Sep 282016
 

Tim Boxall points at a shape in the field bordering the seven-acre wooded pen where he keeps 1,500 pheasants. “Here you are,” he says. “Look! There’s one over here.” He bends down and prises the remains of a pheasant from the long grass. “That’s a buzzard kill, you can tell by the way it’s been eaten.”

Boxall is a gamekeeper, raising 10,000 pheasants a year to be killed in commercial shoots on the land he rents in Gloucestershire. This year, however, the pheasants have something other than Boxall’s clients to fear: the buzzard.

“There’s an old saying: where there’s livestock, there’s going to be deadstock,” Boxall says. “You accept the buzzards are always going to have some, but this year was horrendous. I lost 500 pheasants at £3.75 each. It cost me £75 a day to pay someone to sit there all day to watch over them, basically sunbathing for two weeks, but it did keep them away.”

A buzzard pins down a dead pheasant. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

“If you take a buzzard out, others will move in,” said the broadcaster and naturalist Chris Packham, describing Natural England’s decision as a “catastrophe”. “All you are doing is making a vacuum. In practical terms it’s doomed to fail. In ethical terms it’s abhorrent. These are native birds being killed to protect a non-native species, it’s Lewis Carroll, it’s insane. Now the floodgates will open and everyone will apply for these licences. Will it be peregrines next? Kites?”

Martin Harper, conservation director for the RSPB, asked: “Why are we allowing this still-recovering magnificent bird to be legally killed? In order to protect a private business concern. To protect a few of the tens of millions of non-native game birds that are released into the countryside each year.”

Gamekeepers, however, are having none of it. “The RSPB line is nonsense,” said a spokesman for the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation. “In law it’s quite clear: Natural England cannot grant a licence for any purpose that would adversely affect the sustainable status of the species concerned. There has to be a genuine need and no other satisfactory solution. Natural England cannot refuse a licence if those tests are met.”

While campaigners question the morality of the decision, they cannot question its legality. The gamekeepers’ organisation backed a successful judicial review launched by a gamekeeper last year to challenge Natural England’s decision to refuse him a licence to control buzzards. Under the terms of the high court ruling, Natural England must “balance the protection of wild birds against the requirement to prevent serious damage to livestock”. The court further ruled that, “where birds are either in pens or are significantly dependent on people, they are classed as livestock”.

The buzzard, a protected bird of prey, has recovered from near extinction in the Victorian age to become one of the conservation movement’s success stories. With between 57,000 and 79,000 breeding pairs in the UK, according to the British Trust for Ornithology, it is one of the fastest growing bird populations in the country. In support of its decision, Natural England noted that in July the trust declared that buzzards “are not considered to be of current conservation concern”.

Gamekeeper Tim Boxall with the remains of a dead pheasant found next to his pen in Gloucestershire. Photograph: Dan Glaister for the Observer

An estimated 40 million non-native pheasants are released into the British countryside each year. A report for the British Association for Shooting and Conservation estimated that on average between 1% and 2% of pheasant poults were killed by birds of prey.

“There’s a huge amount of hyperbole and panic about this,” said the gamekeepers’ organisation spokesman. “All birds are protected by law. Buzzards are no different. The only difference is one of perception, that for years it’s been believed that in some ways buzzards are different, that they have a separate protection. You can’t go on saying that there was once a time when this [species] was scarce and using it as a reason to prevent licences.”

However, campaigners say that the legal shooting of buzzards will make it more difficult to police the illegal shooting of birds of prey. Calling the move shameful, Eduardo Gonçalves, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “Authorising this protected raptor to be killed purely to boost the profits of private shooting interests sets a very dangerous precedent. It’s difficult to see how the police can effectively tackle the illegal persecution of these birds of prey now the floodgate of government-approved exceptions to the law has opened.”

Boxall remembers when buzzards were rare. “When I came here in 1990 you never saw buzzards,” he says. “When you did you thought, bloody hell, what’s that? They used to feed on carcasses, but they can’t do that now because farmers aren’t allowed to leave carcasses, so they turn to the next easiest thing. The next thing we’ll get is red kites. They’re lovely birds, but they have to eat.”

The gamekeeper pauses and cocks an ear. “That’s a buzzard calling now. He’s up in a tree there somewhere. It must be teatime.”

Wing and a Prayer

■ MPs are to debate banning driven-grouse shooting, after a petition launched by Mark Avery, a former RSPB conservation director, gained more than 120,000 signatures.

■ The Hen Harrier Action Plan, a government-led initiative involving conservation groups, landowners and shooting organisations, collapsed in July following incidents of shooting and poisoning. There are thought to be only three pairs of hen harriers in England, about 600 pairs in Scotland and 50 pairs in Wales.

