Buzzard ‘management’ trial gets govt approval and £375K funding

So, while we’ve all been busy asking what the government plans to do about the imminent demise of the English hen harrier breeding population, the government has itself been busy putting together some funding, at the behest of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, to set up a trial to evaluate ‘management techniques’ to reduce the so-called ‘significant’ effect of buzzards on pheasant poults.

Yes, you read that correctly. DEFRA is interested in finding measures of controlling a native species (at the request of gamekeepers) that not only is recovering from past persecution (by gamekeepers), but still is undergoing illegal persecution (by gamekeepers) in the interests of protecting a non-native species that is reared and released (by gamekeepers) for people to kill for sport. Amazing.

It’s been estimated that over 40 million non-native pheasants are released in to the countryside each year, although it’s difficult to assess the accuracy of this number as there aren’t any limits on the number that can be released and there aren’t any reporting requirements for this to be monitored. What is clear is that the game shooting industry is undisputably linked to the continuing illegal persecution of birds of prey in this country and yet here is a government department basing a research decision solely on the opinion of some within that industry without a shred of scientific evidence to support their claims. [Interestingly, GWCT did a study a few years back on the fate of released pheasants; “Of 486 radio-tagged birds, we think three were killed by raptors” – see here. That’s 0.6%! Is that ‘significant’?].

So what does this trial entail? Basically, whoever is given the contract to conduct the research has to evaluate four different methods of buzzard management techniques:

1. Cut vegetative or artifical cover inside and outside pheasant-rearing pens. Provide shelters/refuges in the form of brash piles or wigwams. Possibly also wooden shelters/ refuges.

2. Diversionary feeding. Whole carcasses left on posts out of reach of ground predators. Type of carcass to be agreed with site owners. Provide for limited periods to reduce risk of increase in local buzzard population.

3. Translocation (permanent). Permanent removal off-site, for example, to a falconry centre. NE [Natural England] would be able to provide assistance for researchers in planning and licensing negotiations with potential recipients.

4. Nest destruction. Breeding birds displaced by destroying nests under 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.

The study is anticipated to last for up to three years and £125k per annum will be available to fund it. The study sites have not yet been formally identified but DEFRA is encouraging bidders to use ‘a site that consists of 6 shoots spread over an area of 2000-2400 hectares in Northumberland’. It is not yet known who has won the bid to conduct this research (bidding closed at the end of April) but we’ll be keeping a close eye out on that.

DEFRA does emphasise its interest in ‘non-lethal’ management techniques, at the moment at least, but I think we can all probably see where this is heading. Part of the justification DEFRA uses for this study is the increase in buzzard numbers from 1995-2009 (duh – of course they’re increasing as they recolonise areas where previously they had been wiped out). Are we getting to the stage where raptor fieldworkers should start thinking about witholding their field survey results? If this is what the government is using those data for then there’s quite a strong argument for it!

Here’s the background info provided by DEFRA to research bidders: Buzzard control experiment overview

STOP PRESS (Tues 22 May) – Many thanks to everyone who has tweeted and posted on Facebook and on their own blogs about this story. Our visitor numbers have sky-rocketed in response, no doubt helped by a certain Chris Packham (thanks, Chris!). Please keep spreading the word; DEFRA cannot be allowed to get away with this. RSPB will be issuing a statement tomorrow.

STOP PRESS (Weds 23 May) – go here to read RSPB response and find out what you can do to stop this trial.

63 thoughts on “Buzzard ‘management’ trial gets govt approval and £375K funding”

    1. They won’t do this on my land. I think it’s pretty disgusting that some shoot bury the birds they kill as there are too many. I don’t allow Wild Ways woodland to be shot. Wild life has to be protected somewhere…although there is only 80acres…it’s the best I can do. Elaine

  1. You are right Craig, absolutly disgusting. Where has the money to finance this come from – the gamekeepers association? It is begginning to look like we are returning to the dark ages!

    1. Er, that’ll be our money Chris (taxpayers) – and that’ll be our money used to ‘compensate’ the landowners who lose poults during this trial at the sites where no management techniques are being tested (the ‘control’ sites). That’ll be the same landowners who already receive our money (subsidies) for ‘looking after the land’. Good eh?

