Licences to kill buzzards were unlawfully refused, says High Court

buzzard 3The High Court has this morning ruled that Natural England acted unlawfully when it refused to issue licences to kill buzzards.

In 2013, Natural England issued licences to Northumberland gamekeeper Ricky McMorn, allowing him the right to destroy buzzard eggs and nests ‘to protect’ his pheasant shoots.

Later the same year, McMorn applied for further licences, this time to shoot 16 buzzards and 3 sparrowhawks. Natural England refused his application.

In 2014, McMorn submitted more applications, wanting to shoot ten buzzards ‘to prevent serious damage’ to his pheasant poults. Natural England refused his application again.

McMorn, financially supported by the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, brought a judicial review against Natural England and claimed NE had acted unfairly and inconsistently when considering his licence applications.

The High Court judge, Mr Justice Ouseley, has agreed with McMorn’s case. He held:

(1)   Natural England had unlawfully operated an undisclosed policy about how buzzard applications were to be treated. Natural England’s undisclosed policy had been to require more factors to be proved and proved by far higher quality evidence than for other species, to require individual birds to be identified as predators with proof that only those would be controlled, and to require any suggestions it made to be carried out punctiliously on pain of refusal;

(2)   Natural England unlawfully took into account public opinion by applying a different and more demanding approach to the grant of a licence to kill buzzards than other species because public opinion is in part hostile to the grant of such licences;

(3)   Natural England unlawfully applied published policy inconsistently as between buzzards and other species. The substantial reason for the difference in approach was some hostile public opinion;

(4)   Natural England’s decision was unreasonable because it operated the derogation under the Birds Directive so as to render it excessively difficult to obtain a licence;

(5)   Natural England acted unfairly in failing to raise with the claimant its own technical assessor’s suggestion of a live capture licence instead of a licence to kill.

The full decision can be read here: Judicial review buzzard licence verdict Nov 2015

So what does this all mean? For sure, this ruling will encourage more gamekeepers to submit more applications to kill buzzards ‘to protect’ their pheasants. It doesn’t mean that all licence applications will be successful, as each case will still have to be assessed on its individual circumstances and all tests will still have to be met (e.g. has the gamekeeper done everything else in his/her power to solve the perceived problem?). Nevertheless, Natural England will no doubt be wary of appearing ‘unreasonable’ when assessing future applications. This is where things will get really interesting because there is still no scientific evidence to demonstrate that buzzards have a significant impact on pheasants. Indeed, even the game-shooting industry’s own science has shown the impact to be virtually negligible, with an average of only 1-2% of pheasant poults taken by birds of prey. There are also numerous alternative measures for reducing alleged predation that should be tried and tested before the ‘kill’ option is chosen, including diversionary feeding.

If, however, buzzard-killing licences are issued, this will pave the way for what is effectively a criminal’s charter. The game-keeping industry is rife with criminals who are not averse to breaking the law; we see it time and time again, particularly in relation to the illegal killing of raptors. Let’s say a gamekeeper successfully applies for a licence to shoot ten buzzards. What’s to stop him from shooting 50? Who will know whether he’s shot his permitted ten, or whether he’s shot 50? Who is going to supervise his buzzard-killing activities to ensure that he sticks to his allotted number? Nobody! If a member of the public sees him shooting a buzzard (a highly unlikely scenario anyway but let’s just go with it for now), and reports him to the police, the gamekeeper will simply wave his buzzard-killing licence at the investigating police officer and say, “Look Guv, I’m allowed to kill ten and this is only the third one I’ve shot this year”. The police officer will have no option but to withdraw and let him get on with killing as many buzzards as he likes because it’ll be virtually impossible to prove that the gamekeeper has acted illegally, unless of course the keeper is stupid enough to leave the shot buzzards lying around as evidence, but even then it’ll be impossible to show that that individual gamekeeper had shot all the dead birds – he’ll simply claim someone else did it and dumped them on his ground.

