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Buzzard 'capture' scheme dropped


The Government has dropped a controversial scheme allowing buzzards to be taken into captivity and their nests destroyed to protect pheasant shoots.

The Environment Department (Defra) planned to spend up to £375,000 researching ways to keep the bird of prey from targeting non-native pheasants, which are reared in captivity and released for shooting in their millions.

But in the latest U-turn by the Government, the research project has been abandoned following a furious reaction from conservationists led by the RSPB.

The wildlife charity had condemned the proposals which would have tested methods to control buzzards including destroying nests to prevent birds breeding and catching and relocating buzzards to places such as falconry centres.

In a document originally setting out the research project, Defra said three quarters of gamekeepers (76%) believed buzzards had a harmful effect on pheasant shoots.

Buzzards have seen numbers increase by 146% between 1995 and 2009, although the increase appears to have levelled off between 2009 and 2010, according to the British Breeding Bird Survey.

But the RSPB said buzzards were eradicated from swathes of Britain by persecution and were only now recovering as a result of legal protection.

Birds of prey only played a small role in game bird losses compared to other factors such as collisions with cars, the wildlife charity said, citing a study which showed 1% to 2% of pheasants were taken by birds of prey.

The Government's own document admitted the impact of buzzards on pheasant shoots has not been investigated and the extent of the issue was unclear.

But it claimed there were a number of sites where the bird of prey could be contributing to losses and that there was an urgent need for management measures to reduce the impact on pheasant shoots.

Today Wildlife Minister Richard Benyon said he had decided to look at developing new research proposals on buzzards in light of public concerns.

"The success of conservation measures has seen large increases in the numbers of buzzards and other birds of prey over the last two decades.

"As Minister for Wildlife I celebrate that and since 2010 we have championed many new measures to benefit wildlife across England - set out in our England Biodiversity Strategy.

"At the same time it is right that we make decisions on the basis of sound evidence and we do need to understand better the whole relationship between raptors, game birds and other livestock," he said.

He pledged to bring forward new proposals.

RSPB conservation director Martin Harper welcomed the Government's decision to cancel the project and said there were well-tried, non-lethal ways of dealing with buzzards at pheasant pens.

He said: "This is a strong decision, reflecting the strength of the nation's desire to see Government protecting precious wildlife.

"The recovery of the buzzard is being celebrated by the public after many decades of persecution.

"It is clear they don't want their taxes being spent on removing buzzards and the Government has to ensure that no bird of prey will be killed in the name of sport."

He said Defra's limited resources should be put into saving UK wildlife such as hen harriers, another bird of prey which is under threat.