Natural England issues licence to destroy buzzard eggs & nests to protect pheasants

buzzard 3An article in The Guardian has revealed that the UK’s nature conservation agency, Natural England, has licensed the secret destruction of buzzard eggs and nests to protect a pheasant shoot.

This destruction, which took place in the last few weeks, was only revealed after a Freedom of Information request was made by the RSPB. According to the article, the National Gamekeepers Organisation was ‘closely involved in winning the licences and had threatened Natural England with judicial review if they were not granted’.

Given that the buzzard (and other raptors) are native species with supposed full legal protection, the RSPB is considering its legal options.

The location of the pheasant shoot has not (yet) been revealed, as Natural England stated the case was “emotive and sensitive” and cited “public safety”. Interestingly, this is the same argument the Scottish Government recently tried to use to hide the identities of seal-shooting salmon farms in Scotland. That decision was over-ruled last month by the Scottish Freedom of Information watchdog and the Scottish Government was forced to name the locations (see here).

Article in The Guardian here.

If you want to let DEFRA Minister Richard Benyon know how you feel about this disgusting precedent, email him at:

The RSPB’s Conservation Director, Martin Harper, has posted all the FoI documents on his blog here.

UPDATE 13.00hrs: Natural England has released what it calls a ‘mythbuster’ about this controversial licence here. The header is ‘Full details of buzzard nest control licence’, only it isn’t the ‘full details’ – the majority of the data have been redacted, which means we can’t assess the scientific evidence used by NE to approve this licence. Where’s the transparency?

If you want to email Natural England and tell them what you think about their decision to licence buzzard control, contact them at:

UPDATE 16.00hrs: An interesting update from the RSPB’s Martin Harper on DEFRA’s deceit here

UPDATE 18.30hrs: An excellent analysis of Natural England’s decision, written by blogger Alan Tilmouth here

UPDATE 22.00hrs: Further evidence, should you need it, that the UK’s government agency for nature conservation is sitting comfortably in the hands of the game-shooting industry – this is absolutely shocking – read it here.

56 thoughts on “Natural England issues licence to destroy buzzard eggs & nests to protect pheasants”

  1. This is truly disgusting – and typical of this government, pandering to the landowner lobby rather than complying with the law. Pheasant shooting is a ridiculous sport, and the whole process is so fake. This government is showing its public school background rather too clearly. Not listening to the experts on the pointlessness of badger culling either…

  2. All species be it birds, flowers or any natural endemic living form to this country should be be fully protected by the law and that of common sense. That a shoot that manages the environment by introducing birds for profit I would say cannot then use the law to protect it’s interests. It then sets a presidency in law that will be jumped upon by other shoots to do the same. It would be interesting if shoots during the breeding season opened themselves up to animal welfare inspections, as from my knowledge the first few weeks of the chicks been brought on there is a high mortality rate; which some will blame on other factors such as predators, whereas it is poor housekeeping. Though I will make the case that some shoots are both well run from both start to finish, with the gamekeeper having as much interest in the environment as their pheasents.

  3. Please, everyone, share this as widely as you possibly can, and email the Minister. Let’s swamp his inbox with outraged messages so he’s in no doubt at all that he’s done something despicable.

    1. Make a big fuss about this and share as much as possible because I’m sure there are lots of people who are affected by raptors who don’t realize they could be applying for a licence and you will be informing them.

  4. This truly is disgusting and despicable. After the public outcry earlier on about this very subject, the government has decided to carry out this action anyway, on the quiet. I do hope that the RSPB take this matter further.

  5. One question never asked is ‘How much tax do these shooting estates pay back to the government?’ Answer nil. So why do we still put up with the dribble we get about how much shooting is really worth!!

  6. I have written to the email address but received the following response.

    Your email has been sent to Richard Benyon’s constituency email address but this relates to his Ministerial role. Please resend to . Your email will not be read or responded to on this email account.

    This is just a generic defra account and he’ll never even see this. Does anyone have a better address that we could contact him on?

  7. Reading the FOI docs, it is a real tragedy that protected wild birds of prey have recently been caught, undoubtedly causing untold suffering and distress and placed into captivity because a free range chicken farm didn’t have the imagination or inclination to take more humane methods to protect their stock.

