The Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), announced yesterday (Wednesday) that it was abandoning its controversial plan to cull the common buzzard due to widespread opposition from wildlife enthusiasts and conservationists.
Although the buzzard is a fully protected bird of prey under wildlife laws, the Tory minister for wildlife, Richard Benyon, who the Independent newspaper has dubbed the 'Bird-Brained minister', gave approval to a Defra plan to destroy buzzards nests by blasting them with shotguns and trapping buzzards to relocate them to other areas to protect intensively bred pheasants, reared on pheasant shooting estates. The Independent said that the "climbdown bore all the hallmarks of having been ordered from above."
While this U-turn in government policy - the fourth policy change this week - will be welcomed by nature lovers and conservationists, questions are already being asked about this hairbrained scheme costing £400,000 that only benefited a tiny group of pheasant shooters who run commercial shoots. It is also well known that Benyon, a millionaire landowner and great-great grandson of Lord Salisbury, greatly enjoys shooting as does his leader, David Cameron.
In its research report to justify the cull, Defra claimed that "76% of gamekeepers believe that buzzards have a harmful effect on game birds." Yet research undertaken by the agricultural consultants Adas, on behalf of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation - which was not quoted by Defra - found that on average, the number of young pheasants (poults), taken by all birds of prey, was 1 to 2% with far more dying as a result of road collisions.
Martin Harper, the conservation director of the Royal Society for the Protection of birds (RSPB) told the Independent:
"We believe the public's support has been pivotal to this, and the extensive coverage of the issue in the Independent has driven a flurry of activity that has convinced ministers of the depth of public feeling and has encouraged him to take the right decision to drop the proposal. It's clear they don't want their taxes being spent on removing buzzards."