Natural England says no to buzzard-killing licence

buzzard 3A couple of days ago we learned that Natural England had received a licence application to permit the capture and killing of ten buzzards (well done to the RSPB for getting the info – see their blog on the subject here.)

The licence application was made by somebody who had applied for licences before and the justification for wanting to trap and shoot ten buzzards was to prevent so-called “serious damage” to pheasant poults.

Natural England has just made the following announcement about this year’s application:

Decision on buzzard control licence

On 23 April 2014 Natural England received an application for a licence to cage trap and shoot ten common buzzard (Buteo buteo) in the vicinity of a site which has experienced loss to pheasant poults in recent years.

The application had been made by the operator of a pheasant rearing and shooting business on the site and is supported by the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation. After careful consideration, Natural England has concluded that the application does not meet the criteria that would permit lethal control to be licensed.


Unlike last year, so far this year we haven’t seen the actual licence application, although we strongly suspect that this year’s licence applicant is the same individual as last year, working with the help and support of the National Gamekeepers Organisation (NGO). We blogged a lot about this gamekeeper last year, and particularly about his previous criminal conviction for poison offences and questioned why the NGO were still supporting him instead of booting him out of their club for being a convicted wildlife criminal. Astonishingly, we were told that they hadn’t booted him out because the NGO apparently doesn’t see poison offences as either a ‘game-keeping activity’ or a wildlife crime! We also learned that having a wildlife crime conviction was no barrier to applying (and receiving) a licence from Natural England to destroy protected wildlife (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here). The whole affair was illuminating, to say the least, and that’s without even going in to the arguments against killing a protected native species in order to protect an exotic, introduced species that is bred and released into our countryside by the tens of millions every year so that they can be later shot for ‘sport’.

Today’s announcement is very welcome news indeed, although most (all?) of the game-shooting lobby will disagree. We expect them to launch a judicial review of Natural England’s decision, as they threatened to do last year if they didn’t get their way. That might be quite interesting, especially when they get to the bit where they’re asked to provide scientific evidence about the ‘serious damage’ caused by buzzards….

UPDATE 7pm: The NGO has issued a statement about Natural England’s decision (here). In it, they claim the gamekeeper involved is “close to financial ruin”. Here’s a tip for that gamekeeper – if your business is reliant on the killing of protected species, it ‘ain’t viable in the long term. Try another ‘profession’.

24 Responses to “Natural England says no to buzzard-killing licence”

  1. 1 nirofo
    June 5, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    A cull of Buzzards or any other Raptor for that matter should never have even been considered regardless of whether Pheasants, Partridges or Red grouse are concerned. Our Raptors are supposed to be legally protected and as such should be totally immune from any persecution. Natural England / SNH should tell all the shooting estates, syndicates etc, that the huge unnaturally high numbers of game birds should not be put above our native protected species regardless of whether they are preyed upon or not, and no licences to cull will ever be issued. It’s because the numbers of game birds are maintained at such unnaturally high levels that they make easy prey for the Raptors, it’s like putting all the sweeties on the table and telling a small child not to touch them.

  2. June 5, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    Fortunately Natural England saw sense! How long before grouse and pheasant shooting becomes a thing of the past? 50yrs? 100yrs?

    • 4 crypticmirror
      June 5, 2014 at 4:25 pm

      I hope never, there is nothing wrong with them in principle. Especially since people who are not lucky enough to live in the countryside themselves still like to eat a nice bit of pheasant or grouse on occasion. What is horribly, horribly wrong is the way industry conducts itself. The industry needs root and branch reform at virtually every level, I agree, but that isn’t the same as needing to go extinct.

      • 5 nirofo
        June 5, 2014 at 5:04 pm

        How many ordinary people eat Pheasant or Grouse whether it’s occasionally or not, I would think a miniscule amount. I live in the countryside and never eat it, I don’t know anyone else who eats it either.

        The one thing that will eventually put an end to the grouse moor shooting estates is their unwillingness to change their selfish outdated Victorian attitudes to wildlife and the land it lives on. The shooting estate owners do themselves no favours with their attitude that it’s their land and they’ll do on what they please, regardless of the fact that they are slowly but surely destroying the environment and it’s wildlife forever.

        Now that access to these lands is open to anyone who wishes to roam there it’s becoming harder and harder for them to hide their illegal activities, sooner or later one will be caught red handed at it and will not be able to escape the law, lets hope that day is soon.

        • 6 crypticmirror
          June 7, 2014 at 2:46 pm

          While I know it is a niche market, I do know several people who like having a bit of grouse, pheasant, or even pigeon on occasion. None of us are exactly well off, although managing to be able to buy our own food instead of having it doled out at a foodbank probably puts us in the 1% at this point under the current government.