IMG_5013 (2) - CopyAs absurd as it is, the bottom line is that DEFRA (and thus Natural England, acting on DEFRA’s behalf), permits gamekeepers (even those with criminal convictions) to apply for licences to kill protected native species like the buzzard, to allow the wholesale slaughter of millions of non-native gamebirds like pheasants, just for fun. There’s something fundamentally askew with that logic, even if you’re a die-hard supporter of game-bird shooting. A recent analysis of the GWCT’s National Gamebag Census revealed that by 2011, approx 42 million pheasants and almost 9 million red-legged partridges were released annually into the British countryside, for ‘sport’ shooting. The impact on biodiversity of releasing 50 million non-native gamebirds hasn’t been formally assessed. The game-shooting industry should accept that if they’re releasing birds in such magnitude, they should expect losses. How many are killed on the roads? An educated guess would suggest it’s a far higher number than the known 1-2% lost to raptors. If the game-shooting industry can’t operate without accepting such losses (as they claim they can’t), then it’s pretty clear evidence that this industry is unsustainable and as such, has no future.

The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation response to today’s ruling can be read here

We’ll update this blog later today as more responses are published.

Photographs copyright RPS

UPDATE: 15th November 2015: There’s a fascinating blog on the legal issues of this case, written by a legal academic at a London barristers’ chambers – see here.

UPDATE: 19th November 2015: A response to the judgement from the Northern England Raptor Forum – see here.

Previous blogs on this issue:

12 Nov 2015:

12 June 2015:

25 Nov 2014:

1 Oct 2013: 

26 Sept 2013:

13 Aug 2013:

20 June 2013: 

5 June 2013:

5 June 2013:

3 June 2013:

30 May 2013:

25 May 2013:

23 May 2013:

10 Jan 2013:

13 June 2012:

30 May 2012:

24 May 2012:

23 May 2012:

21 May 2012:

71 thoughts on “Licences to kill buzzards were unlawfully refused, says High Court”

    1. This could open the floodgates. My experience has been that very few people were aware that such a licence was obtainable at all. In fact the first time it came to my attention was the shocking news several years ago that a Council in NE Scotland had obtained a licence to kill a colony of Arctic Terns which were considered “a threat to the public.” I contacted RSPB at the time and they said nothing could be done about it. So many conservationists praised the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act when it came into force, mainly for the vicarious liability clause, but reading between the lines and having been a consultee at the bill stage, I was extremely concerned it would lead to increased licence to persecute. The test case, supported by SNH, was to virtually wipe out the Roe Deer population of Aberdeen, again using the excuse of “a threat to public health and safety.” SNH has effectively been infiltrated by enemies of wildlife.

  1. Speechless, cannot comment other than to hope that NE sticks to its guns and makes this killers charter as difficult as possible. Otherwise it’s goodbye buzzards.

  2. The establishment looking after the interests of the establishment, to the detriment of our environment. All for the gratification of a few.

  3. Wrong, but it is the outcome I expected – no surprise there! OUR protected (protected that’s a laugh) birds lose again – an utter disgrace.

  4. This judgement effectively declares open season on Britains raptors. Expect a flood of applications targeting not just buzzards, but Kites, Goshawks, Peregrines etc. I’m not surprised at all by this. Its clear in the derisory sentences handed down to gamekeepers convicted of serious raptor related wildlife crimes in this country the general Victorian era attitude that pervades the judicial class in this country

  5. Indeed this judgement puts Britain in the same league of Malta and Cyprus when it comes to state actions that drive a coach and horse though various EU wildlife directives

  6. A sad day for wildlife, just as we start seeing species recovering out come the guns. Biodiversity is the lifeblood of our planet and the importance or relevance of a few people’s desire to shoot at game birds should be judged against this imperative. We do not need a legal system that is populated by old duffers that can’t see beyond their weekend’s ‘sport’

  7. This is just sickening. Shame on the high court. I have no faith in the high court after this. These raptor ‘murderers’ are just laughing.

