This week, in an incomprehensible show of ignorance, Natural England granted a licence for a Northumbrian gamekeeper to lethally control “up to 10 Buzzards” to protect non-native pheasant poults. This appalling announcement comes less than a year after the High Court ruled that Natural England was “wrong” to deny keeper Richard McMorn a license to kill Buzzards, which they have now on five separate occasions. The decision has, rightfully, angered many, if the social media storm that proceeded the announcement is anything to go by, but was surely welcomed by Mr McMorn, who has repeated claimed that Buzzards are rendering his business “unviable” through repeated predation of young pheasants.
According to Natural England, the licenses issued are time-restricted and strictly controlled. They also stipulate that the license is to be used in unison with non-lethal measures and that only Buzzards in the direct vicinity of pheasant pens may be controlled. Presumably through shooting? Does this matter? No, of course not. And all of this has come as little consolation to nature lovers who feel that by allowing such actions, that Natural England are making a mockery of the protective legislation that safeguards our raptors. Buzzards themselves, despite being reasonable common at present, still only consolidating their expansion following their near extinction mere decades before. You guessed it, as a result of persecution.
The RSPB have voiced their disapproval at the decision (see Martin Harper’s Blog) stating plainly that “the killing of a recovering British bird of prey to protect an introduced gamebird for the benefit of commercial interest is wrong“, while elsewhere the move has been heavily condemned by Chris Packham, Domonic Dyer and other notable commentators. Each of whom appears as staggered as I am at NE’s breathtaking disregard for the buzzards protected status, opting to effectively legalise the persecution of a recovering raptor to protect a non-native and damaging species. Forty-five million of which are released each year in to the UK to the detriment of reptile and amphibian populations. And possibly, to a host of other, under-researched side effects.
Personally, I feel that this decision makes a mockery of Natural Englands’s claim that they are working towards “securing a healthy natural environment for people to enjoy, where wildlife is protected and England’s landscapes are safeguarded for future generations“. It shows a monumental disregard for the hard work of conservationists and the laws that were able to reverse the buzzards fortunes and sets a VERY dangerous precedent for how we deal with predatory species in the future. Will they grant licenses for the control of Ospreys to protect fish stocks when their population reaches a “problematic” (or natural) level.. Will they sanction the death of Hen Harriers to protect grouse shooting interests? I do hope not and sincerely hope they take heed of the current outcry and reverse their decision. As they have done in the past. And may well do again, if we act, now…
Some people will say that in writing this, I am confirming my status as an “anti”, though this is not the case. I have engaged positively with gamekeepers in the past and have worked alongside a number of them, and as such, try my best not to generalise. This said, McMorn’s persistent war on buzzards is nothing short of infuriating when you take into consideration that the pheasants in question are kept in open-air pens. Without a roof – a relatively cheap alternative to slaughter that would meet commercial needs, and protect said raptors. Would it not make sense to at least attempt to take “good care” of your birds – if you feel that good care involves raising them to be shot – before pointing the finger at predators. Natural England have claimed that “all alternatives” have been explored prior to their decision though I cannot help but feel disillusioned at this. Shooting should never be the go-to option and common sense dictates that there must be another way to protect your stock.
Right now a million questions relating to the subject are floating around in my head, the most persistent of which being “what does a few buzzard-related fatalities matter in the grand scheme of things. Especially as many of your pheasants will be killed by traffic anyways”. I am going to try to do something a little proactive with my frustration in this instance and write to both Natural England and Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom. If only to vent and express my complete and utter disgust at the matter. If you wish to do the same, here are the relevant email addresses: