Follow in Nigel's Footsteps

Friday, 28 June 2013

Response from Natural England...

Dear Mr Harris

Thank you for your email received on the 23rd May 2013  in which you raised concerns  over the recent decision to issue a licence for the removal  of four buzzard nests from a pheasant shoot.

Please accept our apologies for the delay in responding

The recovery of the common buzzard population in England is a fantastic conservation success story and we should celebrate the fact that they can regularly be seen soaring above the countryside in most areas of the country.

Most recent authoritative population figures provided by the Avian Population Estimate Panel (APEP) estimate the number of territorial breeding pairs of common buzzard in the UK as between 57,000 and 79,000. This means that at its peak, in late summer, the total population, including non-breeding birds and young of the year, is likely to be about 300,000 birds.

While the available evidence suggests that on average, predation of pheasants by buzzards is low in certain isolated cases buzzards can cause serious problems. In this particular case a small scale shooting enterprise had sustained increased levels of predation by buzzards over a period of several years.

Where there are conflicts between protected species and human interests, Natural England always advocates the least severe measures to resolve problems. On this occasion Natural England provided advice on a wide range of non-lethal methods - including scaring, diversionary feeding and habitat improvements - but despite these measures being used over a number of years, buzzard predation continued.

Owing to the impact of predation on the viability of the shooting enterprise, the shoot submitted a licence application seeking permission to carry out lethal control (shooting) and nest destruction. The application was rigorously assessed in line with Government policy, which permits the management of protected species, including birds of prey, where specified criteria are met. We concluded that the damage being caused was not serious enough to licence lethal control, but did meet the criteria for the less severe option of nest destruction. A licence authorising the removal of a total of four buzzard nests was issued on that basis, with the licence operating over a short time period to reduce the risk of eggs being present. A total of four nests were removed with no evidence that eggs were present at the time of removal. No further control activity has been authorised.

Natural England recognises that some people object to birds of prey being controlled to protect pheasants released for the purposes of shooting.  As the body responsible for issuing licences in England, Natural England is duty bound to operate in accordance with Government policy and the law. The legislation, in this case the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), allows people to apply for permission to take action against protected species to prevent serious damage to livestock, which includes any ‘animal kept for the provision or improvement of shooting’ (section 27 of the Act). Birds of prey are not afforded any special status under the law and it is Government licensing policy that all applications, whether for birds or prey or more commonly controlled protected species like gulls and corvids, are judged against the same criteria.  Natural England assesses each application objectively on its merits in line with the principle that licences may not be unreasonably withheld. If we receive future applications to destroy buzzard nests then these will be assessed on their merits, as are all licence applications.

While accepting that not everyone will agree with our decision in this case, we are confident that the conservation status of buzzards will not be adversely impacted by the destruction of a small number of nests. Nest destruction was authorised early in the nesting season to deter the buzzards from the area where they are causing problems and give them maximum opportunity to successfully nest elsewhere this year.

If you would like to know more about why we decided to issue the licences please refer licence documents published on our Disclosure Log(i).

While Government policy for species licensing is freely available for the public to scrutinise(ii) members of the public are entitled to expect a reasonable degree of privacy in their use of the licensing system, and it is not current practice to provide an opportunity for third parties to scrutinise licence applications that we receive. A summary of all licences issued is made available on the Natural England website(iii) and we submit details of licences issued under the Birds Directive annually to the European Commission(iv).

Further information, and copies of the licences issued can be found on our website: http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/regulation/wildlife/species/buzzardlicence.aspx

Sources

(i): Details of licences and assessment in recent cases are available from the disclosure log (see 24 May 2013 entry):  http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/freedom_of_information/disclosurelog.aspx

(ii): Government policy for licensing:

http://archive.defra.gov.uk/wildlife-pets/wildlife/management/documents/section16excludingrelease.pdf
http://archive.defra.gov.uk/wildlife-pets/wildlife/management/documents/overarch-policy.pdf
(iii): Natural England licence statistics (not yet updated for 2012) are available at: http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/regulation/wildlife/licences/statistics.aspx

(iv): National reports on wild bird licensing are available from the EU at: http://rod.eionet.europa.eu/obligations/276/deliveries


Thank you

Customer Services
Natural England


....tossers

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