  8. Had been bracing myself for this but still disgusted, angry and generally pissed off. For the sake of consistency the legal status of other species such as cormorants should have been upgraded, not raptors downgraded. There are now increasing calls for otters to be ‘controlled’, eel and even kingfisher (WTF?) declines are now conveniently being blamed on another native predator that happens to be good at catching the bloated, artificial breeds of carp some anglers will pay a fortune to catch. This has been a horrendous and idiotic decision, it has to be fought and the annual loss of reared pheasants to cars, foxes (good on em), stink pits and landfill when birds of prey are ridiculously being blamed for ‘threatening livelihoods’ needs to be shown to the public. Need to slam this door shut before it gets any wider.

    1. I concur with you all. Truly appalling.

      Going back to what you say in your penultimate sentence, Les – could somebody (like RPS) give us a few bullet points we could personalise in letters to the national press and local papers?

      That way, maybe a few more of the public will get to see what the establishment here is allowing to happen to creatures we thought were protected from people with guns – and snares – and poisons.

  9. There’s going to be a hell of a lot of whisky drunk by a hell of a lot of gamekeepers tonight. Unless effectively appealed, this ruling has taken raptor protection back to the even darker ages. We (whoever “we” are) need to keep up the fight, but right now I feel utterly pessimistic. I can’t see Natural England resisting strongly, particularly as science itself has been thrown out of court, like a death in the family. They are more likely to simply roll over and concede. It’s time for Raptor Persecution Scotland to boost publicity of their own existence, and get lots more of those sympathetic to wildlife conservation participating in the debate. It does worry me that the same handful of names occurs over and over again under Comments. The main posts are incredibly well researched and many of the comments provide much insight and food for thought, but who is listening? I’ve been asking around my immediate ornithological circles and hardly anyone is aware of your existence. Even some members of Raptor Study Groups who get quite hot under the collar about raptor persecution seem unable to make a contribution to the campaigns. I know a few who haven’t even signed Mark Avery’s petition to ban driven grouse shooting, not because they don’t agree but because they’re either not bothered or don’t see the point. Apathy is another enemy of our cause, and we need to get our own house in order to get our message across to a wider audience. It’s also time for RSPB to take the gloves off.

    1. There is one body with more than one million members which is more than powerful enough to make a difference, unfortunately they seem quite laid back about doing anything to alter the status quo of raptor persecution on the shooting estates !!!

      1. Have to partly agree with you, nirofo. The RSPB could, and should, be doing more to engage its vast membership, and the wider public, and the quicker the RSPB remove themselves from the royal charter, the better. Being tied to this only hampers the organisation in their attempts to tackle the widespread environmental destruction carried out by the shooting industry.

        On your take on their approach to persecution, I do believe that those involved in the investigations department are doing their best, but I would imagine they are vastly underfunded. Perhaps if the RSPB were to divert more money to the investigations teams, rather than the “fluffy bunny” people engagement side of things, things would improve, but I just can’t see that happening any tie soon.

        1. You’re right, the investigations team is underfunded, it always has been, but it’s the RSPB heirarchy as a whole that needs to come out from under the woodwork and start shouting and screaming to everyone, especially the media about the criminality on the shooting estates and why it should stop immediately. The society is, or it is supposed to be for the protection of birds in their entirity, not just the “fluffy bunny” types as you put it. The society have plenty of money available for all sorts of hairbrained schemes, the Forsinard Folly being one in particular where money seems to be no object, even thought it met with much opposition locally and elsewhere. If they put only a quarter as much money and effort into publicising nationally the dire state of our persecuted raptors at the hands of the criminal grouse shooting brigade we might start to achieve something. Without the weight of large societies etc, such as the RSPB pushing the UK governments and their quangos for rapid change, we are really going to struggle to see any change at all for a very long time. Unfortunately the raptors and the environment that supports them won’t be around to wait that long !!!

          So, come on RSPB, they’re just laughing at us and the birds are suffering !!!

          1. Hopefully the RSPB will issue a statement about this as soon as possible, preferably tomorrow. They must have known it was coming.

    2. Unfortunately that was one of the reasons why Mr Justice Ouseley made the ruling, that Natural England had allowed their unlawful decision to be influenced by public opinion!

      1. I hasten to say I’m a beginner in such matters compared with all of you – but surely there is an inconsistency which the defendant has exploited and the judge accepted – why did NE allow this man to destroy buzzards’ nests/eggs in 2013 – then refuse to allow him to carry on killing raptors the next year?

