‘Are buzzards now vermin?’ asks Country Life magazine

buzzard3The campaign against raptors is relentless. It seems barely a week goes by without someone having a go, whether it be a high profile politician, a high profile journalist, or a high profile [and self-appointed ‘countryman’, whatever that is] – see here for a few examples.

This week, following the astonishing claims of an MSP that the golden eagle reminds people of Nazis and is therefore an unsuitable choice for a national bird (see here), we come back to the more typical claim that buzzards are vermin and need to be ‘controlled’; a view (mantra?) repeated with tedious frequency by those with a vested interest in game-shooting and always, always based on prejudice rather than scientific evidence.

If you can be arsed to read it, it’s here. The first half of the debate is by a gamekeeper in southern England and the second half is by the RSPB’s Conservation Director.

See if you can spot the unintentional irony in the gamekeeper’s article – you’ll find it nestled in between all the inaccuracies.

21 thoughts on “‘Are buzzards now vermin?’ asks Country Life magazine”

  1. I am sickened to see that poor murdered bird in the photo. How could anyone with any conscience live with themselves, perpetrating such a disgusting act of cruelty?

  2. Tis a pity that buzzards aren’t nocturnal – this way we wouldn’t have to listern to the usual endless droning rubbish from the pheasant botherers

  3. There is a simple answer to the question is a resounding No. However the attitude behind such articles and language used is stoking the moves to get the Buzzard, a magnificent if now common bird, into a legal position where it can be killed. It also of course suggests to those so inclined that current persecution is desirable, normal and well, only slightly illegal. To be frank the arguments are usually bollocks and put forward by the game lobby who seem to think that natural balance is something they have a right to set—- they don’t and nor do they get predator prey relationships at all. Its the sort of tripe we might expect in most of the gutter shooting press but I am a little (only a little) surprised at Country Life.

    Paul Irving

  4. [ The Country Life site would not let me post this]:

    I have three points to make:

    1) Mr Whitby seems unaware that the prime control on any wild population of predator species is the availability of their prey. Where the prey becomes (naturally) scarce, the population either will either move elsewhere or will fail to thrive. This is a fundamental to functioning ecosystems.

    2) The scavenging behaviour of buzzards is as important to the natural cycle as any other factor. Without effective scavenging, the carcases of animals that are left to rot are breeding grounds for disease as well as encouragement for the flourishing of other predatory / scavenging animals, such as foxes. The scale of release of young birds, their flawed incapacity for survival in what is, in truth, an alien and unnatural environment, together with the poor standard of shooting & recovery, means that a very big proportion of the released birds become carrion and need to be dealt with in a natural way (by carrion eaters).

    3) All “hunting” carried out by humans in the United Kingdom is on a scale that would be unsupportable in a natural environment. The scale of release of young birds for the purposes of “hunting” would not be permitted under any other circumstances without close scrutiny and special licencing, which means that the “hunting” “industry” is afforded special privileges not made easily available to other interest groups, largely as an inherited perk dating back to the aristocratic origins of the”sport”. Realisation that they enjoy a privilege should make the participants all the more aware that their privileges could be taken away if continuously abused to the cost of the ecosphere. It is high time that the proponents of the “hunting” “industry” began to conform to the duties concomitant with their privileges. (Noblesse Oblige)

  5. The simple answer is “NO”
    The real vermin in the countryside is the millions of farm raised pheasants being released in ever increasing numbers, the shameful truth is the GWCT knows this but wont commit itself to comment, preferring to lay the blame on anything and everything else
    A couple of weeks ago on this blog I commented Pheasants were responsible for the decline in the Grey Partridge. I got no reply, Go on the GWCT website and read about the Royston project. By making everything suitable for Grey Partridge they managed to get numbers up to 18 pairs per hundred hectares, this was by extra feeding and providing extra game cover and legal predator control. to achieve this and so they could continue shooting they limited released pheasants to just a few hundred.
    This project is incomplete. For scientific purposes to complete this project they should now replicate what is happening elsewhere across the country, they should release what their own website recommends, that would be to release 2000 pheasants per hundred hectares and 1000 Red legged Partridge per 100 Hectares, do that for a few years then count how many of the 18 pairs of Grey Partridge remain in those same hundred hectares.
    The simple answer is that pheasants are now vermin and the simple truth is that ignorance is the biggest threat to our Countryside today

  6. I managed to post the following comment:

    I think that the argument numbers are excessive and that a balance needs to be restored doesn’t make sense.

    If mumber were excessive then they would fail to thrive through starvation and competition for habitat, and a balance would be restored naturally. We do not need to intervene in natural processes.

    I think on the contrary, what we are seeing is a restoration of population to sustainable levels.

    If, as suggested, one of the reasons for the increased numbers is the release of non-native species into the countryside by the shooting industry with the consequent knock on effect on other native birds, then surely the solution is simple – reduce the numbers of non-native birds released?

    Taken to the logical conclusion, is the release of non-native birds harming our native wildlife?
    Read more at http://www.countrylife.co.uk/news/article/532020/Are-buzzards-now-vermin-.html#WLCEvF7VeOiKgSMb.99

  7. My concern with Buzzards ( and I love them ) is the species they are muscling out. For the first thirty years of my birding life, I had to travel an hour in a car to see them, now there are half a dozen pair breeding within walking distance. Where once 5-6 pair of Long-eared owl bred, there are none, a similar story with the local Sparrowhawk and Kestrel populations, similarly the Tawny owl populations have dropped. It may not be the competition for food, that governs this trend afterall the corvid population (mostly Carrion crow ) is quite stable and Ravens have begun to breed again but historical territorys have now been usurped by the bigger bird.
    Interestingly two local shoots which had held Sparrowhawks that prospered now hold breeding Buzzard, both shoots hold released Pheasant and raptors are tolerated.

