Thursday, 24 May 2012

I'm Not a Pheasant Plucker - I'm a Native of this State

Buzzard 1
Pheasant Plucker?
Buzzard by Paul Buxton, Flickr
Yesterday evening  I was alerted by Alan Tilmouth's blog to an appalling situation.

Government is looking for someone who can find the best ways of getting rid of buzzards.

But if you fancied the job - and there must be plenty of gamekeepers and shooting syndicates out there who would do it for free, - I'm sorry to tell you that you're too late.  The deadline for tendering for a cool £1/3 million of taxpayers'  money passed last month.

Believe it or not, DEFRA has been advertising for someone to work with shooting estates in Northumberland to find the best way of getting rid of buzzards so they don't plunder specially reared baby pheasant chicks. (Reared so someone can go out with a gun and shoot at them).

It's clear to me from DEFRA's own tender document (which you can read here) that they have no concrete evidence that buzzards take pheasant chicks, or what the extent of the problem is, assuming there is one. It's pretty obvious that there has been some hard and influential lobbying done by the shooting fraternity to highlight their assertion that some of their chicks have been going missing.  You'd think DEFRA might perhaps feel obliged to spend a little bit of cash investigating whether there actually is a real widespread problem or not with buzzards. (OK, maybe you'd really think they'd go tell the shooting fratentity to go away and don't be so silly, and maybe rear your pheasants in a better way, and don't bother us, thank you very much)

But either way you'd be wrong. Instead, they're going to pay someone up to £375,000 over three years to work with shooting estates to find various ways of getting rid of buzzards close to where pheasants are reared. This may include trapping and nest destruction - destruction of a species whose numbers everyone is delighted to see have increased in recent years, but which DEFRA says may now be  levelling off. Oh, and they might pay compensation to those involved in any study if they are used as a control and pheasant poults get taken, even if they don't know by which predator

There's no evidence in the DEFRA tender to suggest any of the money for this study is coming from the shooting estates or the National Gamekeepers Organisation.  I bet most, if not all, is coming from your taxes and from mine! Meanwhile they'll happily pay the costs of a  reknowned and no doubt highly expensive QC to defend an individual gamekeeper charged and found guilty of crimes against raptors as here in Derbyshire.

I was so incensed at this ridiculous waste of money to appease a load of rich shooting estates, based on no sound evidence, that I felt a  letter to somebody high up was in order. And here it is:

Date: 22 May 2012

Dear Mrs Spelman
Please could you clarify whether £1/3 million of taxpayers' money is to be spent researching ways to destroy buzzards in Northumberland  based purely on the "opinions" of a few gamekeepers and shooting estates in a survey? Or is the money to fund research into ways to destroy buzzards in this DEFRA trial  being put up by the National Gamekeepers Organisation?
If the former, I object most strongly to my taxes being spent in this way. Here in Derbyshire we have seen how the 'fair and reasonable opinions' of gamekeepers and the vested interests of shooting estates have utterly annihilated native raptors in parts of the Dark Peak.
When I was made redundant  through government funding cuts in 2011 (after 30 years local authority service), I never foresaw how those savings might then help support rich shooting estates. So on what basis is it felt appropriate to spend over £300k to appease pheasant breeders at a time of austerity?
Let's look at statements in the DEFRA tender document (my capitalisation)

  • It has HAS BEEN CLAIMED THAT raptors, particularly buzzards, have been causing serious damage
  • 76% of gamekeepers BELIEVE that buzzards have a harmful effect on gamebirds.
  • ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE SUGGESTS that it can be significant at the local site level
  • Although research has YET TO IDENTIFY  the extent of impact of buzzards at a national or local scale, . . .

I wouldn't object so strongly if DEFRA appeared to be spending money solely to ascertain if there genuinely is a problem in the UK. It sounds more like you've simply listened to a few vocal lobbyists and are rushing to spend taxpayers' cash working out a solution to a problem you don't actually know exists.

Please tell me I've got this all wrong and that there's a sound, legitimate reason. (I may, of course, need some persuading).
Yours etc.

It wasn't going to be long before the big organisations came out to denounce this awful situation, and here are some fine responses from The RSPB and Raptor Politics. Please remember that it's down to your actions, and pressure exerted on the real decision-makers that really count, not outraged comments left on an obscure blog like mine. 

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