      1. My name is Colin Sutherland, the government love wasting money, l did research on Buzzards and other birds years ago, l offered my true finding free to DEFRA, not game keepers, accurate information, years of research studies. Buzzards do not take pheasant poults, it is new Game Keeping practices that are responsible for game bird reductions. l have been a keeper of Owls for over forty years, it is Owl populations that kill the odd pheasant chick, taking off the heads as they swallow food whole, l proved this also. The Buzzard is easy to blame. The keepers who still practice old rearing methods have very little problem with predatory birds, of course bad keepers what l call pheasant rearers will always blame Buzzards, because they cant be bothered to do the job they are paid to do properly, they are hopeless, in fact the good keepers want rid of the bad ones, because they give game keeping a bad name. Giving these people money is like giving blood to Dracula.

    2. what next! Horrified to read all of this. Too many greedy gamekeepers – they need controlling, and DEFRA getting too much of our (taxpayer) money to even think about funding such barbaric mindless goings on.

  2. Owes a lot to internal Tory politics. Cameron needs to keep his party, all wings of it, on-side, and has to pander to the huntin’ shootin’ fishin set. More worrying is how civil service departments take their lead from government policies- the govt has said that Buzzards are to be legally managed, therefore, DEFRA won’t devote a whole load of resources to catching or preventing anyone illegally ‘managing’ them.

  3. Government backed protected (sic) Raptor persecution by the backdoor, innocently funded by the taxpayer and watched over by our esteemed public funded wildlife gaurdians Natural England, (and presumably SNH) whilst hand in glove with DEFRA, also public funded. Have I missed anyone, oh yes, where is the RSPB while all this is going on ?

    1. Nirofo, RSPB is not listed in the Project Advisory Group (see the PDF in the text) but that’s not to say they won’t get involved. Remember the ill-fated sparrowhawk removal trial a couple of years ago, instigated by the Scottish Homing Union and endorsed by the Scottish Govt? RSPB raised the flag on this ‘study’ right from the word go (as did SNH), using their expertise to point out why the study was scientifically flawed and also probably illegal. See here:

      They were spot on, as the subsequent critique of the ‘study’ by the BTO showed only too clearly:

      It remains to be seen if RSPB will evaluate the current proposal but I for one sincerely hope they will.

  4. Astonishing, and the most worrying news I have read on this site for a long time. The thin end of a wedge and just what the gamekeeping industry need to legitimise their ‘management’ of many other raptor species.

  5. Someone correct me if Im wrong..[please]…but its my belief that none of the previous studies on buzzard predation of poults, both scientific and in questionnaires to gamekeepers, over the last 40 years or so…was able to show any significant problem of buzzard predation on live poults.
    If thats correct…then taxpayers money is being used to bolster an unsupported prejudice against an iconic native species…time to call in the opposition [and disgruntled coalition back benchers] politicians..even if they arent hugely interested in nature conservation Im sure they will be interested in pointing out financial waste.

    1. Think that’s correct. Where is the scientific evidence to demonstrate that buzzards have a ‘significant’ effect on pheasant poults? There isn’t any – if there was, DEFRA would have included it in their project spec. So, no scientific evidence but just the opinion of gamekeepers, who have a well-known intolerance of anything with talons and a hooky beak. Oh and they also ‘believe’ that sea eagles eat babies and small children.

      Where’s the study to examine the effect of releasing these millions of non-native species into the countryside? Where’s the study to quantify how many pheasants end up as roadkill?

  6. For years, these sorts have always portrayed themselves as the guardians of the countryside, and this just proves that they are in actual fact profiteering hypocrites with no concerns whatsoever about native wildlife. But then we all know that anyway.

    On the methodology itself, I have slight concerns about the fourth method in this proposed management trial. Just how many Buzzards will be shot “accidentally” during nest destruction? It will be argued that the marksmen will be experienced and accidental shooting will be an unlikely event, but it must also be considered that the marksmen will probably be the estate gamekeepers. Similarly, I have a feeling that the diversionary feeding option will only lead to a canned shoot and any Buzzard that dares drop into these sites will soon be lead-filled and lifeless. And compensation to those estates not involved in the trial? I can see it now with each estate losing hundreds or thousands of poults each year, leading to false compensation claims and further calls for culling measures.

    I knew it was only a matter of time before this vile Tory-led coalition would start to bring in such measures. I’m shocked that the RSPB are not a part of the advisory group but I would urge the RSPB, all decent conservation organisations and we as the taxpayer to take a stance against this. Horsefly and Horseshit are once again pandering to the law-breaking estate owners and if we don’t stop this now, there will be serious consequences for all our native wildlife.

