A license to kill? Is that a Timothy Dalton styled James Bond I see over there?? No no. This is a very different license, not related to 007. Friday the 13th proved a very dark day indeed for one of our birds of prey. The Judicial Review at the High Court overruled Natural England’s refusal to grant a license to a gamekeeper to shoot buzzards. This final ruling brings to an end a battle that has been raging for four years. The gamekeeper from Northumberland requested the license, because buzzards are apparently desecrating his stock of young pheasants each year. So much so, that his business was becoming financially unviable. This is perhaps a controversial decision to say the least. Buzzards, like all other birds of prey are protected in the UK and only with such a license can they legally be shot. But as is common knowledge, shooting and poisonings of birds of prey is rife, whether one has a license or not.
But what’s the issue here? Well, there are of course two arguments. The Countryside Alliance, has, of course, welcomed this ruling and this has been considered a win for the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO). But how is this allowed? How can a protected species be shot? Well, in fairness, licenses have existed since 1981, which allow for the control of some species, including buzzards and many in the NGO feel that applications for such licenses are not dealt with fairly. Buzzards are a green status species in the UK, and we are thought to have around 80,000 breeding pairs. So, the argument is, if we have so many, surely the control of a small number will not do any damage. The NGO believed that Natural England were displaying ‘double standards’ as they accepted that the gamekeeper had exercised all other forms of protection to his game and yet he was still refused a license. This, they believed, was not an unbiased decision. The gamekeeper, Mr McMorn, and the NGO stress that buzzards are still protected, but that small controls should be allowed to be exercised in small areas. Whether you agree or not, this is one argument that has been put forward, and the High Court obviously agrees.
Take our emotions and personal feelings out of it, it sounds like a reasonable point. So what’s the problem? Well, the worry is that not only will this increase the number of applications to shoot buzzards and destroy nests, but that Natural England will grant more, otherwise they are at the risk of appearing biased or unfair. Though not all licenses will be successful, let’s not forget that each individual case will be assessed on individual circumstances. However, the evidence demonstrating the effects that buzzards have on pheasants is sparse indeed. It is though that only 1-2% of pheasants are taken by raptors. But even then, surely there are other methods other than shooting these birds. Supplementary feeding is one, but this is unpopular, due to the increased expense.
Though this is not the main worry for many. The main worry, which I identify with, is that this may act for some as a free-for-all. Illegal persecution is already a huge issue for birds of prey and a ruling such as this may encourage such acts. And even those with licenses may exploit the law. There is no way to police how many buzzards an individual will shoot. You may have a license to shoot 10, but one might decide to shoot 15 or 20 or 50 or just keep going and going. There is no way of policing how many have been shot. You could be on your 50th kill and claim it was your 2nd, and many, unfortunately, would.
Another perspective is that buzzards are a native species. Pheasants are not. Yet a native, protected species can be shot, so that an invasive, unprotected species will increase in numbers. And all of this so that humans can shoot them. In most other cases we fight to protect our natives and control our invasives. But not in this case. Millions of pheasants and red-legged partridges (non-native) are released each year to sustain this industry. When we have raptors as our native species, potential losses should be realised. To me the answer to shoot whatever is a slight threat is outdated. Especially when the science is weak and there are other options. Endless pheasants get killed on roads and by dogs. Should we go and shoot some dogs and cars? I think not.
In this case, it has been a victory for the NGO, us raptor conservationists must lick our wounds and regroup. Though this is only one case. The buzzard IS still protected. Let’s see that it stays that way. Too many of our raptors have suffered at the hands of guns, let’s not add the buzzard to that list. Birds of prey are a native species that should be allowed to thrive, it should not be a constant battle to preserve our numbers of raptors, whilst non-native’s thrive in their millions. Perhaps we should employ a 007 type to protect our raptors…now there’s a thought.
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