Friday, May 25, 2012

Benyon Blitzes Buzzards

I'm angry.

Less than week ago the RSPB announced that hen harriers are now on the brink of extinction in England due to ongoing persecution by shooting interests.

Hen Harrier. Photo courtesy of Steve Ray

Only one pair of hen harriers now nest in England. Utterly appalling.
What is the government doing? Absolutely nothing.

(Mark Avery has been following up on this lack of action in his series of blogs entitled Wuthering Moors. They start here and the latest is here.)

Can things get worse? Well, yes they can. Defra, the government department charged with all things related to our natural environment, who should be taking action to protect hen harriers (but aren't) recently announced that they are offering nearly £400,000 to potentially persecute yet another bird of prey, buzzards. Unbelievable but true. The tender is available for download here.

Buzzard. Photo courtesy of Steve Ray.

Magnificent, majestic, magical buzzards, protected birds of prey, are possibly going to have their nests destroyed. Why? The heinous crime with which buzzards are charged with is taking a few young pheasants. Eh? The logic of the whole thing escapes me on all levels.

Buzzard. Photo courtesy of Steve Ray.

1. Taxpayers' money should not be used to support private shooting interests.

2. The 'evidence' that buzzards are having an economic impact on pheasant shoots is flimsy and anecdotal at best. An unpublished study by ADAS apparently found that 1-2% of young birds might be taken by raptors. (These figures are taken from Raptor Politics)

3. Buzzards are native birds of prey. They belong to us, to these islands. Pheasants are introduced, numerous (millions) and bred to be driven and shot; for profit. Why not ban pheasant breeding and subsequent release into the wild to protect buzzards?

Pheasant. Photo from Wikipedia taken by user Lukasz Lukasik.

4. Buzzards are fantastic birds to see and to hear. I don't want the government to sanction killing them.

Not everyone is in agreement with my views. The Countryside Alliance make their own views clear here as do the BASC here. The claim that buzzards cause serious damage at pheasant release pens is unsubstantiated. It's a classic ploy. Create doubt and controversy to hide the real motive.

Another fantastic photo taken by Steve Ray (Greater Kent Birder)

We all value the wildlife we have. It inspires and enriches our lives, contributes to our wellbeing and delivers the ecosystem services we need to survive. We must make sure wildlife has effective protection and is managed. We do this through complying with our national and international obligations.

I didn't write that last paragraph, Defra did. Perhaps Richard Benyon the minister in charge of this department needs to read his own website.

The RSPB is stunned, and hopefully will take some action soon to capture the wave of anger and shock that many people are feeling. We must not weaken the protection given to our birds of prey. We should be strengthening it. Doing nothing to stop the persecution of our birds of prey is not an option.

I've posted my comments on various sites, I've emailed politicians, blogged and signed 2 e-petitions. Thank you to Steve for his marvellous photos.

Now I'm going to go and enjoy the countryside looking for butterflies.

Recent comment of note on this subject include...

There's an e-petition here. I can't find an RSPB petition yet......

Richard Benyon
is the minister at Defra. His email address is

George Monbiot at The Guardian comments here. He also wrote an informative piece about the minister Richard Benyon's environmental credential here.

Martin Harper, the RSPB Director of Conservation has written a punchy blog on the subject.

Dr Mark Avery is the former RSPB Director of Conservation. He's written blogs here and here.

(What these 2 men don't know about the protection of birds of prey in this country isn't worth knowing.)

BASC policy on raptors is here. It's an interesting read.

Stirling University (my own alma mater) have published a number of papers on game birds; a recent paper (Impacts of birds of prey on gamebirds in the UK: a review) is here. The authors conclude: 'On the whole, however, it appears that raptors account for a relatively small proportion of mortality among released birds and the impact on subsequent shooting bags is unknown'.

Steve Ray's photostream on Flickr is here.

The Wildlife Trusts have a FB page here.

Alan Tilmouth (DustyBins) comments here.

Raptor Persecution Scotland comments here.

Raptor Politics sums things up here.

Defra have put out a Myth Bust statement which somewhat misses the point of the fury surrounding their press release.

There's an e-petition calling for the introduction of offence of vicarious liability for raptor persecution in England here.


  1. The Independent has published a leader on this issues today here

  2. More from the Independent (Richard Benyon: The Bird-Brained Minister) here

  3. and here

    I'm off down the road to buy The Independent :-)

    The RSPB is rather quiet.....I do hope they are planning a campaign against both the Walshaw Moor issue and Defra's buzzard plans. I do hope so. For now I'm following what Mark Avery is saying with great interest.

  4. News! Government has announced a u-turn on this ridiculous plan, which is good, although questions still need to be asked about why it was waved through in the first place.

  5. Yes, excellent news, and I agree with you - it's worrying that anything so idiotic could have progressed as far as it did.

  6. Hi Mel,
    While this kerfuffle was going on I was away on Orkney (enjoying birds of prey - ya boo sucks to Mr Benyon) as well as a very satisfying self-induced news blackout. When I got back and got a sniff of this story I thought I must catch up on this. Lo and behold I find your blog post. What an excellent piece - well researched and very well put together. Thank you. What a laughable fiasco this is...but why am I not surprised.
    Best wishes