    As for the Government bowing down to the shooting industry and allowing protected birds to be destroyed, even before they have been born, I have no doubt that other estates across the country are looking at this very carefully and considering their move. Believe me, it will begin with destroying eggs and nests and then it will move onto the direct legal shooting of these birds and won’t take long before other raptor species will become legal fair game also. What a mockery this makes of the protection status of raptors in the UK when you can apply to legally destroy these birds, still in the egg or not, because you have released several thousand non-native pheasant onto your land for the purposes of shooting them for fun and profit and these protected birds of prey may then have the cheek to come down and take the occasional game bird.

    Shame on Natural England. I would be interested to know what evidence this offending estate presented to NE to obtain this license to destroy nests and eggs of a protected bird that is still recovering from historical persecution.

    If these incidents are allowed to slip by quietly then NE will see it as a green light to begin freely issuing more licenses. I believe that DEFRA, under the supervision of its minister, Richard Benyon (a shooting estate owner and avid shooter himself) is testing the water with these recently issued licenses and so it is more important than ever that it is made loud and clear to the Government that this sort of permission to slaughter protected raptors will not be tolerated.

    Public awareness is often key, as the shooting lobby, Countryside Alliance and NE will try desperately to keep this information away from the public and play the issue down if they can. The shooting industry will continue to demonise birds of prey, probably more so over the coming months, on the back of this information being released. This is a typical historic move by blood-sporting people who are seeking public approval to kill an animal they want rid of, often for the purposes of profit and or pleasure.

    Time to turn up the volume…

  8. This just goes to show the depths that the people running our country have sunk to when they can allow this kind of disgusting thing to take place with our so-called protected wildlife. It has to be stopped and it has to be stopped now before there’s no birds of prey left, we can’t trust our natural environment protection agencies, AKA SNH/NE when it’s obvious they are totally controlled by their puppetmasters in the government and don’t give a hoot for protected wildlife. We need to the change public perception about the way they are systematically destroying everthing that we hold sacred, awareness among ourselves is all well and good but it is not getting out to the wider general public just how bad the situation has become at the hands of these unscrupulous people. We need to shout a lot louder to anyone in a position to broacast it nationally. It’s obvious that it’s a waste of time and effort talking to your local member of parliament, they’re no better than the rest of them, they need to be severely ebarrassed publicly, shown up for what they really represent, “THEMSELVES” and to hell with the rest of us !!!

  9. where does it say that this occurred on a pheasant shoot?

    [Ed: Read the FOI docs – all the detail is there, apart from the important details that NE has redacted]

  10. This is a disgrace. It’s not that long ago that buzzards started to recover in this country. Now they want to destroy them so that they can shoot other poor defenceless little birds. Heathens the lot of them.

  11. My anger got the better of me, and this is what I wrote to Richard Benyon:

    ” Dear Sir,

    I write to protest against the wildly skewed notion that non-native birds (pheasants) should be protected from predation by native raptors (Buzzards).

    Where economic profits from shooting this introduced, non-native pheasant take precedence over occasional loss by predation, something has gone very wrong indeed.

    So, if it had been an Otter that took the pheasants, would they have been trapped/shot/poisoned ?

    What kind of mentality does it take for a body that calls itself ‘Natural’ England to issue a licence to destroy Buzzard nests, wherever they may be ?

    The same mentality that allows the Hen Harrier population to become almost extinct in England because of rich landowners and flaming grouse shoots, all for money.

    You’re sick, the lot of you. ”

    End. They ARE sick, with greed and corruption. It’s insanity.

    Did anybody pick up that Merlin nesting sites are increasing in altitude at a mean of 30 metres per year ?

    Not sure where they’ll nest in 20 years . . .

  12. This is what I wrote to the Defra email address:
    Dear Sir,

    I’m emailing to express my complete disgust at the secret issuing of destruction licences and carrying out these actions recently. This is completely outrageous to destroy a natural predator to this country that is just recovering from years of persecution and is still killed illegally on a regular basis, in order to just protect a pheasant game shoot (a non-native species in the UK). This is blatantly money oriented and the government, Natural England and Defra should be ashamed for destroying our wildlife.

    I hope sincerely that the next government doesn’t give you such free reign to decimate our wildlife! Shame on you all.

