My eldest son and I stood in the shell of the house that was soon to be ours looking through an empty window frame across the hedges to the 'big woods' in the distance. It was 1998 I remember telling him that one day we'd be watching them soaring over the garden from this window.
This year we have three pairs on territories near the house and for the first time I watched with my nine year old as one circled high early in the Spring and soared over the garden, nearly 25 years after that first Buzzard had caused great excitement and warmed the air of a winter's day.
It has come to light today that a government department (DEFRA) took the first steps in allowing the destruction of the nests of these magnificent birds, that have taken over half my life to recover from historical persecution. A bidding process has recently ended for a project entitled "The Development Of Management Techniques to Reduce the Predation of Pheasant Poults by Buzzards". This three year project funded to the tune of up to £375k of taxpayers money will trial so called non-lethal management techniques one of which is " Nest Destruction - Breeding birds displaced by destroying nests during construction, for example, using squirrel drey-poking pole or shotgun from below thereby forcing the pair to move on to find another nest site or not breed that year."
You can read the full project specification here. The trial area is 2000-2400 hectares here in Northumberland where it is claimed that the shoots have suffered significant losses from buzzard predation.
I have struggled to control my anger today, this is unbelievable on so many levels; that these birds of prey have finally reached a point where their population has stabilised and they are breeding both county-wide and nationally for our government to sanction the destruction of nests even as a trial is beyond belief. This is nothing less than a trial of state-sponsored persecution of an incredible and magnificent species. Not content with wiping out English Hen Harriers landowners and shoot managers have colluded and influenced their friends in high places to bring this trial about, to start under the veil of 'research' on the road to ridding their land of our Buzzards.
This Nest Destruction technique described above is the exact same technique often employed illegally by those gamekeepers who continue to persecute other species such as Goshawks, yet here are DEFRA sanctioning the use of the self-same methods and apparently failing to see the irony in labelling it 'non-lethal'.
This is the thin end of the wedge, this trial should not be allowed to go ahead with this method included. Not one nest should be destroyed as part of this proposal, we all need to draw a line in the sand. Where next. Will DEFRA sanction the destruction of Osprey nests 25 years from now when they are taking too many fish from stocked lakes?
That a government department can find £375k to hand over to find ways to prop up the profits of the land-owning and shooting fraternity in these austere times is in itself somewhat puzzling, especially it was only two years ago that the self-same government cut 21.5% from Natural England's annual budget as part of its deficit reduction programme.
That the same government department have been conned into the possibility of large scale losses even after research by GWCT ( that is the organisation predominantly funded by the game industry to produce science that is supportive of the game industry) produced in the last decade over three years specifically into the fate of released Pheasants could only offer that "Of the 486 radio-tagged birds, we think three were killed by raptors" beggars belief.
The inclusion of the 'nest destruction technique' in this trial needs to be prevented. As I understand it the contact for this project at DEFRA is one Richard Brand-Hardy, you can contact Richard by email at Richard.firstname.lastname@example.org - let's all drop Richard a line and let him know how we feel about the inclusion of nest destruction as a 'management technique'. Whilst you're on copy the email to your local MP and let him/her know how you feel to.
It is also worth noting that the BTO are part of the Project Advisory Group, so if you are a member of the BTO it may also be worthwhile contacting them to make your feelings known about the inclusion of nest destruction.
Coming to the end of writing this post I'd like to end on a positive note, I've been tweeting all day about this and had a huge response, both Birdwatch and Birdwatching Magazine seem keen to take up the cause. Chris Packham is on the case and I've just heard from Stuart Housden the Director of RSPB Scotland that RSPB will issue a statement tomorrow. A big enough response can make a difference, I'll certainly make sure that this is discussed at the next Northumberland & Tyneside Bird Club committee session (28 June) and I'd urge everyone who reads to email the contact above and anyone else who can put a stop to this, as soon as possible.