Buzzards: A Licence to Kill, has the legislation been manipulated in favour of shooting interests?

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Following receipt this week of a second ‘Freedom of Information’ reply from Natural England it now appears more controversy has been uncovered relating to the proposed licenced killing of 10 Buzzards to protect pheasants classified as livestock, even when away from their rearing pens. Natural England have now provided the following additional guidance:-

The 3 paragraphs below are a summary of what was contained in Natural England’s Freedom of Information reply further down this page:

  1. That where birds are either in pens or are significantly dependent on people they are classed as livestock.
  2. Where a bird remains in close proximity to a release pen and will often return to it for shelter or to roost at night, and is dependent of food put out by the gamekeeper then we usually consider it to still be livestock even if it is free-living.
  3. As pheasants are released at a relatively young age, they will be dependent on the gamekeeper for several weeks at least. Natural England revised this guidance to take account of the High Court ruling, having consulted our stakeholders.

The two paragraphs below are our assessment of what Natural England have stated relating to the classification of livestock where pheasants are dependent upon the gamekeeper. It seems to us that gamekeepers are being allowed to shoot livestock in this case pheasants for sport.

The guidance provided seems to be pandering to the needs of game shooting, rather than the well -being of a specie classified by a court as livestock. When rearing pheasants gamekeepers routinely place feeding bins strategically throughout the shoot ensuring reared pheasants remain dependant upon the gamekeeper preventing the pheasant from straying too far from where they had been reared enabling more birds to be shot. To do otherwise would result in pheasants straying away from one shoot moving onto a second.

In the case of the 10 buzzards under sentence of death, when considering the information placed before the court , the Judge may have been unaware or was not told that reared pheasants outside their rearing pens are dependent upon food supplied by the gamekeeper almost entirely throughout their short lives, ensuring these birds return to the feeder bins well into the shooting season, and in most instances into the winter months, not just a few weeks as stated in the guidance provided by Natural England.

Below we have added Natural England complete response to a second Freedom of Information request. It will be interesting to hear what you think.

Good morning

In response to your enquiry on the issuing of a licence to control up to 10 buzzards, we are providing further clarification on the decision. For security and data protection reasons, we cannot give any details about the licence holder.

Wildlife licences are required from Natural England for activities that will disturb or remove wildlife or damage habitats and can be granted to prevent damage to agriculture, livestock, fisheries, property or archaeology.
 
So far this year, we have received over 5500 wildlife licence applications covering a variety of species. In deciding whether a licence should be granted, all applications have to be assessed in the same way against the relevant policy and within the legal framework of the the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (WCA). 
 
We discharge this role as a wildlife licensing authority alongside the range of our statutory responsibilities as government’s adviser on nature conservation.
 
In assessing the buzzard licence application we took into account the legislative tests and policy guidance, the evidence received from the applicant, industry guidance and scientific literature. The application was rigorously assessed with input from specialists across our organisation.
 
The High Court has recently considered the issues surrounding the granting of a licence to kill buzzards in order to protect livestock and given clear direction on the decision making process. This includes the need to balance the protection of wild birds against the requirement to prevent serious damage to livestock and the need to adopt a consistent approach to the interpretation of policy which applies across a number of species.  Natural England has taken account of the court’s findings in reaching this decision.
 
The licence to control buzzards was issued to protect against serious damage to livestock. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 defines livestock as any animal which is ‘kept for the provision or improvement of shooting or fishing’. 
 
Our guidance says that where birds are either in pens or are significantly dependent on people they are classed as livestock. For example, where a bird remains in close proximity to a release pen and will often return to it for shelter or to roost at night, and is dependent of food put out by the gamekeeper then we usually consider it to still be livestock even if it is free-living As pheasants are released at a relatively young age, they will be dependent on the gamekeeper for several weeks at least. Natural England revised this guidance to take account of the High Court ruling, having consulted our stakeholders.
 
As a public body, Natural England has to balance the public interest with the security of the individuals who apply for licences.  In the interests of transparency, Natural England will shortly be making documents associated with the assessment and granting of this licence publicly available. These also include details about control methods, assessment and criteria under which the licence has been granted.  Any disclosed documents will be released in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) and therefore some details, such as personal information, may be redacted.
We would not consider licensing any activity which would adversely affect the conservation status of a species. Buzzards have increased dramatically in recent decades and are now common and widespread, with over sixty thousand pairs in the UK (British Trust for Ornithology). The loss of small numbers of birds in a small area will have no impact on conservation status.
It is illegal to kill wild birds without a licence from Natural England and anyone who suspects a wildlife crime should report details to the police.
 
