Let' see what we have learned from the partial information released.
1. The initial meeting states "that Richard Benyon,Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries had asked that officials from Defra and NE meet with NGO following submission of their paper Licensing the Control of Predatory Birds To Prevent Serious Damage to Pheasant Shoots."
2. One of NGO's key arguments was " Gamekeepers are committed to adopting lawful management of buzzards but that where this is proving unnecessarily difficult there is a risk of an increase of unlawful action – the licensing system therefore needs to act as a „safety valve‟ where there are genuine conflicts arising"
In other words if you don't give us what we want some of us are likely to go ahead and kill the Buzzards anyway.
3. NGO have difficulty counting, during their presentation they claimed "The NGO consider there are around 300, 000 birds in the UK in late summer" yet in their press releases supporting the research and subsequently kicking off about it's cancellation the number had miraculously increased to 'half a million' see here and here.
4. Perhaps keen not to be too reliant on the actual numbers of Pheasant poults predated in case it comes back to bite them on the arse they are also "concerned that poults are subject to stress induced illness caused by buzzards preying on and flying near poults (both inside pens and following release of the poults) and that this stress is also preventing poults from accessing the feeders as they need to." Apparently someone noted "that this was
5. NGO negativity concerning non-lethal management is obvious from some of their comments on diversionary feeding ranging from "suggested that diversionary feeding had not yet been shown to work in many circumstances" to "highlighted that there was a lack of academic, peer reviewed research demonstrating diversionary feeding can work." They also rather bizarrely seem to have been pursuing questions over why diversionary feeding of Cormorants and by Airports had not been used?
Further exchanges saw NGO bizarrely raise "concerns that carcasses left with lead shot in them could be in contravention of the WCA as they are knowingly putting out a bait containing a poisonous substance." Quite rightly someone in the meeting pointed out the own goal stating that "different shot could also be used, non lead - steel for example being cheaper than lead to purchase and use" and "that many thousand (millions?) of rabbits, pigeons, pheasants etc are shot with lead and their carcasses not recovered each year. Game and wildlife entering the human food-chain is also killed with lead shot. If the lead risk is as great as asserted then perhaps the use of lead should be reconsidered"
6. NGO also noted that "there was significant expense in terms of time in putting out and replacing diversionary feeding carcasses" Yes much easier and cheaper to shoot the damn things isn't it?
By the time the next meeting came around NGO were still arguing the case against diversionary feeding by now citing a study (no reference) that Natural England had to point out "was in fact in referring to supplementary feeding, where food is left out for a long period, rather than diversionary feeding where food is left out at certain key times" So if you can't find proper scientific evidence just put a spin on what you do find to ensure it backs up your arguments...
7. NGO aren't interested in your views, they are well aware that public opinion is not in their favour and they clearly intend sidestepping it as they "emphasised that their paper established that public opinion on raptors could not be taken into account when determining licence applications and that under the Defra Wildlife Management Strategy no licence could be unreasonably withheld"
8. Good to see that even at the discussion stage the RSPB " objected to the use of lethal control as part of this study, or to capturing and subsequently releasing buzzards after a period in captivity (to the same area or elsewhere) to mimic lethal control. The RSPB felt that capture-and-release would be dubiously legal, would not significantly further our understanding and would not foster an atmosphere of collaborative working." Perhaps if this advice had been listened to by the other particpants and decision makers the whole sorry episode could have been avoided.
9. Many of the organisation supporting the proposed research on Buzzards were keen to highlight the notion that 76|% of gamekeepers had said they had problems with Buzzards. It is apparent from the minutes of the final meeting and the presentation of the FERA desk study this is not quite what the responses indicated rather that " the FERA report data that included a figure of 76% of shoots experiencing some level of predation from buzzards but that not all shoots would consider licensed control necessary" In other words the alleged anecdotal evidence to justify the proposals was even flimsier than we knew at the time.
10. Incredibly and damning in my view the FERA desk study found that "Studies suggest that pheasants form a relatively small part of buzzard’s diets" and "Losses to shoots are generally low" and "The design of release pen is influential in the level of predation experienced" Yet the proposals still went ahead, this seems to indicate to me that DEFRA officals were under pressure from above to keep NGO or perhaps even the landowner here in the North East happy.
11. The FERA representative ended by stating "the desk study undertaken tends to suggest most of the available research is correlative rather than causal in nature." Not exactly a strong case then?
It then becomes clear that the tender and research proposals had already been issued at this point ahead of the findings of the FERA desk study. The only conclusion again that can be drawn is that someone within DEFRA was very keen to keep some individuals happy and did not wish to waste time on any evidence gathering exercise. Despite what some in the shooting fraternity have already began to put about claiming the RSPB were colluding on this issue the minutes clearly state "RSPB have reservations about the research and these would be formally provided to the Group in due course"
The full meeting minutes texts can be found here.