I enjoyed the launch of our joint State of Nature report yesterday.  My day started on the BBC Breakfast sofa alongside a common toad ably handled by Jim Foster (from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation).  It ended with an excellent event at the Natural History Museum at which Sir David Attenborough gave the keynote address.  It was an important moment to highlight the crisis facing our wildlife.

And with nature in crisis, unfortunately today I have to report some bad news regarding one of the species that has been bucking that trend and doing well – the buzzard.

Last Thursday, I became aware that Natural England has issued the first ever licence for the destruction of a buzzard nest at the request of a pheasant shooting estate, allowing up to four nests and their contents to be destroyed between 23 April and 8 May this year.  We found out through a request under the Environmental Information Regulations – the Environmental equivalent of a Freedom of Information (FOI) request - about whether any licences to destroy or remove buzzards or their nests had been issued. Since then we’ve been trying to piece the story together and I’m afraid it doesn’t make for pretty reading.  

Buzzard populations are recovering from historical declines caused by decades of persecution .  Some in the shooting community claim that buzzards are to blame for reduced number of pheasants available to be shot.  Yet evidence shows that raptors only play a minor role in pheasant losses (1-2% in most cases), that there are other non-lethal ways to reduce conflict between buzzards and pheasants and that overall predation pressure is unlikely to decrease if buzzards were removed. We therefore believe that lethal control of buzzards and destruction of their nests is unjustified, ineffective and unacceptable.

Following a public outcry last year, supported by 13 organisations and thousands of individuals, Defra abandoned its £375,000 research proposal which would have involved the nest destruction of buzzards.  In response, Biodiversity Minister, Richard Benyon, had committed to finding a collaborative way forward, saying “I will collaborate with all the organisations that have an interest in this issue and will bring forward new proposals”.  We had been participating in discussions about future research options while continuing to urge Defra to make it clear that it is inappropriate to issue licenses for the killing of a native bird of prey to protect a shootable surplus of a non-native gamebird.

Most of us celebrate the fact that buzzards are now regularly seen soaring in our skies.  They are a conservation success story but we cannot take their return for granted.  From the information we have received, many questions remain about the process and the evidence upon which decisions were made.  We will be seeking further information and considering our options.

Our FOI [EIR] request also revealed that licences for the control of buzzards at a free range poultry farm have been issued. These licences would have allowed the birds to be killed, although subsequently they have been taken into captivity.

We do not believe that this is an appropriate way to address the public’s concerns and available information suggests that non-lethal alternatives had not been properly explored.

In short, I think that it is wrong for Natural England to issue buzzard control licences to protect commercial interests.  It is wrong that there has been no public scrutiny of these decisions and it is wrong that we only heard of these decisions after the nests may have been destroyed.

And that's why I'm angered by what has happened..

In the interests of transparency, I’ve attached to this blog all the files we received from our FOI [EIR] request exactly as we received them. Feel free to have a look through all of them, formal Opinion relating to licence A (see below) would be a good place to start. You’ll note that quite a bit of detail has been redacted, in contrast, in Scotland the Scottish Information Commissioner has concluded that assessment of licences related to seal killing should be discussed in the public domain. Clearly that is not the case here!

What do you think?

From the information in the attachments, should these licences have been granted?

Is it ever right to kill a protected bird of prey (or destroy its nests) to protect a shootable surplus of a non-native gamebird?

Is it in the public interest to take these kind of decision in the open, rather than behind closed doors?

What kind of precedent does this set for how we deal with other protected species?

Licence A:

Licence B:

  • I am dismayed at this decision taken by a body to whom most of the public regard as protectors of our natural land we call England. They should hang their heads in  shame.

  • Lots of issues here,first is that it is criminal to destroy nests of Buzzards,secondly it is probably worse to take a wild Buzzard into captivity if that is what has been done.Thirdly I find it really sad that they do this without even talking to RSPB,sadly it shows the contempt N E and the Government have for a organisation branching out into far too many things.Becoming jack of all trades master of none.

    Really rubbing salt in the wounds doing this more or less at the same time all those 24? organisations was meeting about state of nature.

    Seems to me the present RSPB has lost every bit of influence it once had.

    How long before permission given to kill Hen Harriers,Peregrines,Golden Eagles,Ospreys and others while Charlie and son save foreign species ignoring our own species in this country and even right on their own doorstep of shoot at Sandringham.

  • This is a shocking, sickening and heartbreaking step backwards in the on-going fight to protect our wildlife and is completely without justification and lacks any sort of morality. Every step must be taken to stop this practice before it sets a precedent and leads to more destruction of vulnerable species.

  • Disgraceful yes, surprising - no. It can cost several thousand pounds to belong to a prestigious shoot, perhaps only then shooting half a dozen times a year. People with that sort of money also have influence. Despite the numbers of people who care about what remains of our countryside and wildlife, the future is still bleak because our elected representatives, from MPs down to local councils, do not value it and never have. As for organisations such as Natural England and the Environment Agency, just look at what is happening on their watch: only 10% of our species facing extinction? I'll be surprised if it's really as low as that.

  • Natural England should have a rethink about what they are supposed to stand for.