The RSPB in the West Country is stunned by Defra’s announcement 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 be no more than 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. However it kept a stronghold in the West that, with Legal protection and a general warming of attitudes towards buzzards and other birds of prey on the part of many lowland land managers, allowed 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, including on many estates in the South West. 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 non-native birds might have on 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 adults or destroying 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 Minister will therefore put a stop to this project.”
Speaking about the threat to buzzards in the West Country, the RSPB’s Tony Whitehead said; “The sight of buzzards, although now commonplace here in the West, still lifts the heart. They are wonderful birds and we want to keep it that way. We will do our utmost to ensure buzzards are properly protected rather than allow the birds to be threatened in favour pheasants, an extremely numerous non-native species as anyone who drives country lanes down here knows!”
A spokesman for the The Hawk and Owl Trust, 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.”