        Why does NE allow anyone to kill birds who are supposed to be protected?

        Referring to my thought earlier about writing to the press – I started a draft, but to outline what has happened, including explaining this inconsistency (if it is one?) is complex and would the general public carry on reading, if anything were in fact printed?
        And would anyone care…

  10. As I have said before the 3 million pheasants killed each year on the roads need a traffic accident report. They cause stress, damage cars and 2 people have died. 3 million traffic reports need to be written out by the police every year!! Every one needs a court case against the person that released the livestock onto the road. The estates would soon be bankrupt. Even if you swerve and miss a bird that needs a traffic report. they should not be on the road. No in bred species once released becomes wild. Have you ever seen how they call the birds in for feeding time. If they want them to be livestock then they should pay the consequences. No win no fee. get on with it.

    1. On this issue is it worthwhile to try and get the RAC and AA involved as this is obviously relevant to motorists? Add in the fact that the sporting estates are deliberately keeping red deer numbers very high which must be a cause of serious accidents and even fatalities on the roads then there is need to have law and designations changed when some animals are conveniently classified as wild when they are effectively domestic stock. Not surprised pheasant collisions have resulted in two deaths, hell of a distraction you don’t need one of these flying into you. I’ve heard of someone in Canada who was knocked unconscious by a pheasant that flew through a side window when he was driving, fortunately he wasn’t killed. Any members of driving organisations want to get the ball rolling?

      1. These are good points, John and Les.

        I’ve always maintained that if these birds are to be considered as livestock, then there should be a legal tagging system involved, then when a pheasant causes damage to vehicles, the vehicle owner should be able to make a claim against the owner of the livestock.

        1. There is another aspect to this pheasant business in as much as they are carriers for the spirochetes/bacteria that cause Lymes Disease. The pheasant is actually infecting the tick which then infects other mammals and birds, including human beings.. Now, as the amount of pheasants released in the UK has multiplied since 1999 so has the incidences of Lymes Disease in the population. Public Health England estimates the number of new Lyme disease cases each year at around 3,000, while charities say the figure is closer to 15,000. Lyme Disease is on the increase: laboratory proven cases have risen from about 200 in the late 1990s, to 1200 in 2013. ITV claims there has been a 600 per cent increase in Lyme Disease sufferers over the past 15 years.
          This rise happens at the time when more and more pheasants are being released each year to a total of 40 million pheasants and 10 million red legs..
          The question should be asked, especially since the badger cull, why protected birds should be killed to protect them, given the health risk.
          Research should be commenced to ascertain whether the density of ticks carrying Lymes Disease is related to the population density of pheasants to underline this argument. If pheasants were correctly rebranded as a threat to human heath then the Government might be less willing to afford them protection at expense of our raptors.

          1. Surely it must be possible to bring new releases under control? There is probably an argument that existing regular game bird releases are accepted practice (I DONT AGREE!), but where a new release is being planned, or a dramatic increase in numbers, either on a disused estate or where a new species is being released, then an environmental impact assessment should be required. If not then the WANE act probably does not comply with EU Law.

    2. John, they are only legally considered “livestock” when they are in captivity = a release pen. ..if they were always classed as livestock it would be even easier for the wildlife killers to get licences. Be careful what you wish for…

      1. Agriculture is covered by EIA regulation. Also the livestock gamebirds would be regulated, poults would need to be ringed.. And the product would be part of the food chain…. hello inspection and goodbye lead and dogs.

  11. What is the world coming to, first badgers and now buzzards, shame on them. Money talks and we have to listen.

    1. Well, I would like to comment that I am shocked at the decision, but I would be lying if I did so.

      Indeed, Jean, and I think Ouseley had something to do with the Badger cull ruling as well.

  12. True , Marco………”Mr Justice Ouseley upholding government plans for two pilot badger culls in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset. “

    1. I’ve said all along that the judges etc, in these and similar cases should be totally impartial, but the nod nod wink wink old boys act seems to work better than the so-called British legal system and the law !!!

