The RSPB is stunned by Defra’s plan to allow the destruction of buzzard nests and to permit buzzards to be taken into captivity to remove them from shooting estates. The Society believes this intervention against one of England’s best-loved birds of prey will set a terrible precedent and prove to be a costly and unnecessary exercise.
The move by Defra followed lobbying by the pheasant shooting industry. Buzzards usually scavenge on animals which have already died, but they will sometimes take young pheasants which are released for sports shooting.
The buzzard was eradicated from large swathes of Britain following decades of persecution. Legal protection and a general warming of attitudes towards buzzards and other birds of prey on the part of many lowland land managers, led to buzzards recovering across the UK: a fantastic conservation success story.
Martin Harper is the RSPB’s conservation director. Criticising Defra’s proposal, he said: “We are shocked by Defra’s plans to destroy buzzard nests and to take buzzards into captivity to protect a non-native game bird released in its millions. Buzzards play a minor role in pheasant losses, compared with other factors like collisions with vehicles.”
Pheasants are not native to the UK. Around 40 million birds are released every year for shooting. The impacts of this practice on wildlife have been poorly documented, but serious questions have been raised about the impact such a large injection of captive-reared birds might have on the predator-prey balance in our countryside.
Buzzards will take young pheasants from rearing pens, given the opportunity, but the RSPB believes the issue can be managed without destroying nests or moving buzzards. Measures include providing more cover for young pheasants in release pens, visual deterrents to discourage birds of prey and providing alternative food sources.
Mr Harper added: “There are options for addressing the relatively small number of pheasant poults lost to buzzards. Destroying nests is completely unjustified and catching and removing buzzards is unlikely to reduce predation levels, as another buzzard will quickly take its place. Both techniques would be illegal under current wildlife laws, and I think most people will agree with us that reaching for primitive measures, such as imprisoning buzzards or destroying their nests, when wildlife and economic interests collide is totally unacceptable.
“At a time when funding for vital conservation work is so tight, and with another bird of prey, the hen harrier, facing extinction as a breeding bird in England, I can think of better ways of spending £400,000 of public funds. This money could work harder for wildlife, and I hope the Government will therefore put a stop to this project.”
Mick Carroll, of the Northern England Raptor Forum, said: “Given that buzzards are still recovering from past persecution and there is no evidence they are a significant cause of loss, this is a scandalous waste of public money.”
Nigel Middleton, Hawk and Owl Trust Conservation Officer for the Eastern Region, said: “We are totally against persecution of any birds of prey, and destroying the nests of buzzards is tantamount to this. We believe that alternatives should always be sought to lethal control where the commercial interests of humans come into conflict with birds of prey.”
- An independent study carried out by ADAS (an independent consultant), commissioned by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, found that on average, 1-2% of pheasant poults released were taken by birds of prey. It found 45% of poults released were shot, with the remainder dying as a result of other factors, such as road collision and disease, or surviving to join the feral population. The study therefore concluded that losses to birds of prey were negligible compared to other much greater causes of loss. It found the financial cost of “average” bird of prey predation to a shoot releasing 1,000 poults per year, would be just £30.2)
- According to a 2004 report by the Public and Corporate Economic Consultants (PACEC) The Economic and Environmental Impact of Sporting Shooting, more than 40 million non-native gamebirds are released into the UK each year. In 2009, over 37 million pheasant and 13.8 million partridges were registered on Defra’s Great Britain poultry register.
Raptor Politics statement.
- Defra should not get involved with game birds because as soon as they interfere game birds become live stock. Live stock is prohibited from breaking out onto any public road. With pheasants making up 3,000,000 casualties on public roads these new live stock (game birds) would make every shooting estate in Britain liable after allowing their released birds to wander unchecked on to the public roads of our country.
- The control of buzzards if allowed would not simply be restricted to this single species, certainly the goshawk, red kite and sparrowhawk would also be placed at risk by these measures with nests being misidentified leading to their destruction.