  13. what a load of bollocks its to make sure the rich idle barstards get their sport . buzzards dont make a bit of difference to the pheasant population

  14. I thought you Natural England was here to help protect all species of animals especially ones that were once on the endangered list. Makes me wonder who got the back hander this time from some rich bastard who all he wants to do is KILL Birds, Foxes and Badgers. What next the Peregrine Falcon, Goshawk, Honey Buzzard Hen/Marsh Harriers or even Barn Owls. Natural England and those prat’s known as DEFRA should be ashamed. Come on UKIP get a bloody move on and get rid of these C***S

  15. Only a few months ago DEFRA attempted to introduce killing buzzards on pheasant shoots. There was a public outcry with twitter, FB etc. buzzing with the scandal and MP’s inboxes filled with a constant stream of emails and letters from an outraged general public.

    So when they are faced with this level of public pressure, what do they do? keep it quiet for a few months then just do it anyway but on the sly!

    How can these so called public servants be trusted? ?

    The public have spoken, we do not want to see our endemic wildlife killed to protect introduced species which are only released for the sole reason of being shot !

    It beggars belief that we should as a nation be killing our native raptors so that more introduced game birds can be killed for sport.

  16. Absolutely disgusting. Natural England should be ashamed of themselves and I am quite convinced people should lose their jobs over this. I will be emailing NE and DEFRA soon, and I will be contacting my MP about NE’s disgraceful decision.

    I haven’t had time to go through all the documents, but there is a very interesting section in 2728.LicenceA. In section 4 (Background Information), there is a considerable section that has been redacted under Previous Convictions, so it would appear that the applicant has a number of crimes against his name. It’s interesting to learn that the National Gamekeepers Organisation are supporting a known criminal. I wonder how many crimes were carried out by this person whilst working as a gamekeeper?

    But onto the perceived problems and an incredibly simple remedy that will easily stop predation – put a feckin’ roof on the pens! It doesn’t have to be ornate in any way, even simple slatting would suffice, provided the gaps did not allow any predatory birds through. Simple remedies and easily sourced, but their bloodthirsty ways and their long-established hatred for predators far outweighs a sensible and simple approach that could easily eliminate the conflict.

  17. Just reading more on this same document, and there really is a lot of nonsense in it. Quite why NE agreed to this is anybody’s guess, but here are a couple of excerpts;

    “The applicant claims that in addition to actual predation, the raptors force his poults out of the pen areas and “home” woods, making them vulnerable to other risks such as road traffic and exposure to extreme weather.”

    Yes, that’s right, Pheasants being killed on roads is down to raptors chasing them out onto the roads. FFS!

    “He also states that after predation attacks the poults remain under cover and only come out to feed and water when he is present, with a resultant risk to welfare and loss of condition, which will also adversely affect longer term survival.”

    Surely this is an inbuilt survival mechanism? And if there is a problem with avian predators, then put a roof on the pen(s)!

    “The applicant ?????????? has a duty to look after his poults welfare responsibly, and also remain within the law (i.e. the Animal Welfare Act 2006 which imposes a duty of care). ?????????? that being unable to defend them from raptor predation is putting the poults‟ welfare at risk.”

    I’m not sure if this has been suggested, but you could put a roof on the pens!

    “The applicant feels he loses few birds to straying…” and “None of the release pens are adjacent to or near to roads and losses to road traffic is not seen as being a contributory factor in the losses, as there are few roads crossing the shoot areas and the few roads present are quiet rural roads.”

    Then what was that bit about “raptors force his poults out of the pen areas and “home” woods, making them vulnerable to other risks such as road traffic and exposure to extreme weather” about? This is a major contradiction, so was this person exaggerating, or even deliberately lying about the effects predators have on the poults? Worryingly, this lie has been accepted without question (10. Conclusions and Justification for Recommendation, under Summary, point 7) – “The presence and constant chasing of poults by buzzard and sparrowhawk has caused the poults to abandon some release sites.”

    Under the deterrents section, it is stated that a number of devices were trialled, including brash wigwams (which were evidently not used correctly), car radios, gas guns, a scarecrow, flashing lights and reflective CDs and (non-reflective!) reflective tape. The applicant stated that the most efficient deterrent was human presence, but time constraints limited the amount of time he could spend at the pens. Here’s another idea that could work – put a roof on the pens, you twat!