  13. The gamekeepers will be wanting roads closed because collisions with cars must account for many more birds than raptors take.
    One road I use frequently, the A5209, over Parbold hill, Lancashire, is litter with numerous pheasant corpses. Sir Peter Moore must sob for the loss of all those pheasants to motorists????

  14. Reading the judgement it appears the judge accepted without question McMorn’s/NGA argument on “public pressure”. Now unless the NE Licencing people stood up in court and said they were responding to public pressure, it seems a very flimsy reason on which to base such a judgement

  15. I’m no expert but from what I have read on this NE left themselves wide open on this. If they had kept there rejection simple and focused on the lack of evidence concerning actual damage and loss and the lack of effort to resolve by other means they probably would not be in this position.

    I have no idea if there is any bias in the judgement but I do know from conversations with my legal eagle wife that some stupid sounding judgement are quite correct because that’s the law – such as NE basing the rejection on public opinion (and being stupid enough to be visible about it).

    Future responses to applications should focus strongly on those two points.

  16. Seems like despite the fact that NE did the right thing in rejecting the licence application, they were naïve in the justification for it. I appreciate that the ruling is looking at the law, however if there is no evidence that birds of prey are the cause of mass deaths in the pheasant population how can licence applications be granted.
    In individual cases the evidence should have to be provided by an independent assessor and not the anecdotal evidence of the person benefitting from the killing of Buzzards. We definitely need joined up thinking from RSPB and other organisations to stop what might be a devastating impact on Buzzards in England.

  17. Is there leave for Natural England to appeal? I read that leave to appeal has to be sought and granted in the decision, and I couldn’t see that here.

  18. I make no comment on these court proceedings and their outcome. What is needed straightaway now is a concerted and if necessary repeated push, by individuals AND BY NON-GOVERNMENT CONSERVATION BODIES, directed at politicians to get them to accept the following: (a) the need to ensure that no legally protected native predators (avian or mammalian) are killed or otherwise interfered with, under licence, in the supposed interests of non-native game birds; (b) the absurdity of classifying, in law, as “livestock” non-native game birds that are reared and released primarily for shooting purposes and only secondarily for food consumption; and (c) the importance of thorough research into the effect, benign or malign, that non-native game bird release has on the environment.

    1. I made the point on Mark Avery’s blog some time ago that before the RSPB’s Martin Harper made public pronouncements about how beneficial shooting can be for conservation an Eco footprint exercise has to be done, how much land here and abroad (for the latter soymeal) is used to produce feed for pheasants and how much energy used to heat pheasant pens. The ecological effects of releasing all those bloody pheasants is a separate, but related matter. One of the RSPB’s own researchers has suggested that all that protein injected into the countryside when it should be declining naturally may well be helping to maintain an unnaturally high number of predators, principally foxes with consequences for ground nesting birds etc. Also stories of pheasants decimating reptile populations and a previous commentator on RPS mentioned that aggressive male pheasants won’t do waders any favours. So many anomalies that need looking into, but haven’t been due to privileged status of fieldsports.

    2. Patrick, your points look very cogent – may we use them in writing to our MPs?

      Maybe ask our MPs to pass on the letters to Liz Truss/George Eustice/Rory Stewart?

      Please can someone clarify to whom exactly?

  19. So the poor game keeper was wronged and as a result he lost a fortune in dead Pheasants. Well of course he will now be able to sue DEFRA for his loss. So he will be able to back up his claim with hard evidence, won’t he?

    But of course under tory defra evidence won’t be required.

  20. Marian – I am entirely happy for you (and others, if so inclined) to use the points that I made, when writing to MPs.

  21. Marian – of course those points (if so used) should appear as those of others, not as my own ones. Nevertheless I have made the same points publicly and/or semi-publicly before now.