■ The RSPB has launched a campaign to license shooting estates, giving authorities the power to withdraw licences where birds of prey are illegally killed.

This article was first published by The Guardian on 18 Sep 2016.


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Karen
Guest

Why kill the buzzard, after all the game keepers just breed the pheasants to be shot – which they call sport – let all natures live naturally,

tony scott
Guest

never should this bird be culled. its nature. why not ban pheasants

Member

Malcolm, I can quite understand your frustration at the buzzard taking your chicks however being a chicken keeper myself I look at it this way; If you are taking something and containing it then it is your responsibility to keep it safe within your care. You should find a way to make your birds safe against all aspects of danger including the buzzard able to sit on a perch and choose his meal as it passes.

Where there is a will there is a way.

Member
Why should we kill a native of this country to stop it killing a native of Asia? The poor pheasant was taken from its natural home and brought here to breed in excess purely for the fun of the shooting fraternity. The latter word was not what I actually wanted to put! The pheasants you see wandering around the fields and country lanes are the lucky ones who when released and scared into flight by the beaters in the woodland, avoided being shot by the waiting morons with their guns in the adjacent fields. Sadly some go on to join… Read more »
Mark M.
Guest

Why do those pro killing generally equate everything to a monetary value? Typical human self interest, so wrongfully channelled!

Marilyn marilyn
Guest

Unfortunately for the Pheasants, that is Nature. Otherwise, killing a Natural Predator, would be like killing a human that “only” hunts to eat.

Catherine Reed
Guest

whenever we try to eliminate a species, we upset the balance of everything!

Adrian Strand
Guest

No just ban the hooray henries from shooting the pheasants

Cherie Mazzenga
Guest

no no no no

Hilary Morrison
Guest

No of course not, why the he’ll are you asking such a stupid question – journalists.

Member

Votes speak volumes for people who have responsible care of the planet at heart!

Jutta Maue Kay
Guest

Leave them alone!!!

Malcolm
Guest
It looks like the vast majority of those commenting here, are against the shooting of Buzzards to protect Pheasant stocks. No-one has spoken about the damage Buzzards can cause to collections of other birds. I keep rare and minority breeds of pure bred poultry. There is a Buzzard that sits on an ark inside the poultry enclosure every day. So far this year it has taken well over 50 young birds. In monetary terms this is something like £1500.00 lost. I also have friends in the ‘poultry world’ who have similar stories, so it is not just the Pheasant shoots… Read more »
Derek
Guest

should we ban cars cause they kill 1000s of pheasants. No. Buzzards should be left alone. Shooting interests should not dictate what is allowed to live in our countryside. there is an easy solution. Ban pheasant and grouse shooting. Let nature be.

Michele
Guest

No native animal should be shot to make way for certain humanoids getting their sick jollies by killing. nature kills to survive, what’s left supports other creatures. It’s time we stopped killing for fun and profit and breaking the natural circle of life. We are only killing ourselves by destroying the planet we live on.

Eugene Rae
Guest

Even the “”””sportsmen””””” must be able to see the madness of this. It’s like killing anteaters to protect ants. Ludicrous.

Member

Of course not, the man killed more birds than these birds and do those to live man does it for fun!!!!

Cat Vincent
Guest

NO NO NO

Vince
Guest
Why should the buzzards be killed when they are killing pheasants to survive, when humans are raising them for profit and killing them for sport? Surely it is us who should restrain ourselves from this unnecessary luxury, which is generally a pursuit of the rich, why should these people have the right to kill the endemic wildlife in the name of profit and leisure activities? Pheasants are not endemic to the UK, they are raised in pens and released en masse and many die on the roads as they have no road sense and potentially cause accidents as they run… Read more »
Nicholas Watts
Guest

The reason the Buzzard has spread from west to east in 30 years is because of all the reared pheasants, they live on them and in the spring when there aren’t many reared pheasants about they turn to our ground nesting birds such as the Lapwing. Maybe it is the rearing of pheasants that want banning not the driven grouse shooting

Elsa Byleveldt
Guest

What does the stats say

Bert
Guest

A Buzzard (Buteo buteo) is not able to kill a Pheasant!
It prays f.i. on mice, insects and, yes, on Pheasants who where killed by others. Forgotten game by hunters for instance.

By the way: Pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) are introduced as a game bird in Europe. It’s native to Asia. The Pheasant is a threat to our fauna and in particular to our reptiles & amphibians. The use & breeding of Pheasant as game should be legally banned in Europe.
Have a nice day.
Bert

Ben Douglas
Guest

No!! pheasants are bred artificially. Buzzards are not

wpDiscuz

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