Charity ‘Songbird Survival’ still pushing for licences to kill birds of prey

In an uncertain world there’s one thing you can always rely on – Songbird Survival seeking licences to kill birds of prey.

Here’s the most recent call to arms, which looks virtually identical to every other call to arms going back to the Victorians, as published in last week’s Scottish Farmer:

Sir, – Having pointed out an inaccuracy by the BBC Landward programme (are we surprised?) over pollination of cereal crops, Patrick Sleigh (The Scottish Farmer, October 24) once again painted a very realistic, albeit depressing, picture of the destruction of bumble bee and wasp nests by badgers, following another relevant letter (June 27 issue) about conservation.

He is absolutely right to highlight the unchecked predation by badgers, not just of bee and wasp nests but also and equally tragically of ground nesting birds and hedgehogs.

Despite enormous efforts by organisations like ‘Working for Waders’, ground nesting birds, like curlews, lapwings and oyster catchers, stand little if any chance of survival, let alone rearing any young when badgers are present.

To have seen badger numbers in the UK increase from 50,000 in 1980 to well over 500,000 now – and likely to increase even more due to their grossly overprotected status ( they are uniquely protected by two Acts of Parliament in 1973 and 1992) – is immensely disheartening and frustrating for all those who try to achieve a balanced wildlife situation.

It is not just badgers which can roam unchecked and wreak havoc on the country’s wildlife, but other species like sparrowhawks enjoying the same protected status continue to devastate fragile songbird populations, accounting for up to 30m songbirds per year, a figure which is totally unsustainable.

Our wildlife balance is now overly influenced by the visible attraction and drama of predators such as badgers, birds of prey and our pets (especially cats ). Meanwhile, political votes take priority over biodiversity loss which is all too easily blamed on farmers and global warming.

If we humans need to manage predator species, at least we can strive to be humane, unlike the grisly fate which so often awaits prey species.

So, if governments and conservation organisations are really serious about wildlife and want a varied and resilient population in this country, one way to make an immediate impact would be to lift the protected status on those over-protected mammals and birds of prey.

Nobody is advocating wholesale slaughter of these species, but if we are to have a healthy and balanced wildlife, then action needs to be taken before some of the more vulnerable species become extinct.

The pressure for action has been growing through the columns of The Scottish Farmer, with Patrick Sleigh, Malcolm Hay and Mark Tennant (chairman of Scottish Land and Estates), all expressing concern that governments need to adopt a more enlightened attitude to predation and actually do something rather than just talk about it.

Colin Strang Steel

Trustee SongBird Survival,




Interestingly, it’s been brought to my attention that until very recently, another trustee of this ridiculous outfit was one Simon Lester. Would that be the same Simon Lester who was the former head gamekeeper at Langholm who has argued, without scientific evidence, for the need for legal raptor culling on driven grouse moors (here, here and here), and who is currently employed by Natural England on the proposed reintroduction of hen harriers to southern England?

How fascinating.

Perhaps Simon will be tempted by the recent recruitment drive to become Songbird Survival’s new CEO (see here).

47 thoughts on “Charity ‘Songbird Survival’ still pushing for licences to kill birds of prey”

  1. How ridiculous are these people? We never hear the cry to reduce numbers of domestic cats that kill millions of birds and other small creatures. My garden is plagued by 2 cats, I find evidence of their killings too frequently. These include many frogs, birds and small rodents. The neighbours don’t care.

    I am sure that domestic cats kill many more songbirds than all the birds of prey. Feral cats and to the killings too.

    These song bird and wader folk use any excuse to get at their hated species, it is only a screen and a weak attempt to get some sympathy and support from the unknowing.


    1. Actually, if you go to their website, you will see that Songbird Survival spends a significant amount of time and money on the domestic (and feral) cat problem. Not that I am in any way supporting them or what they espouse, but let’s be fair.

    2. “Our wildlife balance is now overly influenced by the visible attraction and drama of predators such as badgers, birds of prey and our pets (especially cats )”

      “How ridiculous are these people? We never hear the cry to reduce numbers of domestic cats that kill millions of birds and other small creatures”


    3. One thing about the domestic cat issue is that it proves that predation does not cause declines in species. (If I remember correctly) an investigation was done and the species of bird that cats brought to their owners was recorded. The main prey of cats is blue/great tits, young dunnock and robin. Now these species are thriving in suburban gardens due to people making suitable habitat for these birds. Putting up nest boxes feeding etc.

      This evidence points to habit destruction rather than predation as the underlying reason for species decline, since in the presence of a (un-naturally) high density of predictors the species are not declining,

      1. I don’t think it as simple as that. The mere presence of cats alters birds behaviour in a number of ways making them more vulnerable to predation particularly at nesting time.