  22. Read all the above comments and it wasn’t until the last, made by circusmaxim, that the real answer begun to emerge, for like it or not, this is above all a political matter. If you think back to the old days of the Nature Conservancy Council, it was Thatcher, Ridley and the Tories who (under the euphuistically termed Environmental Protection Act 1990) following the debacle of allowing afforestation in the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland as a tax break for the rich, who came to regard the NCC as the enemy and chose to break up the conservancy into three (four, including Northern Ireland) separate agencies, with separate infrastructure, separate managements and separate funding streams; all the while claiming that the old model didn’t represent the regions and that this way it would be more cost effective. I would suggest your readers go to their library’s and try and get hold of a copy of “Conservation of Nature in England and Wales, Report of the Wild Life Conservation Special Committee. Cmd. 7122”, also known as the Huxley Report, for this establishes the statutory need for state conservation in the UK, (along with the “Ritchie Committee Report (Scotland) 1949, (Cmd 7814”) ). Both these reports (rather dry reading) outline the need for state wildlife conservation and lead on to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. It needs to be remembered that this was immediately following the end of WWII, and a Labour government under Clement Attlee came to power, who, besides establishing the welfare state and the NHS, set-up the first national parks and the first national wildlife conservancy. This was always going to be something the land-owning Tory class would object to – god, working class people telling us how to manage the countryside, heavens forbid; and it hasn’t changed, unless there’s been a revolution in the mean-time, which passed be by! This is, like it or not a class matter, defined as Tory vs. every-one-else, although that’s not to say there aren’t Tories who are true conservationists, just not enough of them to make much of a difference. I am afraid we’ll have to wait for a Corbin government to come to office before things change, for at least he’s a professed conservationist, that’s more than you can say about anyone else.

  23. Of course, those that are resident in Scotland can approach their MPs and ask them to intervene in some way, but the vast majority of those MPs will be from the SNP, and will therefore be ignored by the Tory government and other unionist politicians.

    Furthermore, this issue relates to English law, and again any thoughts of Scottish politicians, or of second-class Scottish citizens having any influence on the matter should be dispensed with.

    English votes for English laws.
    English votes for Scottish laws.
    English votes for Welsh laws.
    English votes for Irish laws.

    Welcome to the fair and equal partnership that is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

      1. Because the estate is in Northumberland, the judicial review was against Natural England, and I’m quite sure that it would have been heard in an English court, hence my belief that it will relate to English law.

        Under the current circumstances in Westminster, does anyone actually believe that if any Scottish MP, or any Scottish citizen makes complaint against this decision, it will be heard in fairness?

        I don’t have any faith in such a scenario, and any action taken in Scotland will be deemed by unionist politicians and the UK media as the Scots trying to meddle in English affairs.

        1. I’ll check up Marco, but don’t think you’re correct. As far as I’m aware, the licensing applies to the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1994 (UK legislation), in Scotland as amended by the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. So my understanding is that this case relates to UK law.

          1. You could well be correct, Jack, in which case I will apologise, but from what I can gather it’s not the actual Act that was in question, just the processes and decisions that Natural England took in refusing to grant the licence(s).

            This is why I believe that it will be deemed to be an English issue, and any “interference” by Scottish MPs, or the Scottish public, will be pounced upon by unionist politicians and the UK media as “those meddling separatists/insurgents/extremists”, and that was the point I was trying to make.

            Remember the debacle earlier this year, when the Tories wanted to repeal the Hunting Act, and the subsequent furore when our democratically elected representatives to the UK parliament tried to use their votes in a debate that was to be held in the UK parliament!

  24. Am I right – the premise to have a licence to kill/control buzzards is to mitigate the disastrous losses from their predation of pheasants?

    Can anyone cite a discount or refund being given to shooters on a days shooting because of a less than gross bag of pheasants? I doubt it.

    On that basis NE can reject all applications on that one fact.

    They may loose a few pheasants but it doesn’t affect their income. In fact it may increase the profit as they have to feed less.

  25. I can’t help but wonder why they hold so much store with pheasants lost to buzzards, the maximum numbers that can be taken before the birds leave the pens and runs to go into the big wide world is miniscule compared to the huge numbers lost through shooting and flying into cars. I think the scenario is more likely to be the gamekeeper can’t be bothered to protect his poults properly before they leave the pens and so uses the buzzards as a scapegoat for his own inefficiency, it’s well known that gamekeepers like to shoot protected raptors anyway. It seems obvious that they don’t care that much about the welfare of the pheasants because they shoot them in their hundreds of thousands and throw the majority of the bodies in stink pits, the rest are allowed to go away and die from their wounds or roam free to smash into some poor sods car to cause damage and injury and be killed. I can’t for the life of me see how that can be construed as caring for your birds.

