Birdwatch News Archive
Common Buzzard's recovery has not been universally popular, and the shooting estates are lobbying for the right to remove them if they are shown to take Pheasants in any numbers. Photo: Steve Young (birdsonfilm.com).
Buzzard trial controversy
Posted on: 22 May 2012
DEFRA is planning to use up to £125,000 of tax-payers' money per year to fund trial Common Buzzard management techniques on behalf of gamekeepers, to reduce the alleged effect of buzzards on Pheasant numbers.
The controversial trial appears to have been proposed at the behest of gamekeepers and shooters on the grounds of opinion, as there is no published evidence to indicate that Common Buzzards seriously affect pheasant numbers and their main prey item nationally is known to be European Rabbit.
Our native true buzzard species has spent decades recovering from a severe population decline and range retraction at a cost of untold millions of conservation pounds, this decline being largely due to persecution. Pheasant is an introduced species, and more than 40 million are released annually for the purposes of commercial shooting, though many now survive ferally at an unknown cost to our native gamebirds such as Grey Partridge (competition and the spread of disease between these two species appears to have been unstudied, at least publicly). Buzzards are still absent from some of their natural British range, but are gradually spreading into former haunts despite illegal persecution still persisting in many parts of the country, mostly on shooting estates.
A survey by the National Gamekeepers Organisation, which has an interest in DEFRA's proposals, showed "that 76 per cent of gamekeepers believe that buzzards have a harmful effect on gamebirds", although these beliefs are unsupported by anything other than anecdote; a mountain of ecological evidence – including previous studies of buzzard 'take' – points to the numbers of prey species controlling the numbers of predators, and though some released Pheasants will be taken, numbers will be negligible or statistically insignificant. DEFRA quotes 25-30 per cent of Pheasant 'poults' (juveniles) being lost to buzzards, though no reference is given. No survey appears to have been performed in the number of Pheasants killed by traffic, which must almost certainly account for far more gamebird corpses and might be more worthy of investment from the public purse.
Common Buzzard is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the EU Wild Birds Directive, though licences for lethal control can be issued when there is a serious threat to gamebirds "in certain circumstances".
DEFRA recommends "non-lethal approaches" and outlines several techniques to protect Pheasant poults. These include providing twig shelters, the provision of carcasses as "diversionary feeding", trapping and permanent translocation, and nest destruction by poking or shotgun – care will be taken to avoid injuring birds, says DEFRA. However, the potential results of the trial are unlikely to be genuinely scientific and could be used to enable landowners to locally cull Common Buzzards, in a worst-case scenario. The BTO is listed as one of the project's advisors, but the RSPB has not yet got involved publicly.
DEFRA says that "the overall aim of the study is to develop mitigation techniques that significantly reduce predation levels", and have encouraged Pheasant estates to tender for a contract if they have six shoots spread over 2,000-2,400 ha in Northumberland. Bidding closed at the end of April, and the successful estate will receive the substantial sum of up to £125,000 per year for the three years the trial is expected to run.
You can read more about the proposals in DEFRA's open document.
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