        Domestic cats and wild birds are not a good mix. Not for the birds anyway.

  2. The lack of understanding of basic ecology with these people never ceases to amaze. One has to wonder whether this is actually the case or they are just attempting this pseudo science angle to further their own agenda.

    1. I am sure their own agenda rules. Predators are hated and considered vermin by these folk. Introducing waders and song birds protection into their argument is simply window dressing.

      Yes, their lack of understanding in the balance of nature is the driving factor for these causes. Along with the continuance of antiquated ideas from the Victorian and earlier eras. The apprentices of gamekeepers are indoctrinated by the old timers. Their Lords and Masters demand more gun fodder and no loss to predators. There is no science, pseudo or real behind their fictional stories.


  3. Some time ago I asked these people (songbird survival) a question on their facebook page if it was true that their main aim was the destruction of raptors and their main backers were ALL from the hunting and shooting brigade and if it was true that they did not care one way or the other about songbirds they just wanted to gain public sympathy so they could control the bird of prey population .
    Needless to say I did not get an answer and the questions I asked were swiftly deleted.

    1. I attended the 2016 NERF conference in Durham and the self-styled ornithology consultant and scientific adviser to songbird survival was in our midst and challenged Ruth Tingay on a couple of points after her talk on the effects of grouse moor management on raptors. He also expressed his opinions on the need for legal raptor control and a dispute over the Peregrine survey results, neither of which gained him any friends. He has placed hate fuelled anti-conservation body rants on YouTube and is presumably accustomed to being a lone voice against the tide of reason. He was xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx and his membership of xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx. Characters like him and Botham sum up the mentality of the pro hunting/anti conservation fraternity.

      [Ed: Thanks, winn-darley. A couple of your statements have been redacted because whilst I have no reason to doubt you (your recollection of the 2016 NERF conference is spot on) I have no way of verifying the accuracy of those two claims about an identifiable individual]

      1. I’m 99% positive I know who you are talking about and he’s a complete contrarian – has claimed in one of his videos that David Attenborough is over rated and those campaigning against rainforest loss deny poor people the right to improve their lot – must be rather strange ‘poor’ people that are creating those cattle ranches, soya fields and palm oil plantations. He seems to have fallen out with every one of his former employers except of course SBS. I detest all the pro DGS and anti predator groups, but SBS is the one for some reason that gives me the creeps, something particularly sinister about the way their real agenda is hidden under what will be to many people an innocuous, conscientious veneer. There’s something very questionable and dangerous about people with the malleable ‘conscience’ that can embark upon that kind of deception. This guy is certainly xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx and that he appears to be happy within the SBS fold says something about it.

  4. they somehow forgot to mention that the biggest cause of decline in wading and farmland birds is a loss of suitable habitat, caused by farm intensification. Obviously just a minor accidental lapse on their part which I’m sure they’ll happily correct ASAP….

    1. Bang on Chris.

      I suspect the Farmer Palmers and their ‘countryside-guardian’ chums will be looking for a public money post-Brexit bonanza handout to reverse that unfortunate factory farming trend that you refer to, ‘to ‘protect songbirds’, and no doubt the Tories will oblige very generously post-CAP. They could call it the ‘Songbird Stewardship Scheme – Pillar 3’ or some such and it would only cost a couple of billion. Bargain.

      Anyway, let’s look on the bright side: at least they’ve got those songbird-munching badgers sorted as DEFRA is presently doing their bidding with the badger cull. Now, you heard it here first(!), but I foresee that those bloody sparrowhawks and their evil brethren will shortly be confirmed to be vectoring bTB (as well as bringing down Ryan Air jets) and then, perhaps, Covid-19, so a much needed ‘Randomised Raptor Trial’ is nigh. Not to worry, who needs those pesky raptors anyway?

      Since I’ve mislaid my carbofuran stash, I’m off to dip my garden in glyphosate, slug pellets, and lead shot and I’ll be reporting any sightings of sparrowhawks et al to the mighty progressive rockster ‘Threepwood Mac’ so he can not only ‘Go His Own Way’ he can ignore the WJ/RPUK ‘Rumours’ and send a subsidised shooting party round to rid my garden of its raptor burden; all on the ol’ QT of course, ahem.

      PS: How on earth is ‘Songbird Survival’ (AKA ‘Raptor Unsurvival’) an effing ‘charity’? I think I need a large one…

  5. Presumably Colin Strang Steel sees himself as being the best judge of how many badgers there should be (and don’t forget those sparrowhawks!). It appears that, with his specialised (but not defined) knowledge, he is volunteering to lead the charge against wildlife which is simply doing what they’ve been doing since the demise of the Ice Age. Perhaps, if he was being honest, he would state his personal position on the subject of any real, imagined, or possible predators of the artificially high numbers of non-native species, which is maintained on behalf of the shooting lobby and which, if there is a problem, is one of their own making. Fundamental knowledge of nature tells us (although apparently, not him),that nature takes advantage of surpluses of food and if he and his friends stopped creating artificially high quantities of (non-indigenous) food, the massive expansion to which he refers, would quickly cease.