    1. There are two things here, nirofo.

      Firstly, your assumption that the gamekeeper couldn’t be bothered to protect his poults is correct. There was much evidence in the licence applications and other documents obtained by FoI, that stated as such, and there is much mention of this in the verdict.

      He refused to carry out some measures, and did not carry out others to the necessary requirements, and some folks will know where I’m going with this – at no stage was a roof ever considered for the bloody pens! So, it was patently clear that all non-lethal measures had not been trialled, and even some of those that had been tested, there was a definite lax approach to any requirements or specifications, all in a deliberate and devious attempt to manipulate the truth and seek out this perceived Buzzard problem.

      Secondly, this deliberate, devious manipulation was also used by the NGO to test the waters in an attempt to make it easier to get licences to kill raptors. The shooting industry are only too keen to falsely use the welfare issue in cases such as this, but they refuse to acknowledge any welfare issues when, as you have stated, they are frequently shot with many suffering tremendously. The “lucky” ones might be killed outright, and the not so lucky injured might end up being ripped apart by dogs, or beaten over the head with a stick, minutes after being shot. But there are others that don’t get picked up, or those that fall into waterways and drown, but all of that pain and suffering is perfectly acceptable in the mind of the “welfare-conscious” sociopathic hypocrites.

      But anyway, and this is just a thought, if it was considered that NE acted unlawfully by using an inconsistent approach and treating the Buzzard differently from other species, then I can only hope that NE now rigorously scrutinise every application from now on, irrespective of which species “the guardians” want to kill, and make it as difficult as possible for them. Every application should be supported by clear evidence that there is a problem before any licence is granted, and none of this anecdotal crap that has been passed before. It’s going to take someone at NE (and SNH and CCW) with guts and determination to oversee this, but it can be done.

      Hopefully there are staff members at NE that are seriously pissed off after this, so let’s hope they act in the interests of everyone, and not the few.

  26. By his own admission Alex Hogg stated he had 500 pheasant poults die from the cold in one single night.

    The entire industry is questionable in terms of animal welfare, spread of disease and environmental impact. Given these issues it does seem ludicrous to consider issuing licenceses to permit the killing of protected species for the protection of unprotected introduced potentially harmful game birds. However look at what is happening to seals. As the aquaculture industry increases ( farmed salmon in particular) seal populations decrease. Aquaculture has very significant environmental impact in terms of misuse of illegal chemicals, spread of disease, animal welfare and the illegal killing of predators.

    There are direct parallels with the game bird industry sadly SNH has issued licences to shoot specified numbers of grey and harbour seals but who is counting how many are actually shot and are the shot seals actually doing damage or are just unlucky enough to be in the vicinity or a salmon cage and marksman at the wrong time.

    Sounds like it is the way in which NE have handled this entire issue has been at major contributor. I can only hope SNH learn from these mistakes……..but given their track record why would they?

    1. Its my understanding that it is Marine Scotland not SNH who consider licence applications to kill seals.

      Have a look at the SNH website for advice on licensing the killing of predatory birds for the purpose of conserving wild birds – looks pretty difficult to me.

      There is no guidance for the control of predatory birds to prevent serious damage to stock so what SNH have to do pretty quickly as a result of this nonsense from England is to make it clear when a licence will be considered and what evidence will be required to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that the damage is serious (more serious that other natural (weather) and human induced (roadkill)?) and which non lethal methods have been tried and shown to have failed.

      AT THE SAME TIME, we must put pressure on politicians on the matters covered by Patrick S-A above.

      1. Good luck if you can influence SNH Bimbling, as others have tried without any great success. They hand out licences to shoot Cormorants and Goosanders willy-nilly, despite a total lack of any evidence that the birds are seriously damaging fish stocks. They have also allowed the culling of an Arctic Tern colony which allegedly posed a threat to public health and safety. Things are going downhill rapidly, and it makes me very sad to say that most birdwatchers and others interested in wildlife aren’t doing enough to reverse the trend.

