Calls for the protection of birds of prey to be lifted because they kill native birds are unfounded, scientists and environmentalists have said.

[airesizeimg src=”” alt=”PAGE, Robin 06″ class=”alignleft size-full wp-image-17372″ ]In an article for the Daily Mail on Monday, conservative rural activist Robin Page argued predation by birds of prey is “doing untold damage to vulnerable wild birds”, such as lapwings and skylarks. He said legal protection by “politically correct” conservationists should be lifted from “all manner of aggressive avian killers, such as buzzards, red kites and sparrowhawks, whose numbers are getting out of hand”.

Page was writing in response to another Mail story about a chihuahua that was killed by seagulls in Devon. But the former BBC presenter quickly pivoted on to a pet theme, on which he has written repeatedly in the Telegraph – the impact of raptors on other native species.

“Gulls attacking a chihuahua puppy is one thing, and the perpetrators need to be taken in hand. But the carnage permitted by conservationists’ protection of raptors and other predators is on a different scale altogether,” he said.

Page provided graphic anecdotes of red kites attacking lambs (“the blood and the suffering has to be seen to be believed”) and buzzards disemboweling red squirrels.

Red kites, buzzards and hen harriers almost disappeared from Britain altogether last century and careful conservation has slowly brought the former two back to stability – but hen harriers remain critically threatened with only one pair surviving in England. Page said these species have benefited too much from the legal protections they received after being decimated by generations of farmers who saw them as a pest.

Page did raise a legitimate question about protections for birds of prey, said Ben Sheldon, a professor of field ornithology at Oxford University. But he said no evidence exists that raptor populations are currently at levels that are impacting prey species. Generally predators act as regulators of population, stopping the spread of disease by attacking the weakest

“There isn’t the science debate, that I’m aware of anyway, to support some of the things he’s saying,” said Sheldon.

When asked by the Guardian why he had not cited any science to back up his assertion that raptors were suppressing native birds, Page replied: “I don’t want to, why should I?” A lifetime observing the countryside was enough for him to know what was going on, he said.

Sheldon said that generally predators act as regulators of population, stopping the spread of disease by attacking the weakest. This will not cause declines.

“What we know about the way that predators interact with their prey is that the pure fact that they are taking lots of prey doesn’t mean that they are depressing the population,” he said.

Sheldon said the decline of skylarks and lapwings, driven by agricultural practices, began much earlier than the return of birds of prey to the countryside.

The RSPB came under particular attack by Page, for what he described as an ideological approach to conservation.

Jeff Knott, head of nature policy for the RSPB, said: “For all the species that we are working on we look at all the things that could potentially impact them and we look at what the best available scientific evidence tells us. And we take action based on that. Really that shows that predation in the way that Robin’s suggesting just isn’t the issue.”

BBC wildlife presenter Chris Packham said Page’s article was “an idiotic, ill informed rant” by someone with “no qualified understanding of even basic ecology. All, repeat, all the science proves that this sort of naive proposal is utterly unfounded.”

“Nature regulates its own populations if we allow it and we are still outrageously short of top predators. No wolves or lynx – too many deer. There should be 300-plus pairs of hen harrier in England. There is one. This is an unhealthy and unsustainable situation,” said Packham.

Tim Bonner, director of campaigns for the Countryside Alliance, agreed with Page that no species should be immune to population control. “However this should be strictly in accordance with a licensing system and only as a result of evidence of negative impact.” A spokeswoman for the Alliance confirmed there were no raptor species it would currently suggest should have its protection removed.

Former RSPB conservation chief Mark Avery said the tendency to view birds of prey as a pest did not exist in other countries in Europe. “The trouble is that generations grow up feeling that what they see when they are kids is normal. And it’s not normal because a couple of hundred years ago, normality was given a big shift by a whole load of killing by landowners. It is a bizarre British malaise, this attitude to the natural world.”

1 comment to Calls for the protection of birds of prey to be lifted because they kill native birds are unfounded, scientists and environmentalists have said.

  • Is there no end to the demonisation of our wonderful raptors? It seems that those, like Mr. Page, who would see them all exterminated will stoop to any level to get what they want by any means possible. Page couldn’t provide an proper scientific evidence to back up his ridiculous story.
    These people are truly uneducated when it comes to raptors and have such a blinkered view it frightens me, I have spent the last twenty years working with these wonderful birds and visit three or four schools a week, I am trying to get young people interested and teaching them that raptors do not waste or kill food, they only catch what they need to survive, if you want to talk about killing and wasting food look no further than the human race.
    I did eighty six wild rescues of owls and other birds of prey last year and have done twenty five already this year, it alarms me when many have been shot, caught in traps or poisoned.
    I work with my local WCO who is very enthusiastic about his job, I know from experience how hard it is to find the culprits and catch them.
    People like Page will not and do not want to listen to people who understand and work with these birds, they want them gone end of.