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Minister sanctions buzzard nest blasting for 'research'


From the end of this week, Britain's minister for wildlife is sending men to destroy the nests of wild buzzards by blasting them with shotguns.

Believe it or not, from Friday, a project will begin to destroy buzzard nests in the interest of protecting pheasant shooting estates, which has been personally sanctioned by Richard Benyon, pictured, the minister responsible for wildlife protection at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The proposal to shotgun-blast the nests of wild birds of prey, fully protected under wildlife laws, is contained in a Defra research contract drawn up to investigate techniques to reduce the alleged predation by buzzards of pheasant poults. Poults are young pheasants intensively bred and then released into woodlands on shooting estates so they can be shot when the season begins in the autumn. Forty million are released every year; and some estates have been complaining to Defra that buzzards are taking too many of them.

But how many? The Defra research contract proposal has no figures. Instead, to grab a little credibility, it says that "76 per cent of gamekeepers believe that buzzards have a harmful effect on gamebirds". Well, they would, wouldn't they?

What has brought the contract into being is the request of a group of six shooting estates in Northumberland, who feel buzzards are taking too many poults. Their good fortune is to have found a receptive listener in Mr Benyon, a millionaire landowner with a 20,000-acre Berkshire estate and a strong sympathy for the shooting lobby. And now he has sanctioned research costing £375,000 to investigate buzzard control through measures including "permanently removing" birds from sites, and giving them to anyone who will take them.

As political misjudgements go, this has the potential to be a corker. It once more cements in place the image of toffs out of touch with what most people feel and it will be attacked without respite by the wildlife lobby.

But the point is, it's not just Mr Benyon who'll be in the frame. David Cameron greatly enjoys shooting but since becoming Tory leader he has kept very quiet about his enthusiasm. So does the Prime Minister fully support his Government's proposal to destroy buzzards' nests with shotguns? Perhaps it will be brought up at the next session of Prime Minister's Questions.