  27. After spending 8 years watching buzzards in Oxfordshire, I can tell you that buzzards spend a lot more time scavenging than they do killing pheasants, they are as close to a carrion raptor as it gets. This is a ridiculous situation propagated by people with no in-depth knowledge of the countryside outside their own little gun orientated domain.

    1. Let’s get something straight here, it doesn’t matter a damn to the gamekeepers whether the Buzzards or any other raptor for that matter are a problem for their young Pheasants, they are hell bent on using any excuse in the book to justify killing them. Their main aim is to con SNH / NE into giving them permission to kill legally protected raptors thereby setting a precedent and legitimising their lust to kill protected raptors. The permit is really quite irrelevant to the actual killing of the so-called protected raptors, if they don’t get the permit they’ll still kill them illegally anyway.

  28. If you contact a game dealer and explain you have a problem with buzzards at one of your pens they will offer to keep your poults until strong enough to fly, this isn’t a problem, they will charge you slightly more per poult. Buzzards are not capable of taking fully grown pheasants on a regular basis, you can ask any British falconer about this, their feet aren’t big enough and they aren’t quick enough, no self respecting British falconer would give time to flying a common Buzzard for the sake of filling a game bag. that said they will take flightless poults and injured /diseased adult pheasants and very rarely a healthy adult.
    There are simple measures that can be taken to protect game were buzzards are present, quite recently shop manikins have been placed in release pens to deter them with complete success.
    With over 40 million pheasants being released annually and the average losses as reported by BASC to Buzzards at less than 2% there is one simple question to ask when you come across someone reportedly losing up to 25% (again this figure is supplied by BASC). What are they doing wrong!
    Instead of tying up public money into licensing systems for a few individuals to blast our native protected wildlife and expecting someone to police this why not pay that bit extra and buy grown on poults, why not plant more cover, why not make smaller pens and roof them if you want to release younger birds, why not look after your birds as good as the rest of the shooting estates who only lose less than 2 per cent instead of playing a victim and expecting the British tax payer to spoon feed your so called sporting industry. once again a few old dinasaurs bring the shooting industry into disrepute, when will the national gamekeepers association bring in new young blood to change their outdated views

  29. Picking up on the excellent point made by Patrick about pheasants, a non-native species, being classed as livestock for the purpose of applications for licences, the Wildlife and Countryside Act (Section 16(1)(k) refers to the prevention of ‘…serious damage to livestock…’. This means that the onus is on the applicant to show that SERIOUS damage might occur which could be prevented or reduced by the granting of a licence to cull the predator(s). What does ‘serious’ amount to in this context, particularly given the numbers of young pheasants lost through a multitude of other causes? I’ve no doubt that Natural England will consider this factor and require appropriate evidence and argument in the event of further licence applications being submitted.

  30. Just to clear up one point made above. It is completely impractical, nae impossible, for a release pen to actually be covered over, as they are normally simply 6′ high fencing stretched around a large area of dense woodland. Keepers will always lose a huge proportion of Pheasants to straying, compared to the small number ever taken by raptors. Of course to prevent such losses, requires keepers to work all the hedges with dogs around the edge of their estate every day, from early morning, from the time the birds start roosting, to keep the losses down to a minimum. Such work may not always be undertaken on a daily basis, which leads to many birds straying. I would suggest that Keepers would be better employed concentrating on preventing their birds from straying, rather than worrying so much about the few losses that may occur through raptor predation.

  31. Hello

    Please could someone contact me. I have been working for months on a project which is almost completed and I would very much like to involve your organisation and members in it. I sincerely believe that it could assist greatly in helping birders, walkers, animal welfare people and anyone out and about in the countryside to identify and report wildlife crimes – even when they have no knowledge of the law. Animal welfare legislation is so fragmented and full of so many caveats that it is difficult to understand. Hopefully, this system will simplify the legislation to help members of the public feel confident enough to report potential crimes and help make shooting estates accountable for some of the antics they get up to. Thanks.

    [Ed: Hi lizzybusy, we can be contacted in confidence at: raptorpersecutionscotland[at] ]

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