understand ecology and have no interest in learning. I am weary – sick and tired – of this attitude and their uncaring, wilful ignorance. We should not underestimate their passion for bloodsports – some of them live for their “sport” and are actually engineering laws to help them retain it. Beyond understanding for most of us, but it really is the most important thing to many of them! And there is nothing they would stop at to defend their feudal and retarded way of life. That Natural England should connive in this scheme is shocking, but not unexpected given the fact that their boss Andrea Leadsom is a hunter and Minister Coffey is too concerned with the progress of her own career to care about anything else. There is little hope for wildlife or anything else while they are in charge.

    1. Have to say Jane, I entirely agree. I have seen small woods in Dorset completely overrun by released pheasants, literally with the birds swarming like rats, yet the powers that be seem to think this is OK. It seems that collateral damage to the environment is irrelevant as long as someone is making a fat profit. The days of small scale farmland shoots are long gone in many places and those remaining are used as a propaganda smoke screen for more unacceptable practices elsewhere.

  16. In West Sussex there are more Pheasants than ever. Herds of them roam my allotment predating toads, frogs and lizards and doing damage to crops. It’s time now to cap the numbers of Pheasants that can be released by any one shoot and regain a modicum of balance.
    Breeding, raising and then releasing millions of non-native birds into the countryside is madness. To dress up and then pay to shoot them with poisonous lead shot is at best weird. To bury most of the resulting carcasses is perverse.
    Here’s the twist: were it not for this sport most of our lowland ancient woodlands would have gone to arable by now.

  17. I find it astonishing that there is so little research on the ecological impacts of gamebird releases. That which has been done is largely by GWCT who clearly have skin in the game and is used for their own purposes. Further exploration is long overdue.

  18. Our local estate provides excellent shooting without the need to control Buzzard numbers according to their head gamekeeper. There is a substantial number of these birds there and it was one of the first areas recolonised. It therefore appears that Buzzards have little effect on Pheasant and Partridge populations on estates. Licences should not be issued without solid evidence that there is a genuine problem, it seems that legally this it not possible at the moment which needs to change.

    1. In nearly 10 years living surrounded by Gooneys I have never seen a buzzard bothering them. It’s quite the reverse – they appear to studiously ignore them. What they do eat is a mystery to me because I have only seen a buzzard feeding (on a squashed partridge) once in that time. Shooting recently hatched Gooneys must be about as exciting as catching stockie rainbow trout on piece of bread.

  19. Is it not time to find the full cost of these livestock on the roads? Nearly everyone I speak to has had damage to their cars and remember what ‘stress’ is. Majority don’t want to hit these poor birds but they have no road sense and some stretches of roads are full of dead birds. Any one swerving to miss can cause yet another accident. A farmer can be prosecuted for having livestock on the roads so why not these estates? As non native and livestock all released birds should be rung so the owners can be found. Just think of the police having another 3 million accident reports to write out!!

    1. I’m not a member of the AA, RAC or Environmental Transport Association at the moment, but if I were I would be asking them to lobby on my behalf at the fact my vehicle and even my life are compromised by both pheasant releases and the excessive number of red deer on or near roads due to shooting interests. Disgraceful, time to kick up a justified stink.

    2. “As non native and livestock all released birds should be rung so the owners can be found.” … This would involve very little extra effort on the part of Keepers, as poults are all caught for de-beaking, bit fitting & primary clipping during their 1st 6 weeks, so rings could easily be fitted during the last of those operations. Also, plastic rings are not expensive, so they’d have no excuse for not being able to carry this out. If they wish to have Game Birds treated as Livestock, then they should face the full consequences of this … let’s push for it to be introduced.

  20. If there’s to be licensed control of raptors then we need licensed control of sport shooting.

  21. I fear that there will a much more of this kind of directive over the next few years. Ongoing DEFRA budget cuts will only encourage short-term easy-fix solutions such as this.

    I read ‘Conservation 21’ recently and deep within the waffle is a distinct waft of deregulation. It is very worrying indeed.

  22. Mark,how about this for cheek,Andrea Leadsom who holds a Government post hopefully on the side of wildlife has a large article in Telegraph on Thursday in which she brags and talks about atrocities to world wildlife and states Britain doing more than ever before to protect wildlife populations,she says she is attending a gathering in Hanoi alongside Duke of Cambridge.
    She was proud to announce a doubling of UK funding upto £13 million tackling all aspects of illegal wildlife trade.
    Saying the UK £4 to bring criminals to justice across borders.
    Finishing by saying the illegal wildlife trade must stop and she is determined that Britain will lead from the front.

    I found the article disgusting after the way you were treated over the petition with regard particularly by Government representatives.
    What a pity they do not consider charity begins at home on the Hen Harrier persecution.
    Sec of state for environment ,food and rural affairs,my hat.

  23. Killing native birds to save non-native,so as they can be shot!
    Thats about right,they seem hell bent on destroying what little wild life we have left in our countryside. Well done “natural” England.

  24. There is a fascinating piece in Tim Birhead’s book Bird Sense about sight lateralisation in which fowl are found to develop a predator hunting eye and their own prey hunting eye while an embryo in the egg, depending on exposure to light. If I’ve understood it correctly, eggs/embryo that develop in darkness (maybe as a result of battery farming of pheasant poults in an incubator) do not develop this lateralisation and what’s more chicks hatched in such conditions are less able to forage for food (using one eye) while looking for predators (with the other).

    Perhaps this might explain why pheasants are so useless at looking after themselves against predators and maybe are rather easy targets for some buzzards.

    The book is a brilliant read btw.

    1. Bimbling, as an Underkeeper for a few years, my main Spring & early Summer duties included egg collection, filling & looking after the incubators & looking after the birds night & day during their 1st 6 weeks of life – around 4,000 Pheasants. This meant that I spent weeks actually living on the Rearing Field, in a Caravan, working from 6am till dark & then rising twice through the night to check Gas Heaters. This meant that I spent almost as much time with them as a parent might have spent & it was absolutely fascinating to watch young poults react to their first sight of a Kestrel or Sparrowhawk flying over. Crows, Pigeons or Gulls would receive but a curious glance, but the first time a raptor flew over them, they would freeze, stare skyward & then you’d see the rather comic sight of maybe 50 poults dashing for cover & ALL trying to squeeze through a 4″ square hole ~ At The Same Time! … Therefore, as the only parent these birds really had was me & I don’t remember ever warning them about raptors, I got the impression that they were actually born with an innate ability to immediately distinguish the silhouette of a raptor at a glance. I would agree though that they’re certainly not the – sharpest tool in the box. 🙂

      1. I just thought the research was fascinating, and it made me think. I don’t know how (mass produced) poults are incubated from eggs. I just wonder out loud that the strangest things seem to have profound effects. It would be fascinating to research this aspect further. As for the innate recognition of threat, I wouldn’t like to speculate. As pheasants are native of SE Asian forests….how do they know what threat a kestrel might present? All interesting speculation.

        Your description of the mad rush for apparent safety made me think of the way sheep sometimes dash off en-masse simply as a response to one of them running. Bigger actual brain, but not obviously brighter!!

  25. It’s enough to make you want to take up pheasant poaching to see if NE will issue licences to control people too. They do seem to be excessively obliging these days where matters of control come up…

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