Buzzard_800wCountryside Alliance Director of Campaigns Tim Bonner writes: There has been an interesting legal development in the long running argument over licences for the control of buzzards this week.The High Court has accepted an application from a gamekeeper to proceed with a Judicial Review of Natural England’s decision not to issue a licence to allow him to control buzzards that are causing serious damage to his pheasants, and thus threatening his livelihood. The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) has given its backing to its member who is bringing the action – read the NGO’s press release here. The Alliance is absolutely clear that there is no justification for the illegal killing of raptors, or other species, but there are a series of licences have been in force since 1981 which potentially allow the legal control of species such as buzzards. 

Whilst the facts of this case are compelling; there are now over 300,000 buzzards in the UK, the gamekeeper has shown the level of damage and exhausted all other methods of protecting his birds, it is really the principle of this application which is fundamentally important.

For some time now there has been a suggestion that Natural England does not deal with applications for licences entirely even handedly when it comes to some species and some applicants. For instance licences to control cormorants that are doing serious damage to fish stocks preserved for angling are issued routinely. Likewise Natural England has issued licences for the lethal control of buzzards in the interests of air safety. It has never, however, agreed to an application for the control of buzzards that are doing serious damage to game preserved for shooting.

When Natural England did issue licences for the destruction of buzzard nests and other non-lethal management to protect pheasants in 2013 the RSPB, in particular, was extremely critical. This was disingenuous as it knows exactly what the terms of the licences are and the process that has to be followed, not least because it uses the licensing process itself for non-lethal management and the lethal control of gulls, geese and other species.

It will be very interesting to see where this case leads. The NGO is not trying to change the law, or to undermine the protected status of the buzzard, but just asking the court to decide whether the rules are being fairly and properly implemented. That, surely, is something everyone should be able to support?

Follow Tim on Twitter @CA_TimB