Country: Feathers fly in raptor debate

Last autumn a gamekeeper confided to me that he had recently shot four buzzards in the space of 30 seconds as they emerged from a raid on his pheasant pen. "A double right-and-left!" he said, not without satisfaction. Yet his memory of the incident was tinged with anxiety, for he knew that if he had been detected, he would have been liable to a heavy fine.

Dozens of gamekeepers all over Britain have no doubt taken the law into their own hands in similar fashion during the past year. Whether they have shot a sparrowhawk, poked out a goshawk's nest or trampled a hen harrier's eggs into oblivion, they are goaded by the belief that birds of prey have become intolerably numerous.

Many other country people share their conviction, and none more vociferously than John Pugh, a Breconshire hill farmer who recently held an open day at his home near Rhayader to encourage discussion of conservation issues. The fact that more than 60 people turned out was in itself a reflection of widespread concern; many were sympathetic farmers, but the company included several representatives of national organisations, not least one from Mr Pugh's bete noire, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

The main purpose of the day was to make professional conservationists face the realities of country life, from which Mr Pugh reckons they are far removed, and in particular to stir up the debate about raptors which is coming to the boil countrywide.

The RSPB has just brought out Birds of Prey in the UK - Back from the Brink, a report showing that most species of raptor have increased significantly in recent years. Sparrow-hawks, for instance, are now thought to number 35,000 pairs, and peregrines have recovered from the nadir of the Sixties, to which they were reduced by organochlorine pesticides, to 1,300 pairs, the highest total recorded this century. The same document insists that full legal protection of raptors must be maintained. It also records a steep fall in the numbers of songbirds: skylarks, song thrushes, tree sparrows and bullfinches have all gone down by more than 50 per cent in the past 25 years. Yet the RSPB attributes their demise to inimical farming practices, and concludes that "sparrowhawks are not a significant cause of these declines". Such remarks are red rags to the likes of John Pugh, who maintains that members of the RSPB are no better than "blood sports enthusiasts". He claims that, by supporting the obsessive protection of raptors, they are in effect promoting mass slaughter every day of the year.

"Who are they to say that I cannot have peewits and curlews on my land?" he demands. "Who are they to say that I cannot have bullfinches in my hedges? Why should I have all these hawks killing everything?"

He points out that the RSPB already culls magpies and crows on some of its reserves, and now he is calling for an immediate change in the law which would enable landowners to take out licences for culling peregrines, sparrowhawks and goshawks. He maintains that his crusade is gathering support, and predicts that if no positive action is taken within the next few months, an alternative, more realistic bird society will come into being, with 50,000 domestic pigeon fanciers as instant starter members.

Less aggressive lobbyists are surprised, to put it mildly, that the RSPB has fired off its latest broadside without awaiting the report of the five-year joint raptor study now coming to an end at Langholm, the Duke of Buccleuch's estate in Dumfriess-shire. The aim of this major investigation, in which the RSPB itself has been taking part, along with the Game Conservancy Trust, the Institute for Terrestrial Ecology and other bodies, is to study the interaction of grouse and harriers. Its conclusions are eagerly awaited, and will be the talking-point of the summer.

Meanwhile, here on the Cotswold escarpment, my neighbour has just lost his eighth tumbler pigeon in as many weeks to our resident sparrowhawk, which flickers up and down the lane like a grey shadow. Unlike John Pugh, Dave take his losses calmly, reckoning that he has to live in harmony with nature. But not everyone is that philosophical, and fireworks are to be expected.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Marketing Manager / Product Owner

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...

    Guru Careers: Carpenter / Maintenance Operator

    £25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Coordinator

    £17600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum cares for one of the largest...

    Recruitment Genius: Experienced PSV Coach & Minibus Drivers

    £12500 - £24500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Drivers wanted for a family run...

    Day In a Page

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Attwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

    Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

    The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
    10 best waterproof mascaras

    Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

    We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
    Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

    Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

    Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
    Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
    Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'