Defra wants to capture buzzards and destroy their nests. Photo: Mark Medcalf CC-BY-2.0

Defra wants to capture buzzards and destroy their nests. Photo: Mark Medcalf [CC-2.0]

Britain’s biggest bird conservation charity has condemned the coalition Government’s plans to trap buzzards and destroy their nests.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said the move, by minister Richard Benyon, was in response to lobbying from the pheasant shooting industry, which maintains its young birds are being killed by the raptors.

The RSPB said it was stunned by the plans which would set a terrible precedent and prove to be a costly and unnecessary exercise. The proposals are part of a £375,000 study on the effects of the birds of prey on commercial game birds.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs immediately mounted a rearguard action against widespread opposition, Tweeting: “Myth busted: We have no plans to cull buzzards.”

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s conservation director, 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.”

The charity said the buzzard was eradicated from large swathes of Britain following decades of persecution. Legal protection and a general warming of attitudes towards buzzards and other birds of prey on the part of many lowland land managers led to buzzards recovering across the UK.

This, it said, is a fantastic conservation success story.

The RSPB said pheasants are not native to the UK. “Around 40 million birds are released every year for shooting. 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 captive-reared birds might have on the predator-prey balance in our countryside,” it added.

“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.

Pheasants are not native to the UK, the RSPB points out

Pheasants are not native to the UK, the RSPB points out

“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 buzzards or destroying their 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 Government will therefore put a stop to this project.”

Mick Carroll, of the Northern England Raptor Forum, said: “Given that buzzards are still recovering from past persecution and there is no evidence they are a significant cause of loss, this is a scandalous waste of public money.”

Nigel Middleton, Hawk and Owl Trust Conservation Officer for the eastern region, 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.”

But shooters’ lobbyists welcomed Mr Benyon’s proposals.

David Taylor, shooting campaign manager for the Countryside Alliance, said: “It indicates that the Government is taking the issue of predation by raptors seriously.

“It is however disappointing that the situation has got to the point where such a study is required.

“Since the early 1980s, successive governments have had the ability to issue licences for buzzard control, but have been reluctant to do so because of their fear of coming under pressure from groups who have a narrow interest in birds of prey, often to the detriment of other species in Britain.

“While we welcome the study, it is a shame the Government have had to commission this expensive exercise simply to appease a group of people who believe that raptors have a greater significance than any other bird.

“Such a mentality is dangerous for conservation and scarcely justifies the large cost to the taxpayer.”

The RSPB urged the public to put pressure on their MPs to stop the plans. “Ministers need to think again and pull the plug on this project,” it said. “Write to your MP and ask them to pass on your concerns to Mr Benyon, the minister responsible.”

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