Buzzard Killing: MP claims loss of a small number will have no impact on their overall conservation status.

pheasant-uk-1Taking this theory further, 2 people have already been killed after their vehicles had collided with pheasants on our roads. With over 65 million people now living in the UK, the deaths of a small number of people killed after they had been involved in fatal road accidents involving pheasants will have no impact on the overall status of the species (people) in our country’ . Of course, no MP would ever say that, but given that 3 million livestock [pheasants] which are killed on our roads every year continue to cause road accidents, widespread damage to cars, stress to the drivers. ‘ Pheasants are now widespread in England, with over 36 million plus released in the UK each year. The loss of a small number of pheasants at the specified sites on Britain’s roads will have no impact on the overall status of the species’!
Thousands of released pheasants are annually killed by cars on Britain’s roads. 
Natural England have made it clear that pheasants are ‘livestock’ as long as they are dependent on man for their food which they are. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 defines livestock as any animal which is ‘kept for the provision or improvement of shooting and fishing.  Refer to Natural England’s first letter under the Freedom of Information to read this clarification.
An Interesting case happened many years ago when the RSPB took over land that had previously been a ‘pheasant’ shoot. Like most reserves administered by the charity the number of breeding species were checked each summer. Significantly, in no time at all pheasants were lost as ‘breeding birds’ on this reserve. This highlighted conclusively that pheasants, a ‘non native’ species, can not survive unless protected and fed by man. In New Zealand, part of the Commonwealth represented by the Queen, all ‘non natives’ species are to be removed from the environment. So how can an English court encourage and rule in favour of a non native species, that is dependent for its long term survival on the gamekeeper throughout the year, but then rule against a native species? Anyone would think the judge in this case had a connection with shooting!

This is the e-mail reply sent from Rory Stewart MP, former DEFRA Minister, to one of his Cumbrian constituents this week

Dear xxxxxxx

Thank you for your email.

Given my previous Ministerial role at DEFRA this is something I am of course familiar with, and I understand that it is an issue you feel very strongly about.
I am aware that Natural England has issued a licence permitting the control of up to ten buzzards to prevent serious damage to young pheasants, and I am pleased that further context has been provided, given the strength of public feeling.
Licences from Natural England are required 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. 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 framework of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
In assessing this application, Natural England 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 the organisation, and after other methods had been tried
unsuccessfully over a five-year period. As you know, the licence was issued to protect against serious damage to livestock. The High Court recently gave clear direction on the decision making process in cases such as this, and Natural England took account of the court’s findings in reaching its decision.
Natural England would not consider licensing any activity which would adversely affect the conservation status of a species. Buzzards are now widespread in England, with over 60,000 pairs in the UK, and the
loss of a small number of birds at the specified site will have no impact on the overall conservation status of the species.
The licence is time-limited, with stringent conditions permitting the control of up to ten buzzards that are feeding on young pheasants. The licence must be used in combination with non-lethal measures and only
on buzzards in, and immediately around, the animal pens – not on passing birds. This is to make the licensed activity proportionate and effective. Natural England will continue to work with the applicant to
assess this.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
With best wishes

10 comments to Buzzard Killing: MP claims loss of a small number will have no impact on their overall conservation status.

  • Circus maxima

    Its a ridiculous reply. But since he seems confident that he knows that (and Iam sure he spoke EN in preparing his response) 10 would be insignificant he must therefore have an idea of what would be significant?

    It is worrying that they seem to be judging against national populations which do not take local variations into account.

  • Albert Ross

    No. What he is saying is what I have already said. It is up to NE to ensure teh terms of the licence are complied with. i.e.
    Not eleven Buzzards but no more than TEN.
    In combination with non lethal measures.
    NOT on passing birds.

    More tellingly “Natural England will continue to work with the applicant to
    assess this.”
    Who could ask for more?

  • Alastair Henderson

    I understand that the definition of livestock includes ‘for the provision of food, wool, skins or fur’
    It would be difficult to justify pheasants as livestock since the carcasses are, for the most part, given mass burials. There is no market for the numbers shot each season – even those carcasses exported are relatively few when compared to the tens of millions of pheasants released each year to be shot.

    Editor’s Comment. Alastair, we totally agree with your assessment, of course pheasants are not livestock in the true sense. However, the court ruled that while they are dependent upon the gamekeeper for their food they are. This appeared to apply near to their release pens in or out. What the court were not aware of pheasants are dependent upon the gamekeeper for food throughout their lives. Feeder bins on most shoots are placed strategically to keep the pheasants on one estate where they are then shot. If the bins are not kept filled with grain throughout the shooting season most birds will wander.Therefore using the court’s clarification pheasants must be livestock and can not be shot because of their dependence upon food placed out for them by gamekeepers throughout their short lives in most instances.

