A number of people have commented that I missed a key point in the article by not referring more clearly to the primary reasons for their objection to the licensed control of Common Buzzards. They suggested that their objection was not so much because of the species involved but because of the purpose for which control was undertaken, this being the protection of a non-native gamebird released each year in huge numbers for shooting. Some also raised concerns about the extent of evidence available to justify the need for licensed control. These are legitimate points though I maintain my belief that the overall strength of reaction to this licence was because of the species involved rather than the purpose for which it was issued. Every year hundreds of thousands of native birds and mammals are killed for the purpose of protecting non-native gamebirds, including Carrion Crows, Magpies, large gulls, Foxes, Weasels and Stoats. The birds are all killed under licence. Hundreds of thousands more birds are killed simply for sport. Whilst not everyone would agree that this is justified, all this killing tends to attract relatively little attention within the conservation community. When it does attract comment this is often in relation to concerns about possible impacts on populations rather than an underlying objection to the principles behind lethal control. In contrast, the loss of a small number of Buzzard nests resulted in an extremely strong reaction. The strength of feeling here is surely primarily related to our instinctive cultural response to the species involved. In the article I was trying to highlight this inconsistency in our reactions to the control of different species rather than commenting on the rights of wrongs of individual licences. Mike Everett makes the valid point that there is perhaps a particularly hard-nosed stance in relation to control of birds of prey because of the illegal killing that still goes on, and no doubt also because of the past history of large-scale control by humans. However, I think there are some risks in lumping all species of raptor together as a group and treating them all as something of a special case. One of the main reasons for writing the article was a nagging worry that so much attention has recently been focussed on a species that is under no conservation threat whatsoever from lethal control. I haven't gone to the trouble of adding them all up but I suspect that in recent months more column inches in newspapers, birding magazines and blogs have been devoted to the control of Buzzards than to the current perilous state of the Hen Harrier, a species that is on the edge of extinction as a breeding bird in England. Conor Jameson mentions the Goshawk, another species absent from substantial parts of its range in Britain as a direct result of persecution. Is there not a danger that arguments about the genuinely shocking impact of human control on some highly vulnerable species (albeit illegal rather than licenced) could be diluted by so much discussion about the very limited control of a species that is thriving?
Issue 9
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