Controversial plans to shotgun-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 i.
Richard Benyon, the Wildlife Minister, who had brought in the plans and was labelled The Bird-Brained Minister as a result, abandoned them "in the light of public concern" in a U-turn 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 a 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 – producing outrage amongst conservationists.
But it became clear that Mr Benyon's agreeing to the destruction of the nests of fully-protected birds or prey was quite incompatible with his official position as the defender of British wildlife, and was giving 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 i highlighted, that Mr Cameron himself might be dragged into the row, as the Prime Minister too is a keen shot – something he has been very careful not to publicise.
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."
He added: "I will collaborate with all the organisations that have an interest in this issue and will bring forward new proposals."
The U-turn, which caused surprise in its suddenness and completeness, was widely and warmly welcomed.
"We believe the public's support has been pivotal to this, and the extensive coverage of the issue in i 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," said Martin Harper, Conservation Director of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.