Links –
 
Government webpage on wildlife licences
Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
British Ornithology Trust information on buzzards
Thank you for your enquiry
Natural England Enquiries Team – Technical Services
Natural England
County Hall
Spetchley Road
WORCESTER
WR5 2NP

5 comments to Buzzards: A Licence to Kill, has the legislation been manipulated in favour of shooting interests?

  • If Pheasants are being shot as ‘livestock’ then we might as well shoot hens!! Both are tame due to hand rearing. So if they are ‘livestock’ where do 3 million road accidents stand [number killed on the road each year] with police road accident statements! Farmers would be fined if it was their livestock causing an accident so how about shooting estates allowing their tame pheasants to wander into traffic costing £ millions of damage to cars, stress to drivers and even 2 drivers killed by hitting pheasants!

    Editor’s Comment. Very good points John. We have seen reared pheasants away from their rearing pens at fully grown running to be fed at the food pens, totally dependent upon the gamekeeper, Therefore using Natural Englands analogy, these tame birds must be livestock and therefore can not be shot legally?

  • Alastair Henderson

    There are open seasons for different species of game bird to be shot or taken by trained hawks. It used to be a requirement to have a game licence in order to shoot / hawk game birds [a licence is still required in Scotland I believe] during their respective game seasons. Given the interpretation of livestock by NE might it be reasonable to assume that reared birds cease to be livestock at the start of the open season when they become game in law?

    Editor’s Comment. Perhaps you may have a point. However as long as the reared pheasants are dependent upon the gamekeeper for food, which they are, then our interpretation is that the birds remain classified as livestock and can not be shot near or away from their pens.

  • Circus maxima

    I would guess that this ruling means that if a pheasant damages your car, and there is a feeder in the vicinity you would have a reasonable expectation of being able to sue the owner of the feeder. On the grounds that its free-living but KEPT livestock.

    How should the game keeper control his “free-living” pheasants, and how does he prevent them from being a risk to the public?

    Seriously, this “in the vicinity” needs explaining/defining. Also the age thing… how old is “young”?!

    Another conundrum for natural England, if they are livestock, and they stray on the neighbours land (near the feeder)…do the neighbours have the right to shoot them?

    Editor’s Comment. Regarding your last point, any pheasant that strays onto another estate can be shot by that estate. However, taking into account Natural England’s guidelines, if any pheasant that strays onto a neighbouring estate is still dependent on the new gamekeeper for food, then they are still in our view classified as livestock and therefore can not be shot.

  • Albert Ross

    People are chasing their tails with this one.
    (Livestock is a daft term anyway and merely divides Livestock from Deadstock as a state of being.) Call them Domestic animals as opposed to ‘wildlife’ and the picture is then clearer.
    Circus’ maxima’s analogy of straying ‘livestock’ needs examining. The situation is perfectly clear. What’s on ‘my’ land is mine when it is wild. But not when it is ‘domestic’. So yes, any pheasant coming into my garden runs the risk of legally ending up in the oven! Not so my neighbour’s straying chickens. That would be theft. I could shoot a fox on my land but not my neighbour’s cat or dog even if defending my own ‘stock’. (But I could sue for damages.)
    Back to feeding. There is nothing to stop me feeding wild birds on my land and if, as often happens, the odd pheasant takes advantage of the feed station then it is vulnerable.
    But keeper dependent birds per se should not cloud your or Natural England’s judgements as to whether they are ‘wild’ or ‘livestock’ or whatever. The use of feeding stations has no bearing on the matter. This practice is also used for wild ducks where ponds are supplied with corn and indeed even for fishing where swims are baited prior to a day’s fishing whether for pleasure or a money making match event.

    Natural England needs to get its act together and ensure the terms of the licence are strictly adhered to and prosecute any infringement.

  • Alastair Henderson

    It is a foregone conclusion that come 1st September partridges will be shot / hawked and likewise come 1st October pheasants will be likewise.
    NE obviously appreciate that their interpretation of dependent livestock is less than perfect, however, it provides them with an ‘umbrella’ until / unless their interpretation is challenged in court perhaps!