Fishing and shooting: Two days later Richard Benyon did a reverse ferret and dropped the whole idea

IT WAS pretty inevitable that the government would back down from its plans to fund a buzzard management trial. But you would have thought from all the squawking in the hen coop that the government had decreed every buzzard in the land should be slaughtered and hung on gibbets.

In fact all that Defra, the environment agency south of the Border, announced was that it was to fund research into buzzard predation on pheasant poults in their rearing pens. Trial methods were to include trapping the birds and moving them somewhere else and destroying nests under construction – which is not the same as blasting young buzzard chicks from below with a shotgun, as some of the hysteria might have suggested.

All this was to take place in a defined area of Northumberland, not across the UK. And no buzzard or its young were to be killed. So what could be fairer than that – a wildlife research experiment to see if moving buzzards makes any difference to pheasant poults and what is the best way to do it?

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Of course if someone had suggested we move, say, flocks of starlings, no one would have batted the proverbial. The fact it was buzzards, a sacrosanct but numerous raptor, invoked howls of “how dare they,” and a stream of bile aimed at “shooting toffs” – never, “shooting self-made men from modest backgrounds,” for some reason.

Sometimes it is hard not to believe that what the raptor lobby would really prefer is fewer buzzards so they could then claim they were still endangered. But the RSPB et al have been so successful in their campaigns to educate us all and stamp out widespread persecution that we are now ironically faced with the consequences of their success.

“The buzzard was eradicated from large swathes of Britain following decades of persecution,” shrieked the Hawk and Owl Conservation Trust, as if Defra had been about to unleash a pogrom against buzzards. It wasn’t.

But it was all too much for Defra and its minister Richard Benyon who is of course a landed toff with estates in England and Scotland – an easy target and not helpful on the PR front. Two days later he did a reverse ferret, dropped the whole idea and more or less agreed it wasn’t a very good one. Which perhaps it wasn’t. But that didn’t stop RSPB’s conservation director Martin Harper welcoming the u-turn with the words, “Government has to ensure that no bird of prey will be killed in the name of sport.”

But who ever mentioned killing a bird of prey? No one. But you’d be forgiven for believing they had.