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Why the law should recognise the need for the control of birds of prey

In a recent letter to the Yorkshire Post, Peter Robertson, regional director of the RSPB in Northern England, wrote that, while he was pleased that I did not condone the illegal killing of raptors, it would be more helpful if I would actually condemn such criminal activity.

The brass neck of the man! Regular readers of this column will know that I have incurred the wrath of certain people precisely because I have opposed the illegal killing of raptors. I have even been accused of being an RSPB collaborator, for heaven?s sake. But then, I don?t suppose Mr Robertson reads Shooting Times. That?s his loss. I am less forgiving of his use of words that might imply, to the ordinary Yorkshire Post reader, that I have a duplicitous attitude towards crime.

The fact is that you can be against breaking the law, while acknowledging that the law is sometimes an ass. Furthermore, it is quite wrong to portray raptors as a for-them-or-against-them issue. For the record, I admire raptors. I don?t think they should be on the quarry list to be shot at will, nor do I think they should be killed illegally. I also know that, in certain circumstances, they can cause real problems. Yet the authorities will not allow any legal remedy for these situations and this absence of a lawful safety valve goes to the heart of the issue.

If any abundant species begins to have an adverse impact on other wildlife, gamebirds or domestic livestock, then we humans should be allowed to intervene. Humans are responsible for maintaining any balance in our modern, synthetic ecosystem. You don?t have to tolerate a dog savaging your sheep, yet you are expected to stand by and watch a buzzard kill your gamebird chicks. Why is a rogue buzzard sacrosanct, when a rogue dog isn?t?

Raptors are protected under laws that were enacted when the birds were genuinely rare. But most raptors are no longer rare. Some have now reached record numbers, the buzzard being an example. The government of Lower Austria allowed a limited cull of buzzards based on scientific evidence of the impact they were having on other protected species. (Has the RSPB carried out research to see if our surging buzzard population is one of the causes of the decline in kestrel numbers?)

An antiquated law

Here in the UK, you are supposed to be able to obtain a licence to control individual problem buzzards in certain circumstances. Yet nobody has ever managed to clear the various bureaucratic hurdles. The inevitable result is that some buzzards (though not enough to affect their total population) are being killed illegally. This is a dismal situation.

It is important to understand that ?control? doesn?t always mean killing. It might involve relocation or greasing eggs. The RSPB opposed the very concept of relocating ?surplus? hen harriers when it was mooted in the wake of the original Langholm Report ? yet the charity has been enthusiastic about sending Scottish golden eagle chicks to Ireland. How is it that we can spare 50 golden eagles for relocation, but not a single hen harrier, despite the fact that UK breeding hen harriers outnumber our breeding golden eagles by 2:1?

Conservation law in the UK has not kept pace with reality. More specifically, bodies such as Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage seem to be adept at interpreting EU regulations one way when it suits them and another way when it doesn?t.

Many protected species have become deeply unpopular as a result of being wrapped up in infl exible laws that are increasingly seen as stupid. We?ve all seen local media reporting absurd cases of development being stymied by newts or bats. More recently, a vicar made the headlines by complaining about the desecration of a graveyard by badgers.

The conservation quangocrats should take heed; the tumbrils are starting to roll.