Buzzard 'control' licences must be refused

| 2nd June 2014
A buzzard in flight, photographed by Tambako The Jaguar. Via
A buzzard in flight, photographed by Tambako The Jaguar. Via
An application has been made to kill ten buzzards to protect pheasant poults at a game shoot. With buzzards only slowly returning to the UK after decades of persecution, writes Martin Harper, this and all similar applications must be rejected.
What happens next year if more buzzards fill the territories left vacant by those killed this year? Another application and more dead buzzards?

The buzzard is a wonderful bird of prey that has only recently recovered from sustained historic persecution, to become a regular and cherished sight in our countryside.

However it still remains the victim of widespread persecution in the UK - remember the recent slaughter of six buzzards and 16 red kites in Ross-shire?

It is, like all birds or prey, long-lived and produces relatively few young every year. This makes the species susceptible to the impact of removal of adults from the population.

Any relaxation of their protection coupled with ongoing persecution could ultimately threaten the population and this is why we continue to fight for their protection.

Unfortunately, it seems as though there are still people out there who can't tolerate buzzards in our countryside.

2014 - an application is in to kill ten buzzards

You may remember that Natural England granted licences to control buzzards at a chicken farm and pheasant shoot last year - the first time that such licenses had been issued.

I made it clear at that time that we had very serious concerns about the use of licences to kill buzzards. Subsequent licence applications to kill adult buzzards at four pheasant shoots managed by the original applicant were then rejected by NE, which was good news.

The applicant admitted that destroying nests had not solved "the problem".

To find out what is happening this year, we asked NE to tell us whether any new licence applications had been made to control buzzards or any other birds of prey.

Perhaps not surprisingly, we have found out that an application was made on 23 April to cage trap and shoot ten buzzards across four sites to prevent "serious damage" to pheasant poults. We also know the applicant has sought licences to control buzzards in previous years.

No justification for the application

I am disappointed that a new licence application has been sought to control buzzards to protect gamebirds.

To our knowledge, there isn't any evidence to justify issuing licences for the control of buzzards and we think the application should be rejected by Natural England - especially since they rejected applications for the same activity last year.

And if there is any new evidence, we want it to be placed in the public domain.

We also can't understand why this case is so exceptional that the applicant needs to apply for these permissions when other pheasant keepers don't see the need.

There are loads of ways to prevent young pheasants being killed by buzzards, for example by creating cover for the gamebirds or by installing deterrents to keep buzzards away.

What happens next year if more buzzards fill the territories left vacant by those killed this year? Another application and more dead buzzards?

Defra must issue guidance - no licences for buzzard 'control'

We believe Defra should issue clear guidance to NE that they should reject all licences to control buzzards given the lack of evidence of widespread problems and their status. To date, they have shown no signs of doing so.

In the meantime, we'll continue to ask NE to give the public information on these licence applications and their reasons for accepting or rejecting them.

What we really need is the gamekeeping industry to identify ways in which they can live alongside buzzards and invest in protecting their poults without resorting the lethal control. We can't understand why they haven't invested in research into this if it's such a big problem.

The persecution must stop!

Meanwhile, we will watch carefully to find out whether NE grants the licence or not and let you know what we find out.

I know that most people would prefer to see buzzards in the sky rather than trapped or killed. They want to know that they are flying free from persecution.

A test of a modern 21st century society is one that tolerates predators and finds ways to live in harmony with brids of prey. Reaching for the gun, every time there is a perceived conflict, is the wrong response.



Author's note: If you're as concerned about this as we are, please ask Defra to tell Natural England to reject this licence application by:

Martin Harper
 is Conservation Director for the RSPB. He studied Biological Sciences at Oxford and Conservation at UCL, and worked at Wildlife and Countryside Link before spending five years as Conservation Director at Plantlife.


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