Unatural England (again)

Posted: August 10, 2016 in Comment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

You may be aware that Natural England, the so called governing body responsible for the protection of our wildlife have issued a license to “control” (that means kill) up to 10 Buzzards to a gamekeeper who complains that he is losing Pheasants to the predators. The full details of the license restrictions and further details can be found at Raptor Persecution UK.

I wrote to Natural England to complain.

It is with great dismay I discover you have issued a license to kill buzzards to protect game birds, as outlined in your statement below:

Natural England issued a licence last night permitting the control of up to 10 buzzards to prevent serious damage to young pheasants.

The licence is time-limited with stringent conditions and is based on the law, policy and best available evidence. It follows rigorous assessment after other methods had been tried unsuccessfully over a 5-year period.

It is stipulated that the licence must be used in combination with non-lethal measures and only on buzzards in and immediately around the animal pens – not on passing birds. These conditions are designed to make the licensed activity both proportionate and effective and we will continue to work with the applicant to assess this.

Killing wild birds without a licence from Natural England is illegal.

I believe this decision is not only misguided but in fact disgraceful and clearly made under pressure from the shooting industry. Millions of non-native game birds are released into our countryside every year for the purpose of shooting. Many of these will in fact end up discarded and left to rot in a field or pit somewhere, perhaps used to lure foxes and other predators to their deaths. There simply isn’t the market for these unwanted birds and they serve no purpose apart from the enjoyment some people gain from killing them.

To allow the legal persecution of our native and protected raptors sets a dangerous precedent. Many birds of prey are struggling to exist in the face of intensive game birds rearing and shooting, the impact that Buzzards will have on Pheasants would be marginal at best. Even if they did predate a few birds I’m sure these could be spared in light of the millions that are released with little chance of survival.

I urge you to reconsider you decision and look forward to your response.

Natural-England

Not fit for purpose

They responded thus:

In response to your enquiry on the issuing of a licence to control up to 10 buzzards, we are providing further clarification on the decision. For security and data protection reasons, we cannot give any details about the licence holder.

Wildlife licences are required from Natural England for activities that will disturb or remove wildlife or damage habitats and can be granted to prevent damage to agriculture, livestock, fisheries, property or archaeology. So far this year, we have received over 5500 wildlife licence applications covering a variety of species. In deciding whether a licence should be granted, all applications have to be assessed in the same way against the relevant policy and within the legal framework of the the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (WCA). 

We discharge this role as a wildlife licensing authority alongside the range of our statutory responsibilities as government’s adviser on nature conservation. In assessing the buzzard licence application we took into account the legislative tests and policy guidance, the evidence received from the applicant, industry guidance and scientific literature. The application was rigorously assessed with input from specialists across our organisation.

The High Court has recently considered the issues surrounding the granting of a licence to kill buzzards in order to protect livestock and given clear direction on the decision making process. This includes the need to balance the protection of wild birds against the requirement to prevent serious damage to livestock and the need to adopt a consistent approach to the interpretation of policy which applies across a number of species.  Natural England has taken account of the court’s findings in reaching this decision.

The licence to control buzzards was issued to protect against serious damage to livestock. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 defines livestock as any animal which is ‘kept for the provision or improvement of shooting or fishing’.

Our guidance says that where birds are either in pens or are significantly dependent on people they are classed as livestock. For example, where a bird remains in close proximity to a release pen and will often return to it for shelter or to roost at night, and is dependent of food put out by the gamekeeper then we usually consider it to still be livestock even if it is free-living.  As pheasants are released at a relatively young age, they will be dependent on the gamekeeper for several weeks at least. Natural England revised this guidance to take account of the High Court ruling, having consulted our stakeholders.

As a public body, Natural England has to balance the public interest with the security of the individuals who apply for licences.  In the interests of transparency, Natural England will shortly be making documents associated with the assessment and granting of this licence publicly available. These also include details about control methods, assessment and criteria under which the licence has been granted.  Any disclosed documents will be released in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) and therefore some details, such as personal information, may be redacted.

We would not consider licensing any activity which would adversely affect the conservation status of a species. Buzzards have increased dramatically in recent decades and are now common and widespread, with over sixty thousand pairs in the UK (British Trust for Ornithology). The loss of small numbers of birds in a small area will have no impact on conservation status.

It is illegal to kill wild birds without a licence from Natural England and anyone who suspects a wildlife crime should report details to the police.

dead buzzard

Is this a sight we want to see?

There are a couple of points worth noting however.

The person who was granted the license was the same Gamekeeper who applied and was denied several times in the past. This same person then took Natural England to court over their decision and it would seem this is the biggest single factor in them allowing the license this time round. As I specified in my complaint this does indeed set a very dangerous precedent. It pretty much opens the door for every gun-toting psychopath with a hatred for anything that kills game birds (Gamekeepers) to apply for licenses to legally kill raptors which were previously protected.

The fact that Buzzards are now relatively common really shouldn’t even be part of the thinking here. 50 million game birds are released every year, the impact by Buzzards would be minuscule at best, and remember, Pheasants are non-native. One also wonders how the license restrictions will be policed? Which Buzzards will be chosen to be shot? How will they distinguish between a transient bird and a resident one? Who will be there actually counting? The gamekeeper could be out there blazing away like a WWII anti-aircraft gunner at Pearl Harbor and no-one would know how many Buzzards he’d downed. It’s so open to abuse it’s ridiculous.

Further more it would seem anything reared for the purpose of shooting and fishing is considered livestock and thus can be protected using lethal means. Why do minority hobbies get so much protection? If game birds are considered livestock why is their killing not covered by the same legislation as regular farm animals reared for food? The reason is they have dual classification, when they are being reared they are livestock, when they are released they are classed as wild birds. Neat trick eh? Except Natural England also seem to regard the birds as livestock even if they have left the pens due to their inability to survive on their own. This blurring of the rules only goes to show how far Natural England are prepared to bend over and take one for the shooting lobby.

Interesting to note are Defras own livestock guidlines as stated in The Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968 (1968 Ch 34) – The definition of livestock given in Section 8(1) of the Act applies to animals being kept for the production of food, wool, skin or fur on agricultural land. Ministers may, by order, extend this definition and this has been done in the Welfare of Livestock (Deer) Order 1980 (see section 2(b) of this summary). The definition includes cattles, horses kept for meat, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry and other species, such as rabbits, mink, fox and deer. It also applies to a horse or a dog when used in the farming of land. As a guide to the application of this definition, rabbits kept for commercial production of food or fur are livestock, but pet rabbits are not, even when kept on a farm and neither are ornamental duck, nor pheasants reared for sport.

Killing wild birds without a license is illegal, as they constantly like to remind us. It hasn’t stopped the persecution of our raptors be it licensed or otherwise, but then again what should we expect from an organisation which licensed the slaughter of thousands of our badgers simply on the whim of the NFU?

Ban driven Grouse shooting.

Withdraw the license to kill Buzzards.

Support Chris Packham.

ADDITIONAL: The Gamekeeper in question, Richard McMorn (48) of Ancroft Town Farm near Berwick was previously arrested following a joint investigation involving Northumbria Police, the RSPB and Natural England, [for possession of banned pesticides and poisons] amid fears that the toxins were being used to kill wildlife.

Comments
  1. Stephanie Svendsen says:

    Bloody disgusting. Natural England should hang their heads in shame. Blood sport is sick, rearing any creature for sport is totally wrong. Killing innocent birds to further the nobs egotistical arrogance makes my blood boil. It has to stop.

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