07/08/2016
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Natural England responds to buzzard cull criticism

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Natural England has defended its decision to issue a licence for the killing of up to 10 Common Buzzards. Photo by Francesco Veronesi (commons.wikimedia.org).
Natural England has defended its decision to issue a licence for the killing of up to 10 Common Buzzards. Photo by Francesco Veronesi (commons.wikimedia.org).

GOVERNMENT advisory body Natural England has responded to massive public criticism for its issuing a licence to kill up to 10 Common Buzzards.

In the statement, issued on 5 August, the organisation said it recognised “the strength of public feeling following the decision to issue a licence to control up to 10 buzzards and we are providing further context to this case”.

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. 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”.

Natural England said: “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 on 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.”

The organisation has not yet revealed to whom the licence has been issued, but it would appear to be linked to hunting interests, in order to protect captively reared Pheasants prior to being released to be shot. The statement fails to address the fundamental criticism, levelled by the RSPB and other wildlife organisations, that a naturally occurring and legally protected species (one that is also sometimes illegally persecuted) is being killed to protect a much more numerous ‘alien’ species. Conservationists are rightly concerned that this could set a worrying precedent, with further licences likely to be granted. It could also be seen by some to legitimise illegal persecution of birds of prey and other predators, much as with the badger cull, with the Badger Trust saying that the DEFRA-led cull has led to a surge in the illegal killing of badgers. 

Natural England has also failed to explain what other non-lethal measures have been taken. However, the advisory body further stated: “In the interests of transparency, Natural England will shortly be making documents associated with the assessment and granting of this licence publicly available.”

“We would not consider licensing any activity which would adversely affect the conservation status of a species,” Natural England continued in the statement. “Buzzards are now widespread in England, with over 60,000 pairs in the UK (British Trust for Ornithology). The loss of a small number of birds at the specified site will have no impact on the overall conservation status of the species.”

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Written by: Birdwatch news team