  18. On the same document (2728.LicenceA), I am having some trouble with the Recommendations section towards the end. The following section categorically states that NE were, at one time, going to grant the licence enabling this pheasant farm to kill 4 Buzzards.

    Common buzzard – (Cage trapping and) Shooting
    It is recommended that a licence is issued to the applicant to permit cage trapping (using a trap baited with dead bait initially, then live bait if dead bait fails – see above) and shooting 4 common buzzards. The licence period should not extend beyond 30 April to minimise the risk of dependent chicks being left in nests. If action during this spring period was unsuccessful, a secondary late summer / autumn licence period could be considered.

    It also appears that NE caved in because the NGO threatened them with Judicial Review. Now, if a much larger organisation with true conservation values at its core were to threaten the same organisation, we would have a much healthier countryside.

  19. Some more sections that could be deemed contardictory. In 2728, it mentions “The applicant also claims that spring pair counts for grey partridge numbers are also falling on the shoots and again the applicant attributes this fall to predation by common buzzard and sparrowhawk.” yet in document 0042 the applicant states “I am prepared to try it this year at the ??????? location (although I am not paid to work there in spring)”. So, if he doesn’t work here in the spring, how can he possibly know that Buzzards and Sparrowhawks are responsible for falling partridge numbers? And if he doesn’t work here in the spring, why is he applying for licences to shoot and trap Buzzards and Sparrowhawks during the spring? Is this yet another case of a gamekeeper lying about predators and their effects?

    Again, in 2728, it states “The applicant has previously described there being at least one active buzzard nest site being located at each of his pens, with typical numbers of buzzards at each pen being between 2 and 5. More recently, five buzzard nests are reported across the ??? shoots, including one at either end ?????????.” Compare this “knowledge” or “evidence” with the following applicant’s statement, when it is suggested that nest destruction be preferred to killing; “but if I find that either I cannot locate the nests, physically destroy them with heavy shot, or that doing so makes no significant difference to the presence of raptors in the area, I wish to be able to proceed immediately to lethal control.” Surely, being such an expert in Buzzards and their local breeding habits, he would be able to find the nests? Or is it a simple case of another gamekeeper’s unhealthy desire to kill anything predatory, regardless of the truth?

    Here’s another example of the wanton desire to kill protected species; “therefore, it is my case that with the doubtful exception of destroying early attempts at nesting, all other reasonable non-lethal solutions have been tried and/or shown to be ineffective at ????????? and that there are now no satisfactory alternatives to lethal control.”, which, judging by the evidence presented in 2728, is not strictly true. He did not carry out habitat improvement works correctly, he didn’t use the correct tape and preventative measures such as roofing were not tested at all. I think this gamekeeper is a downright liar (and presumably a criminal), and his lies are deceitful attempts by his industry and vile organisations such as the NGO to get protected raptors onto the general licence list of species.

    And yet another example; “Lethal control of the raptors likely to cause further serious damage in 2013 is now the only reasonable option at ????????. In law, a licence to carry this out “cannot be unreasonably witheld”. The NGO says it will take refusal to Judicial Review.” And there are the threats (and more lies).

    Again, in 2728, there is obviously something in the Previous Convictions section (10 lines redacted), but in 0042, there is no mention of the applicant having been convicted of any wildlife-related or animal welfare offence. Now this could well be the case, but if this section has not been completed correctly, or if the applicant has deliberately withheld information, then the licence should be revoked. There must be a whistleblower at NE that desperately wants this information to come out?

  20. Now onto document 5187, and yet more lies; “Losses to sparrowhawks and buzzards last year were catastrophic. I was finding carcases every day, sometimes five or more. I would estimate that 200 poults were lost to raptors in total…”

    Now, let’s go over those figures. If he was finding carcases every day, then that would equate to a bare minimum of 365 in a year, and more if he was sometimes finding five or more on some days, yet he estimated that 200 were lost to raptors in total. There’s something wrong with those figures…ah, I think I’ve got it…he’s a liar!

