The Buzzards in DEFRA vs. the Buzzards in the Wild

2010_11_05 CD - Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) 03
Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)

Once again the hunting lobby is in the news.
And here’s why. 
In the United Kingdom of Great Britain people like hunting, as do others worldwide. They like hunting pheasants, just like they like hunting partridge here in Spain. For this purpose many pheasants are reared and released to be later shot, just like they do with partridge here.
In the United Kingdom of Great Britain they have Buzzards (Buteo buteo), as do other countries all the way as far as Japan. They like hunting pheasants just like they like hunting partridge here in Spain. For this reason the British Government want to capture buzzards to be removed to falconry centres or destroy their nests before they can breed.
So what does the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) do? They advertise a tender for “research” into “THE DEVELOPMENT OF MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUES TO REDUCE PREDATION OF PHEASANT POULTS BY BUZZARDS“.

2011_01_13 AL - Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) 01
Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)

Hopefully that turned your head, like the bird above to ask the question, “So what’s all this about then?” Well, let me explain. This project into finding out how buzzards affect the pheasant population has been put to tender. The project is envisaged to last three years at a cost of £125,000 per year. That’s €156,000 per year.
Let’s look at the birds affected:
Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) 03
Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)

The Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) is a native to Europe and present all year round. It is a medium sized predator with an opportunistic diet, feeding on small mammals, carrion, rabbits, worms and insects, reptiles, and of course pheasant. They have been persecuted throughout history in the UK with huge declines in the late 19th century. In the 1950s myxomatosis decimated rabbit populations leading to another huge decline and only in the 1990s did they regain most of their ranges and numbers in the UK. However they are still persecuted with large numbers poisoned within the last decade. There are an estimated 31,000-44,000 in the UK.

Pheasant, Tollard Royal (Wiltshire)
Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) © Michael Day

The Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) is a native originally of Georgia in western Asia. It was introduced across Europe over the centuries and is one of the most hunted birds in the world and introduced to many countries as a gamebird and is commercially reared for this purpose. It is thought to have been naturalised in the UK in the 10th century but extirpated by the early 17th century and rediscovered as a gamebird in the 1830s. Some 40,000,000, yes that’s forty million are released on hunting estates every year. The feral/wild population is thought to be 10% of this figure.

So how many pheasants are killed by buzzards? That depends. It is thought that 1-2% of the population are killed by predators. Some gamekeepers say that up to 25% of the pheasants they release are taken by buzzards. 10% are thought to be killed on the roads by cars. Anywhere up to 36,000,000 are shot each year according to some sources and 75,000 metric tonnes of lead shot falls on the countryside each year. These are BIG numbers.

What does DEFRA have in the tender?
Well, the study is how to reduce predation. You can read the tender here if you wish but here’s what the background of the tender says in a nutshell.
– The gamekeepers are complaining of predation and increased buzzard numbers and have asked for a cull. The buzzards are protected by law but where a predator can be shown to prove a threat to livestock, poultry, gamebirds and wildlife it appears a license can be granted to cull.
– DEFRA have no hard facts about predation by buzzards but a lot of anecdotal evidence from interested parties, i.e. hearsay from gamekeepers and people whose business is hunting.
– They want to research how to reduce the predation by buzzards even though they have no research evidence of predation, just “…there does appear to be…” evidence of  “…a significant damage problem.” And thus they want to “identify management technique[s]…” to control buzzard predation.
– They would prefer “non-lethal” techniques.
It’s a little bit vague really isn’t it?

So what are these “non-lethal” techniques they want to study?
There are four techniques they want investigated.
– First: The use of vegetative or artificial cover for the pheasants such as refuges, brush piles or wigwams. I never thought the UK was short of any vegetative cover. It probably has much more than Ireland.
– Second: Diversionary feeding: where they leave out carcasses on posts, away from ground scavengers, for the buzzards for limited periods. Then you might end up attracting buzzards from everywhere or just keep them fed whilst the pheasants run into the bushes?
– Third: Translocation: Now that’s a nice word isn’t it. We don’t want you here so we will move you somewhere else. The problem is is that “somewhere else” is, and I quote “Permanent removal off-site, for example, to a falconry centre.” Yes, that’s it. Lock them up the dirty scoundrels. Sounds more like internment to me. Or even akin to Cromwells famous “To hell or to Connaught!” statement.
– Fourth: “Nest destruction”: I’ll just cut and paste what they say about this as it cannot really be summarised. “Breeding birds displaced by destroying nests during construction, for example, using squirrel drey-poking pole or shotgun from below thereby forcing the pair to move on to find another nest site or not breed that year. Care would be needed to avoid injuring birds.
They all sound like fascist techniques to me. In my mind they are similar to techniques used by a few notorious dictators in the first half of the 20th century, since then and even in use by dictators today. It could even be equated to certain ethnic cleansing techniques.

Where to go from here?
I am not totally against hunting. I fish and eat what I catch and firmly believe that eating what you hunt is alright when sustainable. Here in La Mancha hunting is big business and I have mentioned my views on this before and also when it affects our wildlife. I don’t believe in trophy hunting (Eh Juan Carlos? Eh?). I don’t believe in leaving lead pellets or cartridges, fishing tackle or rubbish around the country. 
The reaction on social networks such as Twitter and blogs today has been one of shock. Here’s what Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts in the UK, said:
“After years of persecution, people have welcomed the return of the buzzard to our countryside. The Wildlife Trusts are seriously concerned that this conservation success story could now be undermined, and will strongly oppose any attempt to weaken the protection afforded to this species. The fact the Government is considering these plans runs entirely counter to its aspirations for the recovery and restoration of nature. With our native wildlife facing so many pressures, Government should draw a line through plans to bully the buzzard.”

What can you do to help? 
Well there is a petition which you can sign here. Please, please do sign this and help stop this attack on wildlife in the UK. Who knows, it could set a precedent for similar actions in your own country?
Go birding and see buzzards in La Mancha, Spain with Oretani Wildlife.

One thought on “The Buzzards in DEFRA vs. the Buzzards in the Wild”

Comments are closed.

Translate »