Thursday, 23 May 2013

'Natural' England II

I think the conclusions and comments of the review of the decision to issue licences carried out by senior members of Natural England is well worth a read so I have copied it in its entirety here. The highlights are mine.

"Buzzards are clearly predating on pheasants at the shoots and the Applicant has employed a range of non-lethal methods to tackle this problem. In the Adviser’s view, the evidence, in respect to the and shoots (but not is sufficient to merit a licence permitting nest destruction and lethal control of a small
number of buzzards.
In my review, I have highlighted several concerns regarding the evidence presented in support of the application for a licence for these shoots, particularly in respect to serious damage and the implementation of legal non-lethal methods.
It is difficult to objectively and accurately measure the level of predation damage due to buzzards. We can, however, use shooting returns as an indicator of the potential extent of predation, if it is assumed for the purpose of this exercise that changes are due to predation and not other factors (which is at least plausible for some shoots). While there is evidence that returns have declined at certain the shoots, including return levels (even at the latter) are not exceptionally low for any of the shoots run by the Applicant (except at compared to available shooting industry figures, and it is likely that a large number of other shooting enterprises operate with comparable returns rates. I am not, therefore, satisfied that the return rates reported for and (35% and 38% in 2012-13 respectively) amount to sufficient evidence of serious damage caused by predation (for the reasons set out in the assessment).
A further potential consequence of accepting a return rate of 35-38% as evidence of serious damage, in the absence of other compelling evidence, is that it sets a low benchmark and creates an expectation that future applications will be dealt with in the same way.
Since 2010 and the implementation of additional non-lethal measures shoot returns have consistently improved at two shoots, and but have continued to decline sharply at the shoot where habitat measures have still yet to be implemented. This suggests there may be genuine benefits to be accrued from implementation of non-lethal measures, and it is possible that these may not yet be fully realised at and shoots for the reasons given above.
In light of these concerns, on balance it is my assessment that the evidence in this case insufficient to justify a licence to undertake lethal control of adult buzzards.
While I do not support the issue of a licence to permit lethal control, I do think there is merit in exploring the benefits of destroying nests in the vicinity of release pens to displace breeding buzzards away from where pheasants are being released (an option recommended by the Adviser for one of the shoots). Although the efficacy of this approach is untested, it is logical that physically displacing focus of the breeding pair’s activity, or preventing them from breeding, will reduce the risk or intensity of predation.
This technique also requires a licence. As it would have a lesser impact on the protected species, a licence would, in my view, be justified on the basis of the evidence provided in support of this application (NB the level of evidence required to justify a licence is normally commensurate with the impact of a proposed activity on the protected species).
Furthermore, if nest destruction proves unsuccessful then the consequences for the protected species will be modest.
This approach is consistent with Natural England’s stepwise approach to conflict resolution which favours the option with least impact on a protected species, moving to other measures with greater impacts only if the lesser impact option fails or is judged unlikely to succeed.
The nest destruction option was recommended by the Adviser for the shoot, where two pairs of buzzards normally nest in the wood where pheasants are released. It was not recommended for the shoot as no nest locations have been identified. I recommend, however, that a licence is issued to permit nest destruction at this location if a nest is identified (on accessible land) in the vicinity of the release site (a suitable maximum distance may be up to 500-1000 m from the release pens). Nest destruction licences should (as recommended by the Adviser) include an appropriate time limitation to avoid the risk of harming chicks (and be conditioned to ensure adults are not harmed).
Further Comments
There is a paucity of information on the impacts of buzzard (and other raptor) predation on the economics of pheasant shooting and also of the benefits of remedial measures (both lawful and licensed). In the absence of this information is difficult to judge the merits of individual applications as applicants will find it challenging to provide definitive evidence of damage. It is also difficult to make reliable predictions regarding the likely success of different remedial measures, which has implications for the evaluation of non-lethal measures and for the choice of appropriate licensed control strategy.
If a licence is issued permitting nest destruction then it is recommended that this is monitored to obtain as much useful information as possible as it is now not expected that this technique will be investigated in Defra’s buzzard research programme. "

To me this summary clearly highlights the evidence did not support the issuing of licences but the licences were issued in line with the final paragraph as part of a blinkered belief that nest destruction is an acceptable practice that could be used in future if evidence of success is forthcoming. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that DEFRA and Natural England expect to need licensed control strategies in the future and that the unfortunate Buzzards who chose to nest in these particular locations will be the first of many to have their breeding attempts destroyed in order to support an unsustainable business.

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