Friday, June 7, 2013

Buzzard control through the back door?

This is a rather belated entry into the debate, although it does seem to be trundling on under a variety of different aspects. For a detailed update I can do no better than refer you to the Raptor Persecution Scotland site ( www.raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/ ).

In summary it seems a pheasant rearing enterprise applied for a licence to remove the nests of local Buzzards, the adults from which were causing a predation problem, or at least that was the outcome of the application. Such a licence was issued by Natural England, but there seems to be an issue over whether the applicant had some sort of outstanding offence against his/her name. Apparently the requisite sections within the application were left blank, which one might have imagined Natural England should have insisted on being completed! Other equally confusing aspects also arise and the whole scenario seems to be a mess.

Now you'll all remember the Buzzard-gate fiasco of yesteryear when the DeFRA Minister, Richard Benyon, proposed controls to be applied on the species. Given the extent of public outcry the proposals were then withdrawn and an indication made that the issue would be researched more thoroughly ( isn't that supposed to happen at the beginning of a process anyway? ). Since then nothing has emerged until this little drama came to light via a Freedom of Information request from the RSPB.  One wonders why such an obvious hot potato wasn't at least discussed beforehand with the RSPB, but there!  En passant I also wonder if RSPB ought to wake up and realise that being a stakeholder, as it so often quotes, doesn't mean you're part of the gang ( hopefully they wouldn't want to be either! ), but simply roped in on certain matters when it suits the Government Department concerned. The days of being a valued advisor to Government are gone it seems to me. Stakeholder status is a courtesy to demonstrate Government is jumping through the correct hoops. It brings no commitment, or even honest recognition of the ideals of the participant organizations, who need to become a bit more street wise and combative.

The whole issue necessarily raises the point of whether Natural England is competent and fit for purpose if one begins to look at some of the aspects revealed by Raptor Persecution Scotland.  Given what appears to be a fairly robust population of Common Buzzard in the overall area, does it not occur to any of the officials involved that the removal of nests would simply serve to act as a "sink"?  In other words the same birds, or others, would simply come back in, occupy the territory and the whole merry go round starts again. What then would be the position of the licencing organization?  And what of the supposed threat by the National Gamekeepers Association, who apparently supported the application, threatening to take Natural England through a judicial review process if the licence wasn't granted. No further news has emerged on this since it was first mentioned on the above web site.

My immediate reaction was that all this could have been a consequence of the matter being delegated to a junior official and that key elements were innocently overlooked. Last evening I was assured by a colleague that the rumour is that such was not the case, but that the matter was handled by the Secretary of State himself. In a week when one imagines the responsibilities of state lay heavily on the shoulders of those involved, given the issues surrounding the badger cull,  that yet another annihilation issue was being dealt with at that level seems unlikely.  I'm beginning to be worried though about  this Administration and associated organizations.........Buzzards, Badgers, Muntjac, Wild Boar, Grey Squirrels........if they're a nuisance then get rid of them.  Go on, out you go, take them down!  Last year we discovered Natural England ( oh yes, them again ) didn't know how many badgers were in the proposed cull area. We don't seem to know how many Wild Boar or Muntjac we have either. So are we simply seeing a response being given to those who shout the loudest or are these decisions being taken on all the facts involved?

And as a final rant! Take note RSPB and others. The extent to which the advice and research was not taken on board within the badger cull debate is evidence of the real value attributed to stakeholders, even to the extent of advice and research from some of the most learned in the land. Listening to the comparative financial costs involved one imagines we might all have a case for complaint. The final decision, a sop to established interests or an expression of real concern?  The sooner our conservation organizations waken up to the fact that "the opposition" are already in Government when it comes to environmental and countryside matters, the better off we might be.