Conservationists have reacted angrily to plans by Defra to investigate possible measures to keep buzzards from targeting game birds.
According to the RSPB, Defra is considering options including taking buzzards into captivity and destroying nests in order to protect young pheasants and other game birds on shooting estates. A survey by the National Gamekeepers Organisation in 2011 found that 76% of gamekeepers believe buzzards have a harmful effect on pheasant shoots, and Natural England has received numerous requests to license killing of the birds, which are a protected species.
Although buzzard numbers have increased 146% between 1995 and 2009, the RSPB says that this growth is the recovery of buzzard populations from previous persecution which saw the species eradicated from large areas of the UK.
Both destroying nests and taking buzzards into captivity would be illegal under current wildlife laws as the bird is a protected species, and the RSPB have said that removing buzzards is ‘unlikely to reduce predation levels, as another buzzard would quickly take its place’.
The government report says that the impacts of buzzards on pheasant shoots had not been investigated in detail and the extent of the issues were unclear, although there are a number of sites where buzzards could be contributing to game-bird losses with significant economic impacts for shooting estates.
Defra has defended its plans in a series of Tweets, stressing that its research will consider options which ‘protect young pheasants whilst allowing buzzard populations to thrive’.