    1. I’m fair scunnered with these self-appointed arbiters of the ‘correct’ number of wildlife, strutting about in their tweeds while pontificating about the value of THIS species over THAT species. They cannot be so ecologically illiterate to delude themselves that killing one species to protect another is without consequences, can they? This stuff is taught at GCSE, or perhaps they opted instead for GCSE Modern Feudalism and missed Biology.

      And these people OWN land and presumably attempt to make a living from it, though if this is then best their intellect can stretch to, then I can’t see how. Or perhaps it’s their serfs they get to write this crap.

      Roll on land reform.

  6. I suspect based my local empirical experience that mostly Magpies and sometimes Jays might more to blame for resulting decline in song bird numbers, as well as the documented loss of habitat etc Locally I often see flocks of 20+ Magpies (never more than a couple together when I was young 40+ years ago) plus during the nesting season song birds regularly defending their nests against repeated attacks.

    If there were more Raptors; they might keep corvid populations under control. These small corvids are thriving because of the in-balance between predators and prey, plus an often over abundance of their primary food sources caused by urbanisation, farming and game bird rearing practices.

    Logically twenty magpies do way more damage to song bird populations than one Sparrow Hawk

    More science required to prove this.

  7. Here’s a ridiculous thought. How about we re-introduce some of the apex predators which might have an impact on the ‘burgeoning’ populations of meso-predators like badgers and foxes. They would do it for free, too. I’ve no way of doing the arithmetic, but I’d at least consider that the ‘compensation’ costs to livestock owners would likely be less than the recurring annual costs of any humane cull – look how much is being spent (wasted) on badger culling to pretend that BTB is being cured.

    Oh, and if they’re so concerned about how horrid the deaths are that are meted out by sparrowhawks, perhaps they should also be arguing for a cull of other predators; hyenas, cape hunting dog, lions, tigers etc. They should launch a funding appeal for research to create a league table of predator cruelty so they know where to start first!

    They’re bonkers!

    1. Well said Bimbling but you missed one main species from your list of predators,maybe the deadliest of all,the “Guardian of the countryside-the gamekeeper !!

  8. “Due to its light soil and relatively dry climate, Norfolk has always boasted some of the best habitat for game birds, and Holkham is no exception. It has long been regarded as a ‘Great Estate’ in the eyes of the shooting world, not least because Holkham is believed to be the place where driven shooting first began.

    The estate’s game department – managing 16,000 of the estate’s 25,000 acres – employs a team of six gamekeepers dedicated to wild game, conservation and countryside management. A predator control programme is exercised within the law, which gives all ground nesting birds and mammals, such as hares and water voles, a better chance of survival.” – Holkham.

    Thomas Edward Coke, The Earl of Leicester, Director Coke Estates – the Holkham Estate Office; Director Songbird Survival, Holkham Hall, Holkham, Norfolk; Director Holkham Estates Company Limited, Holkham Hall, Holkham Estate, Norfolk.

  9. Correct. The idea that shooting sparrowhawks is a blessing to prevent the suffering of that poor wee bullfinch is the biggest load of bull plop I’ve in many a month.

  10. What these people say and it matters not how often they say it, it is still utterly ecologically illiterate rubbish. Whilst we need to monitor their doings we should not inflame the publicity from which they always benefit.

  11. Those conservationists who are responsible for practical wildlife management achieve far more in one week, than those who sit at a keyboard, campaign an attempt to disrupt the legal and effective protocols, the results of which we all enjoy, will in a year.
    Effective and realistic conservation work requires a balanced approach and from those who have the vision to see a way forward, rather than those who are led like sheep and by ‘personalities’ – – I wish that it was otherwise and that those who appear to soak up what is in all honesty and so often, emotive drivel, could see the positive effects to realistic and balanced wildlife management.

    1. Perdix you speak almost as much ecological tosh as SOS. I have spent a lifetime as an ecologist with lots of practical work. Pull the other one shoots work to improve life for shooting nothing else.

    2. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but with that commment I am now even more convinced that Perdix is actually from someone in the “against commercial shooting” camp with a cruel sense of mischief. Every comment made is a calamity that will have the well informed and heartfelt pro-commercial shooting, pro-big Estate & pro-keeper lobby cringing and shaking their heads. Surely this must be the case…please own up, somebody.