    And on Licence B, document 0841, we have more examples of lie and exaggeration. Here, the applicant states that Buzzards are responsible for 1 or 2 hens every day, all year. So if we make that an average of 1.5 a day, that could easily be translated as 547 per year, but the actual predation rate for 2012 was given as 101 (document 1033). It’s amazing how easily these people exaggerate the problems.

  21. Brilliant Marco McGinty. There’s job coming up at as head of Natural England. Are you going to go for It?

    1. I’m quite happy to speak my mind, and I’m now firmly of the belief that I’m not allowed any job in the conservation industry, and this is almost certainly the case with one of the conservation charities!

  22. Dear Minister
    How could this happen! Persecution of raptors in this enlightened day and age is despicable. Some heads must roll.

  23. All raptor workers in England should carry out a total boycott on Natural England until these licences are revoked – no invites to raptor group meetings or conferences, no licence applications and most importantly no raptor information – which they need to fulfil the governments obligations under the EC Birds Directive. Do not allow yourselves to be part of this corrupt system and be party to the cowardice of those runnning this travesty of a “conservation” agency. They have shown themselves to be utterly beyond the Pale with this action..there can be no excuses.

  24. Please write to Ed Milliband and ask him why he has not attacked this fascist party about their policies and while you are at it ask Lib Dam how they can support such a government!

  25. Did NE do any independent analysis of this gamekeeps claims?? – I can find very little evidence that they did. There now needs to be a thorough review of NE’s licence system as it appears a serious credibility issue has arisen which could seriously jeopardised raptor conservation in this country. I would also like to know more about the role of the NGA in all this and what legal advice NE got(if any) got in this particular case.

    Hopefully this shameful espisode will serve as wakeup call for the RSPB and other genuine conservations bodies to act fast on the growing concerns about NE in the area of raptor conservation and the increasingly malign role of certain politically powerful vested interests appear to be having when it comes to shaping the direction of such issues in the UK at every level within the state apparatus.

  26. Can somebody tell me what has happened to the further research needed, as promised by our lying government when this issue last raised its ugly money making head, that has not taken place?????????

  27. Back to my last comment, should we not be emailing the Prime Minister and the Environment Minister at Westminster asking about the missing research! No doubt we would get more lies but at least then our feelings would be known.

  28. News has just reached me indicating that Common Buzzards may be controlled as it is said that they impact negatively upon Pheasant populations. This news is sickening and those that allow this kind of action to go ahead should hang their heads in shame.
    Common Buzzards are increasing in my home county of Norfolk as they are indeed in other parts of the British Isles. This is a welcome increase following decades of persecution – now ‘legal persecution’ is considered which i find disgusting.

    The British countryside has been sculptered and managed by man for the benefit of man, we see tens of thousands of acres of monoculture with insecticides, pesticides, and herbicides used in order to create a better yield, We continue to see destruction of hedges, the filling in of ponds, and clearance of valuable scrubby areas used for other birds and wildlife.

    Birds armed with talons and hooked bills have always been fair game for some gamekeepers because it is considered they are destructive on gaming estates. Pheasants and Partridges are raised in their thousands each year and the impact that raptor species have upon game is minimal.

    Please remember, we do not own the countryside, we share it with all other wildlife, Buzzard numbers will plateau, their numbers will not get out of control.

    Let’s consider the destructive effect upon the British countryside of humans and control this before taking it out upon wildlife.

    Paul Newport

  29. Suspect many gamekeepers will see this as a green light to full-on raptor persecution (if they hadn’t already).
    Just who is calling the shots at Natural England? I’m lost for words….

  30. Just found out about this despicable crime only such people could get away with this Shame on them all I will email any one who will listen

  31. In any other country this would be classed as organised crime, corruption through out the system, a government department acting alone and against all advice. we should expect arrests, we should expect people to be sacked or to resign before they are sacked. I,ve spoke to local shooting lads who were just as amazed as me on hearing this and are just as sick and tired of shooting being dragged once again into the mud by these out of ttouch idiots. once again truely sickened by the acts of the classless neady greedy

  32. Thanks for posting Jimmy. Perhaps if the rest of the population threatened to break laws that they don’t like, they will get their own way as well!

  33. This makes me angry as it will all be to do with the gaming industry !! What a load of hypocrites where they raise birds just to be shot and Buzzards Can be quite lazy and look for carrion ! Typical of these so called experts .

