Defra in firing line over egg destruction

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Officials have licensed the destruction of buzzard nests and eggs to protect a pheasant shoot, a freedom of information request has revealed.

Conservationists criticised government agency Natural England’s decision to issue the first licence to destroy four buzzard nests to prevent the protected birds preying on young pheasants, which the owners of a shoot said was damaging their business.

The RSPB also said it was wrong that the decision had not been subject to public scrutiny, after it uncovered the move through Environmental Information Regulations, equivalent to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

The shoot’s owners were given permission to destroy nests and eggs between April 23 and May 8.

It comes a year after the Environment Department (Defra) was forced to abandon plans for a trial allowing buzzards to be taken into captivity and their nests destroyed to protect pheasant shoots, following a furious reaction from wildlife lovers.

Defra had planned to spend as much as £375,000 researching ways to keep the bird of prey from targeting non-native pheasants, which are reared in captivity and released for shooting in their millions.

In response to the issuing of the licence, the RSPB said buzzard numbers were recovering from historical declines caused by persecution, and the birds only accounted for 1-2 per cent of pheasant losses from shoots.

The conservation charity also said there were other non-lethal ways of protecting shoots from birds of prey and removing buzzards was unlikely to bring down the overall number of pheasants preyed on.

RSPB conservation director Martin Harper said lethal control of buzzards and destruction of their nests was “unjustified, ineffective and unacceptable”, adding: “I think that it is wrong for Natural England to issue buzzard control licences to protect commercial interests.”