          As for the rest of it. Yeah. You are right. The industry is shambolically and stupidly run in a totally counterproductive manner. I’m sure Raptor Persecution reported on a letter to the shooting times not that long ago, in which a shooter actually pointed out that very issue. The shooting industry is alienating the public, particularly the big grouse moors (pheasant shoots, I’ve found are -no pun intended- a bit more hit and miss as some of them are more sidelines than the main estate profit-driver), and that is probably going to be the end of things eventually. It is the classic modern-industry failing (applies to everything from banking to steel making) of using all resources to destruction and wringing every last penny out before it all falls over.

          I think the trouble is they keep promising easy bags, and large bags too in some cases, to people who really ought to be clay pigeon shooters rather than live shooters (I suspect this applies to the deer shoots too). They estates are promising the prestige of a live shoot for the (relative lack of) skills of a clay shoot. To do that they have to breed massive amounts, strip off every scrap of cover and remove any possible competition and predators. It destroys the land, and can only devalue the industry itself too. What they really ought to be doing is making it harder, and selling the prestige of even getting a single bird. They could charge much more per person and have less people employed to strip the land and destroy the other wildlife. More money in and less expense out per customer. You’d think everyone would win.

          • 7 peter hoffmann
            June 10, 2014 at 12:41 pm

            Really like whale meat and that scientific thing… you are talking out of your back side.. niche market? You try and find pheasant hare or any game in the country side these days.. they used to be utilised and game factors and butchers had them hanging in front of their shops.. no more! They are usually burried in pits on the estate as they have NO value… certainly not enough to justify sport… go target shooting or sket.. ya don’t have to blast live birds out of the sky just coz ya can.. It is not sporting it is cowardly.. now hunting cape buffalo on foot .. most shooters would be too chickenshit to face up to that one… ah yes we have canned hunting for the moneyed idiots who find pleasure in taking life… time to see your psychiatrist…

  3. 9 crypticmirror
    June 5, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    If you are in the game bird rearing game, then raptors and losses to them (and any other causes really) should be taken as merely an occupational hazard. Losses to them are part and parcel of being in the game and should be planned for and priced around as standard.

    • 10 Marco McGinty
      June 5, 2014 at 3:21 pm

      Correct! But that would mean the game shooting industry would have to use logic and common sense, discard their prejudiced views and accept predators as part of a viable, healthy ecosystem. Is that likely to happen?

  4. 11 John Taylor
    June 5, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    Is this a case of someone who really wants x (x being a licence to destroy nests, as was granted last year), but they think their odds are better if they apply for 2x (a licence to kill adults)?

  5. 12 Mike Mills
    June 5, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    If this keeper is close to ruin and buzzards are widely distributed then how come all keepers aren’t in the same boat? Is this yet another case, like the sheep farmers and sea eagles where a level of ignorance or poor practice blames a scapegoat. Besides, is it not widely acknowledged that if you get rid of ten buzzards then ten more will move in to the patch – hence becoming a carte blanche to carry on , and on, and on. I recall many years ago a keeper being prosecuted for killing a massive number of buzzards in one location by this very principle.

    • 13 Marco McGinty
      June 6, 2014 at 1:40 am

      I find myself in agreement with you, but in addition to the huge levels of ignorance displayed in previous applications, all of which was supported by the National Gamekeepers Organisation, I believe there is a level of duplicity in the NGOs backing, and this is reinforced by threats of legal action against Natural England for failing to permit licences. As far as I am concerned, the NGO will harass Natural England until they give in, and if Natural England ever did permit such an application, it would open the floodgates with every single shooting estate applying for raptors to be killed every year. Vile people.

      But once again, a shooting organisation (this time the NGO), in their statement of misinformation, they say “Despite great efforts, he has been unable to reduce the predation by other means, so he quite correctly applied for a licence.” Is that truly the case? Methinks not. During the discussions last year on this very site, discussions which did include a Mr Charles Nodder of the NGO, it was suggested to him and his organisation that smaller pens should be used to rear pheasants, and in an ultimate attempt to deter predation, a roof should be put on each pen. This simple message has obviously failed to filter into the minds of the killers, and they have chosen to blindly follow their own methods that clearly do not work. Clearly, ignorance, duplicity and deceit are favoured rather than a common sense approach.

      And then we have the NGO’s veiled attack on the RSPB. In the Notes to Editors section, they claim that this licence application is no different to the RSPB oiling the eggs of a number of introduced, feral Barnacle Geese. This a pathetic, childlike argument, and does show how little they know of UK wildlife matters. The feral Barnacle Goose which they refer to, should not be considered on a par with the truly wild wintering populations we see in the British Isles, but why let facts get in the way of some propagandist piffle.

      This is followed by the sensationalist 450% population increase since 1970, whilst at the same time they ignore the fact that the increase, or re-colonisation to give it its proper term, was partly due to enhanced protection following decades and decades of prolonged and widespread persecution. Some would consider this being economical with the truth, others would consider it downright deceitful.