  34. Isn’t it about time this so called “greenest government ever” start to follow through with its promises they made over four years ago. All wildlife should be protected and not killed for the protection of pointless sports like pheasant shooting. All hunting or shooting animals for sport should be banned. That would be the civilised thing to do.

  35. How have they got the nerve to call themselves a conservation agency when they are destroying nature so the farmers and rich land owners can do what they want without opposition. They are a disgrace and should close down forthwith. If my memory serves me, the last thing they wanted to do was kill Robins and destroy their nests. What a load of profiteers. They are obviously funded by the government which means the money comes from us. I say shut them down now and let the proper conservation agencies have their funding.

  36. RSPB…If may I ask… What’s the difference between using a gun to kill a buzzard or killing it before it hatch !?? THIS IS INSANE !!! And then you come in others homeland to ‘protect’ these birds ass**** !!

  37. So poor am I at finding the latest news on Raptor Persecution Scotland that I’ve only just discovered this item via another website! I’ll have to find out why I’m finding RPS so difficult to consult. However, to say I’m gobsmacked at this item is an understatement. The propensity of interested parties to tell downright lies doesn’t surprise me any more, and after this one neither does the naivety of civil servants to fall for them. It doesn’t bear thinking about that complicity may be involved, but that wouldn’t surprise me either, in what I have watched during my lifetime growing into an extreme ultra-conservative society. In England and Scotland, it seems to me that both NE and SNH are running scared of the Countryside Alliance movement, and even in Scotland the relatively socialistic Scottish National Party Government seems to have intimidated its conservation advisory body into not upsetting the gun-toting Friends of the Establishment. Even our largest NGO, the RSPB, in my opinion panders to the blood-sports fraternity and reassures them at every opportunity.

    I don’t have an awful lot to add to what has already been stated in this article and by commenters, except well done Alan Tilmouth, Marco McGinty, Raptor Persecution Scotland and others for such an informative and expert analysis of this sorry tale. There is however one myth which I’d like to dispel, as conveyed in the opening paragraphs of the Natural England ‘mythbuster’ press release:

    “The recovery of the common buzzard population in England is a fantastic conservation success story and we should celebrate the fact that they can regularly be seen soaring above the countryside in most areas of the country. Most recent population figures by the Avian Population Estimate Panel (APEP) estimate the number of territorial breeding pairs of common buzzard in the UK as between 57,713 and 80,012.”

    I’d be more than happy to be proven wrong, but as a longstanding Scottish County Recorder, I think I’ve done more than most to collect sufficient data on Buzzard population changes to make the following statement. I have to qualify of course that my estimates are based on a limited geographical area (extending from mid Argyll to southwest Scotland), but I have reason to believe that they reflect a picture which extends elsewhere in Scotland and probably into northern England at least. My data should remove any case for complacency about the current status of Buzzard throughout the UK.

    The recovery and expansion of Buzzards from around 1980 to 2007 was indeed remarkable. To what degree this was “a fantastic conservation success story” is largely unknown and debatable. I believe that contributory factors were a general reduction in grazing due to several agricultural step changes, and perhaps connected, a widespread ‘vole plague’ (Field Voles) of possibly unequalled and unfortunately under-recorded proportions throughout much of Scotland and Northern England. This led to a notable increase in breeding productivity and populations of vole specialists like Barn Owls, Short-eared Owls, and most noticeably due to their diurnal behaviour, Kestrels and Buzzards. It is possibly also the reason why Ravens expanded their range and increased during the same period. Casual observers and birders appear to have noticed a recent shortage of Kestrels, and my data show a widespread reduction in Kestrel sightings of a staggering 92% between 2004 and 2013, following an increase of 218% between 1994 and 1998. This was almost certainly due to a near-universal (within my recording area) crash in the vole population after 2004. Everyone has noticed the steady rise in Buzzard numbers which occurred between 1988 and 2007 (approximately 25-fold in my extended study area), but few have noticed a decline which has occurred widely since then. In my area the decline has amounted to a highly significant 67% in seven years! This was based upon a total of 1,709 systematic observations, and annual breeding surveys in a study area extending to 100 square kilometres.

  38. Had a reply from Mr Benyon and apparently this has nothing at all to do with him, he sounded upset by it all!

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