  7. Yet again humans interfering with nature because it doesn’t ‘suit’. Makes me so mad. Plus where is the evidence that counts all the pheasant carcasses just left to rot once they have been shot!!

  8. It is not just raptors. Anything that threatens a pheasant is persecuted. Stoats, weasels etc. etc.
    Hard to see how that puting thousands of pheasants on the ground and systematically killing whatever would prey on them cannot have a detrimental effect on the balance of nature.

  9. Idea… find the main predator of these millions of introduced Pheasants, and wipe them out… oh, that will be the rich, the landed gentry, the business-man on his jolly-team-building-day-out, the Tory MP’s… heaven forbid!

  10. what kind of place is this? people live in poverty whilst they fund a luxury industry. Let the persecutors pay for their own suspect research and we are supposed to be sharing this planet….

  11. The Tories have a real fetish for killing things don’t they. First of all badgers, then trying to bring back fox hunting, and now beautiful birds of prey. The Tories = Friends of Thieves and Killers.

  12. This is just so criminal. My husband and I were recently commenting on the success of our raptors breeding. That we then cynically said ‘they’ would find some excuse to ‘cull’. Money and business is all that matters. And in a so called recession to allocate that amount of money for the destruction of a native species. Incredulous.

  13. Some of the buzzard management techniques will require a derogation from the Birds Directive. Derogation is only lawful provided there are no other satisfactory solutions and for the following reasons as described in Article 9:

    in the interests of public health and safety
    in the interests of air safety
    to prevent serious damage, in particular to crops, livestock, forests, fisheries and water
    for the protection of flora and fauna
    for the purposes of research and teaching, of re-population, of reintroduction and for the breeding necessary for these purposes
    to permit, under strictly supervised conditions and on a selective basis, the
    capture, keeping or other judicious use of certain birds in small numbers

    The no other satisfactory solutions test has clearly not been met. This is quite clear as there are measures, such as increasing vegetation height (does not require derogation), which are to be tested simultaneously alongside nest destruction and capture (does require derogation). It is also possible to argue that there are plenty of other alternative solutions. Significant impact has not been proven and why not just release a few more pheasants or shoot a few less?

    Neither does the trial appear to meet any of the reasons listed in Article 9. I am not aware that released pheasants can be considered livestock. Arguably the project could be construed as research, but this reason would not be valid when the intention is to use any successful techniques as part of a management solution with no link to research.

  14. It can only be the people who are on the shoots have influence in high places.

    Why else would this be happening?! I cannot quite believe it.

    Rearing birds to be shot is one thing. Actually moaning when these birds are taken instinctively as food is another. WTF do they expect?! The raptors were there first.

  15. Thanks for bringing this to the public attention, I’ve been tweeting all day long. The project spec has contact details on at DEFRA and I’ve just blogged urging everyone to email the gentleman concerned. The RSPB will be making a statement in the morning (via Stuart Housden on Twitter). We need to galvanise and take action to prevent the nest destruction option being included in the trial, it is totally unacceptable.
    I’ve also made a Freedom of Information Act request for details of the trial site in Northumberland and I will publish the details if I get them.

  16. How absolutely disgusting! However it doesn’t surprise me in the lightest from the shower of ***** that’s in charge!

  17. Dear DEAFRA

    Why don’t you spend this (our) money on investigating the decline (virtual extinction) of the English Hen Harrier? Or perhaps investigating why raptors are mostly absent as breeders on grouse moors? Or maybe why illegal persecution is still rampant despite nearly 60 years of legal protection?

  18. This is a direct result of the RSPB’s stubborn refusal to support sensible management of bird of prey populations.

  19. “It was Gimli the dwarf who broke in suddenly. “‘The words of this wizard stand on their heads… in the language of Orthanc help means ruin and saving means slaying….” ”

    In the language of Orthanc sensible management of birds of prey means slaughtering birds of prey.

  20. Please Everybody , just to let you know the RSPB, Hawk andOwl Trust and Northern England Raptor Study Groups are aware of what is going on hence the press statement tomorrow, all the groups are totally against the proposals and have representatives on the commitee that is fighting the cause of the buzzard, even if i have to chain myself to richard benyons office! i hope you will all back me. Please send as many letters expressing your disgust at such a move not just to him but also your local MPs.They will not win on this one.