    3. Hello Perdix I see you’re back again.
      I also see that my previous request that you bring forward evidence to support your rhetoric has fallen on deaf ears. Might I point out that merely sending a series of anecdotes does not constitute the same level of rigour as a peer reviewed journal paper. On a grammatical note, your contributions would be easier to read if you took a less idiosyncratic approach to punctuation.

  12. I’m stuck between calling them very rude names (which Ruth would not publish) or explain the basics of prey/predator ecology or point them in the direction of some sparrowhawk/song bird studies, or quote Ian Newton research. Alas it would all be a waste of time, they wouldn’t listen anyway.
    Bunch of tossers! (Sorry Ed: couldn’t help myself)

  13. I feel really rather low, reading some of the news, theres Sparrow Hawks around here, and we still have over the year a good variety of birds, when the weather becomes so severe im sure many birds must perish, we all need to keep up our nestboxes and bird tables, keep a good garden or farm for birds, and do what we can to help the situation. Theres so much doom it gets to you eventually. Sparrow Hawks have been with us since time began, its heartening to be up at daybreak in early Spring and hear the dawn chorus, its then quite an eye opener as to how many birds are here.
    No one seems to mention the massive decline in Swallows, Im told they are being netted in huge numbers in Egypt, ive seen pictures on the internet of these huge mist nets, this Summer we had only 1 pair of Swallows, theres been a big decline here in the last 3 years.
    Or the plight of the Curlew, heading for extinction, this needs urgent attention or they could be gone in most of our lifetimes.

  14. The motivation for these lot wanting to licence killing Sp-Hawks is an indicator of public vigilance about what is happening illegally to all species. Shooting Sp-Hawks near footpaths and around woods now has keepers looking over their shoulders like they never did. I mean, blasting a few off the top of the partridge pens was once just a bit of fun left to the YT lad on a quiet afternoon. Now you just never know who is watching with their mobile phone in hand!

  15. We must have very inefficient sparrow hawks round our way. Despite regular visits our songbird population has risen significantly over the last few years

  16. This is just another scare mongering like the one a while back saying that the badgers were passing TB on to cattle why don’t they just say WE WANT TO KILL BADGERS AGAIN and they are trying to blame the sparrowhawk for the lack of songbirds hmmm let’s see who eat songbirds oh yeah there is a country not far away from us who love a bit of songbird so I hear no one mentions anything about that anymore next thing you know dog fighting and cock fighting will be legal act now and stop all this stupidity

    1. I suppose you’re highly delighted with our current Corona virus then. However there is something you could do, on a personal basis…….

      1. “However there is something you could do, on a personal basis…….”

        Another one in denial. I don’t suppose for one second that you agree that habitat loss is the major cause of declines in bio-abundance and bio-diversity.

  17. I’ve seen various wildfowl suffering protracted and painful deaths as the result of Wildfowler’s pursuing their hobby – hobby mind, shooters are not hungry. For them making a successful kill is not a case of life and death, as it is for wild predators.

  18. The biggest enemy to song birds are magpies
    They kill more birds and eggs than anything else, get rid of the magpie and we will see a huge upturn in the numbers of song birds.
    John Rafferty

  19. Are you really going to blame the decline of songbirds on Sparrowhawks ?? Its a known fact that raptors couldn’t affect bird populations in this way, there is a fine balance between raptors/songbirds, if there are fewer prey species then the raptors would decline also.
    The main reason for songbird decline is that there is overwhelming evidence that changes in agricultural practice over recent decades have caused the substantial changes we have seen in farmland bird populations. Also the huge increase in the various Crow species over the last 60 years will have had a large impact on songbirds.

  20. The trouble is, they are right. Tune out your tribal instincts and THINK. in the absence of predation or control, any predator multiplies until limited by famine. Badgers are lovely but you wouldn’t want too many of them.

  21. Sadly this shite is not going away it’s creeping further and further into the public domain and more and more in the field sports sector are pushing it. I’ve been shocked by the number of times I’ve seen a comment in social media that otters need to be controlled to save other wildlife, thanks to anglers who think fish aren’t to feed anything else they’re there to end up with a hook in their gobs. I’ve said it before the conservation orgs need to do a joint awareness raising campaign to combat this and as many other commentators have noted predation can be more of a conservation boon rather than a problem and that needs promoting.

    I used to badger Keith Cowieson of SBS on their fb page about how woodland birds were being hit hard by non native, invasive plants such as cherry laurel and snowberry and why weren’t they doing anything about it. These have been planted out as game bird cover, a practice which ludicrously still goes on and means many of our woods have little native ground flora left and suppressed invert populations which is disastrous for bird populations, the base of the food pyramid pulled from under them. A much more plausible reason for small bird decline than too many sparrow hawks and much of the time it’s the shooting community behind it. Funnily enough Keith never responded about why SBS wasn’t running a campaign on this.

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