    1. We need to be very careful about making assumptions about the reasons for these declines, Tawny Owl and Long-eared Owl have also suffered declines in areas where Common Buzzard are far from common. I find it hard to believe that they would have such a huge impact on these species as they are mainly nocturnal.
      Sparrowhawks also seem to be on a downward trend in some areas here again without the pressures of a much increased Common Buzzard population, there are also places where they two species seem quite able to co-exist despite a heavy density of Common Buzzard.

      As an opportunist predator, I don’t doubt that Common Buzzard will take the young of these species given a chance, but I doubt very much whether it is having any real effect on population, more likely to be driven by other factors.

    2. Well there you have it…the whole problem in one comment…firstly the jumbled up thinking on raptor ecology whereby every local observation is taken to represent a whole ecological/geographical truth..”it seems to be like this here..therefore it must be like this everywhere”. What the hell, I’ll join in..where I live in Dumfriesshire there have always been buzzards, right back in the 80s there were buzzards, when the Borders and Lothians were a buzzard desert…there are still loads of buzzards but there are also visible sparrowhawks and kestrels..the latter seem to be showing a welcome return…there’s also been a considerable drop on pheasant numbers released, although now some idiot is releasing redlegs.Conclusion?…a simple person would say there are more kestrels because we’ve got less pheasants…
      ..But the real issue is not folks guessing about complex ecology, its when they take that extra step and kill because of their “theories”….the word that got me angry enough to comment here is “tolerated”. Ive been hearing that word since I started in full time conservation in 1981…what it actually means is “to hell with your Laws, I know best, I will choose what lives and dies on my ground and no one’s going to stop me..I have a theory, you townies know nothing”.
      For all of you who read this blog and repeatedly ask “why do people commit these dreadful crimes against birds of prey?”…remember that one hateful word..”tolerated”…its a sign of deep ignorance, utter arrogance and points to widespread criminal activity, carrying on on shooting estates.

  8. Agree with all of the above..so now it must be time to add licensing pheasant and red-legged partridge releases into the environment. How about no shooting for a year in the same area they are released, as I believe is the law in Germany?…and a limit to the numbers releasable by hectarage in any one year [or suitable time period]?…could be added to the law confirming licensing of shooting estates…which must surely be coming, given the continuing almost total disregard for bird protection laws, seen at present.
    In my view all red-legged partridge release in Scotland should be banned, it seems to be increasing exponentially..these birds are not suited to our northern environment, quite apart from any competition [grey partridge for instance] problems they cause.

  9. Cigfran, the return of the buzzards cannot be blamed for the reduction of other predatory species. The species you mentioned have different feeding niches to the buzzard which has less well developed hunting prowess of small mammals, etc., than the owls, falcons and hawks. It is, once again, how humans interrupt natural processes that causes these population changes.

    1. John Thatcher I realise that! it was just a local observation of an area I grew up in and will be very different to other such areas. The owls that have now gone occupied marginal land of little value that has remained unaltered for decades but hey what is up with having a little local knowledge of an area and sharing it.

      1. Unfortunately it’s the lack of knowledge that is the problem here Cigfan not the sharing of local knowledge. You don’t actually know what has caused the declines (if indeed there are any), you have assumed it is due to Buzzard, although as I stated earlier it is highly unlikely to be the Buzzard that have caused this. Owl species on the whole have had a bad few years, most likely due to the weather and perhaps a shortage of small mammals more recently, they also have other issues to contend with such as habitat management, secondary poisoning and persecution.
        It only fuels the anti Buzzard rhetoric if you place the blame for these declines on the increased Buzzard population. There are plenty of studies on these species but I have yet to see any evidence that suggests Common Buzzard might be the reason for the declines.
        I have attended two local talks from wildlife photographers lately, where both speakers repeated such claims and yet their assumptions did not stand up to scrutiny, if a lie is repeated enough it is believed and that is now the situation we are beginning to face.

        1. Thank you Mike Prince. I am far from anti Buzzard and enjoy watching them and listening out for their calls, which I do daily and you are correct I do not know for sure what has caused the declines (which is the one thing I am sure of) I am also not an ecologist who can explain decline but I do know what I see, which is at this time, Buzzard numbers are up and other diurnal and nocturnal raptors are down, as you correctly pointed out, for various reasons. I would be disappointed if I seem to fuel the rhetoric, that is not what I wanted to do, I wish I had read the studies you talk of. I do however stand by local regional observations, which if married with other such observations in greater numbers, would help point to influencing factors and regional differences, if enough studies were done. Thank you for your comment I found it constructive. Good news, I haven’t found any evidence of persecution, be it, gun, poison or trap.

  10. Are buzzard vermin? Any one with ecological knowledge, even just a tiny bit, would know that they are not. But there are a couple of bird species which are, for there direct & indirect effects on the natural environment, namely red-legged partridge & pheasant.

  11. ‘No native species should ever be persecuted to near eradication again’….These are the words towards the end of gamekeeper Whitby’s article in his garbage about the need to ‘control’ the Buzzard. We shouldn’t have to take this man serious….but we must.

  12. I’ll keep it brief – David Whitby is obviously another of those “Guardians of the Countryside” that knows next to nothing on environmental matters, ecological matters, or of nature in general. Trying to “redress the balance of nature” and “Correcting this imbalance has never been more important”, proves it all, and as for his comment about Common Buzzard and Honey Buzzard being the same species…well, it really is laughable!

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