      The close with the short statement that “In law, licences cannot be unreasonably withheld.” Fair enough, but it would be appropriate to point out that this gamekeeper has repeatedly failed to provide sufficient cover for his pheasants by refusing to roof his pens. Again, we have gamekeepers, deliberately seeking conflict with protected raptors, and all of this being supported by the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation.

  6. 14 Pete Woodruff
    June 5, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    Worth noting that Natural England did….’consider the application’….and went on to claim it….’didn’t meet the criteria that would permit lethal control’….Sounds like a permit was possible to me, as the application was considered but did’nt qualify.

    • 15 merlin
      June 6, 2014 at 12:19 am

      Here you go, you and some mates invest in 3 thousand pheasant poults at £2.50 – £3.50 each, you take delivery of them in mid July and have to look after them until October 1st. Approximately 12 to 13 weeks when you can then charge people £30 minimum for shooting them, over 100% profit on paper. How can you possibly not make money from this? the answer actually is simple, the market is over saturated, everybody and his mate has jumped on the bandwagon, the commonest British breeding bird is the diminutive Wren which has a breeding population maximum of 8.5 million pairs. Compare this to the now estimated 35 to 40 million non native pheasants released annually and it quickly becomes apparent that not everyone who releases pheasants is going to magically make money, if this guy can not make money legally out of this venture then he needs to call it a day, it is no point chasing losses. Don’t forget other lowland farmers are also going out of business, chicken and pig farmers can’t even afford the cost of feed for their animals, these are legitimate family businesses built up over generations not some fly by night sporting venture.
      Richard Benyon as head of DEFRA was willing to squander £375,000 on looking into ways in which culling localised Buzzard populations might ease the situation on this sporting estate, the sad truth is he could have given the estate £250 to spend on more poults and this would have more than covered the costs of losses to Buzzards. NGO and any other organisation supporting this action need to take a long hard look at themselves and realise how fortunate they are for the moment and perhaps think about the needs of their other law abiding members and how these ridiculous applications for licenses to cull protected birds reflect on those members. With recent Raptor persecution incidents still fresh in the public domain you would be quite right in thinking the NGO would be building bridges to save face for these members instead of seemingly scuppering a sinking ship, personally if I was a member of the NGO I’d be calling for an emergency meeting and issuing a vote of no confidence in their week and apparently completely out of touch committee

  7. 16 Jimmy
    June 5, 2014 at 11:30 pm

    It would be interesting to know what evidence the applicant produced in this case. At this time of year shoots are raising pheasants in nursery pens. They would still be too young for release pens. Therefore any losses to buzzards would be easily dealt with by the use of top netting. The fact that the NGA has refused to give any more details on this matter I think says a lot about the real agenda here

  8. 17 Douglas Malpus
    June 6, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    I’m glad that lethal control has not been granted but will it protect the buzzards? Far too many gamekeepers, encouraged or even ordered by estate managers/owners will kill predators without a licence. Even when they are caught the penalties are slight. Penalise the estates, stop their EU subsidies, that will hurt, continue going for the gamekeepers until the rogues are weeded out.

    Merlin, Benyon went quietly, [allegedly] sacked from DEFRA after his far too frequent poopahs. The estate he [allegedly] want to kill buzzards on was his own. He also [allegedly] is under investigation for habitat destruction on his estates. He [allegedly] would not spend money to confirm the Public Right of Navigation on the rivers of England for canoeists and swimmers, [allegedly] saying it was inappropriate use of public funds. This was just days after proposing £375,000 to investigate the culling of buzzards.

    I propose keeping all the pheasants in their cages until the days of the shoots. Then the gamekeepers can humanly kill them and catapult them over the shooters (all armed with blanks, they are probably too drunk to know the difference). This would be a win win situation, buzzards left to their own life, clients very pleased with a 100% kill, pheasants safe to eat without their peppering of shot and no lead scattered over the land.

    • 18 nirofo
      June 12, 2014 at 9:04 pm

      Drunk or sober most of the shooters couldn’t hit let alone cleanly kill a semi tame Pheasant with a shotgun even when it is driven in panic directly over their heads. The majority of the birds are merely wounded and are found by the dogs to be despatched, many are never found at all and die lingering deaths in the undergrowth. Many more escape entirely to become a burden on the countryside consuming food and competing for nesting habitat that would otherwise be available to our own indigenous species. They also provide an opportunity for the gamekeepers to use them as an excuse for persecuting raptors and other predators, (not that they need an excuse). It’s high time the release of so many alien species into the British countryside just for the archaic sadistic pleasure of a few Victorian attitude shooters to get their rocks off was totally banned or severely limited with stiff penalties for all atrocities against wildlife.

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