  • Albert Ross

    Mr Editor,
    With respect your statement is incorrect. Pheasants are NOT dependent on Gamekeepers feeding them for the rest of their lives. They can and do survive quite easily in the wild as they have since pre-history. Even the alien “Colchicus” has survived in Great Britain since its introduction by the Romans and in Ireland since 16th Century. There are indeed feral populations of Golden and Lady Amherst’s Pheasants in the wild.
    As you say the feedbins are there to keep the birds within an area during the shooting season. (They survive quite happily in the ‘close’ season)
    This is not dependency but a similar tactic to a fisherman feeding a swim.

    A side benefit is the use of the feed bins by all wild birds during particularly hard winters so its not all bad news.

  • Alastair Henderson

    I can see the irony in the argument that the court ruling could not have been fully informed regarding the dependence of pheasants on grain supplied by their keepers throughout and that therefore as livestock they should not / can not be legally shot.
    I had commented previously regarding the status of reared pheasants come the 1st October – the start of the open season according to the Game Act.
    The problem is who has the financial clout to test the court’s ruling?

  • Albert Ross

    I agree the irony of the Catch 22 problem as to when livestock becomes ‘wildlife’. However the ruling suggests that this transition takes place when the livestock ceases to be dependent on human support which should be relatively clear cut.
    This is, or should be, when the birds leave the pen through an open gate and roost elsewhere as free winged birds. It then becomes wild in the sense that, if for no other reason, it would be a heck of a job to round them all up and get them ALL back in the pen. They have not escaped! They were released into the wild! Ergo. They are wildlife! Fair game to be shot and a legitimate source of food for raptors to prey upon!
    Local feeding to encourage them remaining in a chosen locality has no bearing on the matter. The birds are not compelled to come to the feeder any more than Woodpeckers are compelled to visit your bird table or Hedgehogs to call for a saucer of milk.
    I would not have thought it beyond the wit of NE or RSPB to make a case along these lines.

  • When 36 million pheasants are released are they released so they can go into the wild or to be shot! I think you will find they are released to be shoot, as no shoot in Britain depends on wild birds. if shoots were to set up a system of breeding to shoot only then we would have the same situation as seen on Red Grouse moors today with a total wipe out of predators to save the breeding birds. This, of course, would leave the estates vulnerable to the present law with so many species given protection by law with both mammals and especially birds of prey. Now we know we are dealing with livestock the estate is now vulnerable to prosecution for allowing livestock to wander onto roads causing 3 million accidents a year and £ millions in damages. No win No fee. Get claiming once you have reported the accident to the police with pictures.

  • Albert Ross

    Of course they are being released with the intention that they will be shot. That is irrefutable but folks should not get hung up on that fact.

    My point throughout is it matters not one jot WHY they are being released. They are still ‘outside’ the control of anybody once they are released. Or are you saying that trout hatchlings are not ‘wild’ trout once released into the rivers?
    Therefore once released pheasnats are ‘wild’ and the Gamekeepers cannot exercise control of raptors to protect ‘wild’ birds.
    Their licence to shoot Buzzards covers ONLY the protection of their livestock and not wild birds!
    Natural England are quite clear on the difference viz:-“Natural England have made it clear that pheasants are ‘livestock’ as long as they are dependent on man for their food which they are.”
    So please don’t waste Police time reporting road kills of Pheasants. The onus will be on you to prove the Estate failed to take necessary actions to prevent their birds wandering onto the highway. Hard enough to prove with cattle let alone a free winged bird!

  • Food is the major reason why pheasants end up on roads. One incident saw 100s of poults killed in an area dangerous to slow down. The estate stopped feeding poults in that area and only a hand full were killed the next year. Signs like ‘Slow pheasants’ must be liable as if it causes an accident with cars running into the back of another the estate is indicating that they are encouraging pheasants onto the road and as livestock are liable.The other reason pheasants go onto roads is wet weather. No dry areas for the pheasants to keep out of the worst of the weather. Even adult pheasants can be controlled by feeding well away from roads but many don’t care due to no prosecution. May be what is needed is a distance pheasants can be released to any road. Or do we wait for the next human death!

  • Albert Ross

    John. You are confusing the issues. Pheasants are wild birds. Nobody can control their movements, not even when they are driven at waiting guns. Many double back over the beaters. If an estate stopped feeding in an area of heavy loss it was not a sign of ‘liability’ but of preservation of stocks for their intended purpose.
    Erecting a sign warning of the possible presence of birds is not an admission of liability for any damage that may be sustained but a simple warning to others in much the same way as “Lorries turning” or ‘mud on road’ or even “Old people crossing”! Indeed such signage will actually mitigate AGAINST any claim for resultant damage by the defence that warnings were in place but seemingly ignored. You cannot have it both ways.