Buzzards free to nest in peace as minister drops shooting plans

Protected birds earn reprieve after sudden U-turn

A A A

Controversial plans to blast the nests of buzzards to help out pheasant shooters were abruptly dropped by the Government yesterday, 24 hours after they were extensively highlighted and criticised in The Independent.

Richard Benyon, the Wildlife Minister, who had brought in the plans and was labelled the "Bird-Brained Minister" by this newspaper as a result, abandoned them "in the light of public concern". The U-turn was as complete, as sudden and as humiliating as the scrapping of the plan to sell off the national forests last year.

A millionaire landowner and keen member of the shooting community, Mr Benyon had sanctioned a research project to investigate the alleged predation of young pheasants by buzzards on shooting estates. It involved destroying buzzard nests by blasting them with shotguns and removing the birds to other unspecified locations – and it produced outrage amongst conservationists.

But Mr Benyon's agreeing to the destruction of the nests of fully protected birds of prey was incompatible with his official position as the defender of British wildlife; it gave off the sort of image – of out-of-touch Tory toffs – that David Cameron has been at pains to excise from the modern Conservative Party.

It also became clear, as The Independent highlighted, that Mr Cameron himself might be dragged into the dispute, as the Prime Minister is also a keen shot – something he has been careful not to publicise.

The climbdown from Mr Benyon's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) yesterday bore all the hallmarks of having been ordered from above – just as Defra's abandoning of its forests sell-off policy was similarly directed by Downing Street when it began to produce ridicule for Mr Cameron's claim to be running the greenest Government ever.

In a statement, Mr Benyon said: "In the light of the public concerns expressed in recent days, I have decided to look at developing new research proposals on buzzards. 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.

"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."

The U-turn, which caused surprise in its suddenness and completeness, was widely and warmly welcomed.

"I am delighted that this out-of-touch Government has dropped its ill-thought-through plans to use taxpayers' money to destroy our native buzzards' nests to 'protect' pheasants," Mary Creagh, Labour's shadow Environment Secretary, said.

"This was the latest environmental blunder from a Government that has long forgotten its pre-election green promises with the forests sell-off and badger cull."

Martin Harper, conservation director of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said:"We believe the public's support has been pivotal to this, and the extensive coverage of the issue in The Independent has driven a flurry of activity that has convinced the minister of the depth of public feeling, and has encouraged him to take the right decision and drop the proposal.

"It is clear they don't want their taxes being spent on removing buzzards."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee