My passion for wildlife was stimulated in my teenage years, mainly thanks to my Mum (a biology teacher) who made me look at the world differently and being inspired by writers such as Paul Colinvaux. This early interest developed into biological research in my 20s, when I did practical conservation work in places such as the Comores and Mongolia.
Today, any free time I have I spend pottering around the flatlands of East Anglia or escaping to our hut on the Northumberland coast looking for wildlife and castles with my wife and children.
I studied Biological Sciences at Oxford and Conservation at UCL, and worked at Wildlife and Countryside Link before spending five years as Conservation Director at Plantlife.
I joined the RSPB as Head of Government Affairs in 2004, became Head of Sustainable Development in 2006, before becoming Conservation Director in 2011.
Many of the readers of this blog will remember ‘buzzardgate’, the subsequent u-turn and the licences granted to control buzzards in 2013.
The thorny issue of licenses for buzzard control reappeared today when Natural England issued a licence permitting the control of up to 10 buzzards to “prevent serious damage to young pheasants”.
The killing of a recovering British bird of prey to protect an introduced gamebird for the benefit of commercial interest is wrong. The decision sets a worrying precedent. What will be next? Red kites, peregrines, hen harriers?
Buzzard flying free from harm? Ben Hall, rspb-images.com
The fact that these commercial interests remain private and confidential is the second troubling point. Where is the transparency in this decision? As an issue of public interest why must it remain confidential?
Most importantly, I believe the legal framework behind this decision is broken. There needs to be a public policy debate about how can it be right that as a growing number of gamebirds are released, a protected bird of prey is in the firing line to safeguard a shootable surplus of pheasants.
Forty five million pheasants and six million red-legged partridge are released into the countryside each year. We don’t know what the ecological consequences of this introduction are but it’s hardly surprising that it attracts predators. The loss of some of these gamebirds is an inevitable consequence of doing business. Natural predators should not be bearing the cost in this instance. What we really need is the gamekeeping industry to identify ways in which they can live alongside buzzards and invest in protecting their poults without resorting the lethal control.
Some might say about our position, you control wildlife, what's wrong with people controlling buzzards to protect pheasants?
This misses the point entirely.
The control of predators is sometimes necessary for conservation and the RSPB is open about its use of such control on its own reserves (see here). Deciding to use lethal predator control is something we never take lightly, it is always a last resort after other methods of non-lethal control have failed. But there is a fundamental difference here. We use it in order to protect and conserve a public good, species already under pressure, delivering nature that all can see and enjoy. In the case of the buzzard license, the control is designed to protect a private, commercial interest.
Whilst some will try to paint it as such, this isn’t about the RSPB deploying an anti-shooting agenda through the back door, this is about us wanting to see a public debate around our relationship as a country with the natural world in the 21st century.
A test of a modern society is one that tolerates predators and finds ways to live in harmony with them. Reaching for the gun, every time there is a perceived conflict, is the wrong response.
What do you think about this decision?
It would be great to hear your views.
Surely the buzzard is a wild bird and as such is protected under the law. How does Natural England manage to flout it. Pat F
I couldn't believe this decision, w hen I saw it in the Guardian! I completely agree with all the other comments. As Randle says, it's a disgraceful decision, where will it end? Whilst we can write to our MP, is there something we can jointly do through the RSPB?
This really is a disgraceful decision and makes me what role Natural England have. They just seem to be a waste of space when they act like this. To me it reeks of corruption.
To 'control' a wild native species in preference to an intentionally bred bird which is to be shot for fun, no other reason, shows a certain lack of basic humanity and intelligence, methinks. " The measure of a person's intelligence is shown by the way they treat their fellow creatures".
Slightly off topic, but has everyone seen this - a chance to comment on the future. Closing date 9/9/16
I seem to recall Andrea Leads me saying some while ago that if she got the P.M. post she would scrap the fox hunting ban so what chance for any sympathy towards any wildlife. The whole shooting industry has just got a free hand to do what they like.How would the quota of shot Buzzards be policed? Our overloaded local force have no man power for that.
Full marks to RSPB for a robust condemnation of this bizarre decision. For those who have criticized the action I'd simply say, "How much beyond a robust condemnation can you go". I've also set out a piece on my own Blog, see "Natural England.....what have you become "
(www.birdingodyssey.blogspot.com ) on the self same subject as I'm extremely worried about the precedence created associated with this outcome. In my view Natural England is much depleted in its "strength" nowadays and Government empathy towards our natural heritage does seem to be a bit thin to say the least. I'll certainly be writing to my MP, copied to Theresa Coffey, in order to lend weight to the situation and I would encourage others to do the same.
Therese Coffey is away from Parliament until September 5th. That's quite some timing for the grant of this licence, isn't it?
It's difficult to know what is worse - Natural England issuing licences to kill buzzards or the awful suspicion that the buzzards in question were doomed anyway if the 'business interests' had been denied a licence. After all, nobody is causing our hen harriers to disappear under the umbrella of a licence, are they?
A terrible decision. Far more Pheasants are killed on our roads than those taken by Buzzards and other birds of prey. What next, a licence to shoot cars that drive too near a shooting estate?
That's good, Martin. Our MP is Therese Coffey.
For those of you keen to take action, I would recommend writing to your MP to ask them to contact the Biodiversity Minister, Terese Coffey, and ask for a change in policy to prevent future licenses being granted. Your MP should/may be prepared to represent your views and the Minister is usually obliged to reply.
Appalled by the decision - emails sent to NE and Andrea Leadsom..... Hope the RSPB can generate a head of steam over this shocking decision!
It's crazy that you can't retryn a trapped grey squirrel, as it's a non-native species, but you can release 40 million non-native Pheasants.
Maybe they should build better enclosures for their livestock.
Failing a judicial review, can we ask who applied for the licence under a freedom of information request, or for the rationale behind the licence under a FOI? It's outrageous that the request is not publicly accountable when the persecution of protected raptors happens and it clearly is in the public interest to monitor what and how such decisions are taken.
I'm appalled by this decision and further confirms my view that this government continues to pursue its blinkered pursuit or support of profit making activities regardless of the costs to the environment and nature. Similarly the government has spectacularly failed to take any action towards hen harrier conservation. As a first step to making a stand may I recommend that as many as possible sign the e petition at petition.parliament.uk/.../125003 to ensure a parliamentary debate through which a licensing system for holding driven red grouse shoots may be introduced. Hopefully the possibility of losing a licence will reduce bird of prey persecution.
I fully support the withdrawal of support for the hen harrier action plan as announced in Martin Harper's blog. I also note from the blog that the RSPB wishes to "reinvigorate the call for Defra to introduce licensing in England too." Let's do it and sign up.