Rural bodies clash over plan to destroy buzzards' nests
Conservationists have locked horns with the Government over “shocking” plans that would allow buzzard nests to be destroyed to protect pheasant shoots.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is to spend up to £375,000 researching ways to keep buzzards from targeting captive-reared pheasants, which are not native to the UK.
Proposed methods include destroying nests to prevent birds breeding, catching and relocating buzzards to places such as falconry centres or providing alternative food sources for the predators.
The RSPB said the idea of taking wild buzzards into captivity or destroying their nests was “totally unacceptable”, and criticised Defra for spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on the project when money was tight for conservation measures.
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RSPB conservation director Martin Harper said: “Destroying nests is completely unjustified, and catching and removing buzzards is unlikely to reduce predation levels, as another buzzard will quickly take its place. Imprisoning buzzards or destroying their nests, when wildlife and economic interests collide, is totally unacceptable.”
The Countryside Alliance welcomed the study although its shooting campaign manager David Taylor, added that the study had been “an expensive exercise” commissioned “to appease a group of people who believe that raptors have a greater significance than any other bird”.
In a document setting out plans for the project, Defra said the 2011 National Gamekeepers Organisation survey found that 75% of gamekeepers believed buzzards had a harmful effect on pheasant shoots.
Buzzard populations soared by 146% between 1995 and 2009, although numbers have since levelled off. They are thought to target pheasants if they find there is a readily available source of food and the Government’s conservation agency Natural England has received a number of requests to license the killing of the bird of prey, which is a protected species.
In one case it was claimed up to 30% of young pheasants were lost to buzzards, making the shoot unsustainable. But the RSPB said buzzards were eradicated from swathes of Britain by persecution and were only now recovering, as a result of legal protection a change in attitude in landowners.
Nigel Middleton, of the Hawk and Owl Conservation Trust, said destroying the nests of buzzards was tantamount to persecution, adding: “We believe that alternatives should always be sought to lethal control where the commercial interests of humans come into conflict with birds of prey.”
Defra said it was seeking funding to protect pheasants while “making sure the buzzard population continues to thrive”.