Eggs and nests of protected raptors destroyed to protect pheasant shoot, according to FoI documents. A government agency has licensed the secret destruction of the eggs and nests of buzzards to protect a pheasant shoot, according to docu...
Eggs and nests of protected raptors destroyed to protect pheasant shoot, according to FoI documents. A government agency has licensed the secret destruction of the eggs and nests of buzzards to protect a pheasant shoot, according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Raptors gained legal protection decades ago. This is the first time since that action has been licensed against any bird of prey to protect game shoots. Photograph: Ben Hall/RSPB
The action sets a historic precedent, being the first time such action has been licensed against any bird of prey to protect game shoots since raptors gained legal protection decades ago. Buzzards are recovering from near extinction and now number 40,000 breeding pairs, while 35m pheasants are bred each year for shoots.
It is also less than a year after the wildlife minister, Richard Benyon, abandoned related plans citing “public concerns”. Benyon, whose family estate in Berkshire runs shoots, cancelled plans to spend £375,000 on testing control measures for buzzards around pheasant shoots after a public outcry in May 2012. “I will collaborate with all the organisations that have an interest in this issue and will bring forward new proposals,” he said at the time.
The destruction of the nests, which took place in the last few weeks, was only revealed after the event through a freedom of information request by the RSPB.
A man holds a dead pheasant shot during a pheasant hunt in Lewknor, England. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/Reuters
“We were proceeding collaboratively and that is why we are so angry now,” said Martin Harper, the RSPB’s conservation director. “Most people would prefer to see buzzards soaring in the sky. They are big, majestic creatures in the wild and we don’t have many of them in the UK: they are England’s eagle. The fact the licence process takes place without public scrutiny is wrong.”
The licences were issued by the government’s licensing body, Natural England (NE) and permitted destruction of up to four nests and the eggs they held. “The law allows action to be taken against protected species to protect livestock, which includes any animal kept for the provision or improvement of shooting,” said a spokesman for NE. “We rigorously assessed the application [and] were satisfied the case met the criteria.”
The locations of the destroyed nests were not made public. NE stated the issue was “emotive and sensitive” and cited “public safety”. NE issued the licences despite its own expert reviewer stating: “There is no body of published evidence demonstrating that the presence of buzzards is likely to result in serious damage to a game shoot.” A related application to kill sparrowhawks was rejected.
The National Gamekeepers Organisation (NGO) was closely involved in winning the licences and had threatened NE with judicial review if they were not granted. “We believe the long-standing licensing process was correctly used in this case,” said a spokesman. “A few buzzards had been consistently killing a large number of pheasants. Most birds of prey are now at or near record levels in the UK, so conflicts with game management and farming are bound to occur from time to time.”
Pheasants are not native to the UK and were introduced to stock shoots, but the biomass of the population makes it now the single biggest bird species in the countryside. The growing popularity of shoots in the Victorian era saw buzzards poisoned, shot and trapped until just 1,000 pairs were left, but protection in recent decades has led to a partial recovery.
Jeff Knott, the RSPB’s bird of prey expert, said: “The buzzard has full legal protection, so why are we undermining this when all the available evidence shows they are not a significant source of loss of pheasant chicks.” An independent study commissioned by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation found that, on average, 1-2% of pheasant poults released were taken by all birds of prey,