  21. I have a pair of Common Buzzards nesting 50 metres from my house, beautiful birds Defra and the Gov should be ashamed

  22. One further thing to the above , my local buzzards are wonderful at controlling the rat and mice population, may they continue to thrive without persecution from idiots like the Gov and Defra and shoot landowners.

    1. That is exactly why we need raptors – to control the problems associated with everyday common mice and rats. Allow raptors to be decimated and the mice and rat populations will grow giving the country bigger potential disease and sanitation problems. Do we really want another bubonic plague? Allowing raptors through good conservation methods to act as a natural control over vermin is in my opinion cheaper than destroying raptors and trying to absorb the horrendous man hours and costs in trying to eradicate a potentially rapid increase in a disease and flea ridden vermin population that has got out of hand. Especially if it happens to tie in with bin men strikes and hot weather.

  23. This makes me sick. Why spend so much effort trying to fix something that isn’t broke, when the money could go into a project to manage an area of land to conserve one of the rarest raptors in the England, the Hen Harrier?
    Buzzards obviously have no affect on Pheasants and even if they take one or two what will it do to the population? Nothing! ¦:(

    1. Unfortunately, the way the government is thinking and spending now they wont change their priorities until it is too late for the hen harrier. To me this is destructive action rather than good management and conservation.

    1. Nice thought but wolves wouldn’t do it(not their style),perhaps special gamekeeper culling gamekeepers!

  24. Why does man have to seek to destroy, conquer or control everything around us, what will it be next… too many Crows making too much noise let’s have a cull. Why not have a cull of human beings, we have over-run this planet, raped it for our own usage, Pheasants are the upper classes Pigeons and Buzzards taking the odd one or two make no difference to Pheasant populations, the only difference is the the greedy and grasping people who seek to make money from blood sport. I was told by a friend who helps out as a loader for shoots, that on ONE day alone, over 1000 cartridges were used, and the shoot lasted five days. Who is the bigger destroyer of Pheasants..Buzzards or Man? If we do not want to see Pheasants being depleted the answer is simple, stop hunting them and stop blaming Buzzards for our greed.

  25. Isn’t it true that if a food source is significantly increased, artificially or otherwise, then the raptor numbers also increase?

    The problem is not the buzzard numbers – it is the activities of gamekeepers, artificially increasing the food source over and above that which is naturally sustainable.

    1. I agree wholeheardedly.
      Come on everyone let’s inundate Richard Benyon with our e-mails and tell him what we think of this dreadful proposal.

    2. Yes Barney , spot on…the release of millions of predator naive pheasants and the management of grouse moors to artificially boost grouse numbers are what upsets the “balance of nature”…not the obvious increase in raptor numbers in response [when they arent all immdeiately killed].In the very recent “good old days” [right up to the 80s] most shooting estates would simply kill all predators of gamebirds [despite the law]but after a mass of press and media and the odd prosecution in the last three decades, some shoots have left raptors alone, allowing for recent increases in raptor numbers.
      What a study like this proposed one will actually be about is trying to get back to those levels of overstocking of non natives which was achieved by illegal killing!

      I repeat…the best line of attack here is to get opposition politicians asking searching questions about Tories getting money for their toff pals [Cameron appears particularly sensitive on that] to carry out a study with little or no benefit to the wider economy…at a time when they are telling the world to tighten their belts. Hugely hypocritical.

  26. These actions are disguisting, to persecute a beautiful wild bird, so captively breed pheasants can be shot, just because some toff can get his jollies off.


  28. What do expect from a govenment that has so little understanding of the effects of their actions, this is discusting and denies basic ecological principles, not to mention economic……Oh why?

  29. This is a horrendously class fuelled blog, it has nothing to do with raptors but a ridiculously envisaged class differential which is blindingly obvious. If it were a working class group of apparent perpetrators this would not even see the light of day. Find another cause to full fill an obvious gap in your day.

    1. Wrong…this blog has everything to do with raptors…I fully accept that those who trap, poison and kill raptors or who are condoning and encouraging those crimes, may come from a wide variety of backgrounds [what does class actually mean in 2012?] – but to ignore the privileged landowning and traditional history of managed grouse shooting in any reasoned discussion would be ridiculous….The support for the ghastly buzzard removal/killing project was clearly driven by High Tories of the old school.

  30. Here w go again,Cameron, Defra , taking their orders from the NFU and the large landowners and “”sporting estates” Cameron looking after his mates in a vain attempt to save his doomed political life.

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