If you’ve seen any of many classic British movies featuring the Upper Class, you’ll have seen the tradition established by the Victorians of blasting birds out of the sky.
In Britain, the birds are usually Pheasants and the government has just funded a study which will destroy the nests of Buzzards, a Raptor, on the basis that they’re eating young Pheasants. Only there is no evidence they’re any problem and critics are charging that the Minister, Richard Benyon, who has approved this has a conflict of interest as a landowner, stately home owner and decidedly a member of the Upper Class.
The trial has been agreed to and funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on the basis of entirely anecdotal evidence from the National Gamekeepers Organisation.
Britain’s native Buzzards have spent decades recovering from a severe population decline and range retraction — at huge cost in conservation pounds. Their decline was largely due to persecution.
Pheasant is an introduced species, and more than 40 million are released annually for the purposes of commercial shooting, though many now survive ferally at an unknown cost to native gamebirds such as Grey Partridge. The competition and the spread of disease between these two species is unstudied.
Buzzards have been gradually spreading into former haunts, despite illegal persecution — they’re a protected species — still persisting in many parts of the country, many on shooting estates.
Those shooting estates are experiencing a boom in demand, funded by the rich financiers of the City of London.
Writing for The Guardian, George Monbiot accuses Minister Benyon of demonstrating “a spectacular ignorance of the natural world he is charged with protecting.”
He is using his department’s budget to subsidise the class and culture to which he belongs, at the expense of both taxpayers and birds of prey.
Monbiot worked on one of these estates as a teenager and recalls vast flocks of birds being driven into gun range so “you could scarcely fail to hit one.” Not only were many just winged and then limped off into the woods, but any other bird unlucky enough to get in the way was also blasted out of the sky.
Benyon’s department is about to spend £375,000 (US $586,000) on capturing Buzzards and destroying their nests to see whether this reduces their consumption of young Pheasants (or Poults). Supposedly a quarter of Poults are being lost, but no one knows how many are, for example, being run over on the roads.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is quoted by Monbiot saying that according to one study:
On average, 1-2% of pheasant poults released were taken by birds of prey. It found 45% of poults released were shot, with the remainder dying as a result of other factors, such as road collision and disease, or surviving to join the feral population.
The RSPB said the idea of taking wild Buzzards into captivity or destroying their nests was “totally unacceptable.”
This is state-sponsored persecution of a protected species to please some of the richest people in the country, pursuing a cruel, destructive and pointless activity. It is state spending for the 1% – or the 0.01% – which everyone else must pay for. It looks to me as if Richard Benyon is using public money to provide services for his aristocratic friends.
Picture by JSBrownbill