____________________________________ I’d like to stay with my thread on culling, with the focus this week on birds of prey, an area close to all of our hearts.
We’re all aware that many of our birds suffer at Man’s hand, more often than not through loss of habitat due to farming practice, or the reclamation of land for development, etc Birds such as the goldfinch, traditionally a bird of farmland, now also come looking to our feeders to supplement their natural diet, but, of all our birds I think there is sufficient cause to believe that our birds of prey have fared the worst at Man’s actions.
Many of our raptor species find the struggle for survival difficult enough on its own, but so many of them (too many) have suffered through persecution over the years, some to the brink of extinction, the Osprey, Red Kite, Golden Eagle, White Tailed Sea Eagle, all spring to mind. Fortunately, we can witness for ourselves the resurgence of populations of particularly the Osprey & Red Kite, with some help from Man admittedly, in terms of translocation projects such as took place at Rutland, and with the erecting of nest platforms, we are now seeing the Osprey increase their range throughout the country, adding to the huge successes we see in Scotland. The Red KIte has also increased its range with many areas now boasting “Friends Of The Red Kite” type groups, all working to improve the well-being of these birds and to secure their breeding success for the future. But perhaps the most critically affected bird of prey is the Hen Harrier, whose numbers are declining alarmingly right across its range. Here in the ISLE OF MAN, we boast the largest Hen Harrier roost in western Europe, but even their numbers are down by about 50% in recent years Persecution is a huge contributing factor in the stark decline in numbers of birds of prey, but why is this so? why are these birds so reviled? and perhaps pointedly, by who?
HEN HARRIER (courtesy of Wiki}
The answers I think, are manifold. In the case of the hen harrier, they are unfortunate that in some areas of their range, their chosen habitat is heather moorland, which often lies within managed estates that support game shooting of grouse and pheasant, The buzzard, certainly in Scotland, also falls into this category, and now some farmers and estate managers are up in arms because buzzards predate their birds, and so they are calling for a cull to reduce numbers.
Elsewhere, Eagles are much maligned by claims, (again from the farming fraternity), that Eagles take their sheep. Two years ago in Bowland, Lancashire, calls for a cull of Eagle Owls were made on the back of claims that they were responsible for the decline in hen harrier numbers. Unsurprisingly, no convincing evidence has ever been produced to support these claims, and it is my view that objections were made on the basis of the eagle owl being an introduced, rather than indigenous, species, for which there have been several counter claims to the contrary.
>The list is extensive, and we are faced with the calls for organised culls of certain species, and even worse, every week our attention is drawn to the cruel and needless poisoning of several species of raptors, about 50% of which are with the banned chemical, CARBUFERON. These attacks are cruel, premeditated, and mindless, yet because of the way in which the wildlife crime system is structured, many of the perpetrators escape the wrath of the law, or receive what we would consider inadequate punishments. This must surely be addressed.
So, returning to the question I pose as the title of this post, is there any justification in the culling of birds and other animals? It seems to me that certain groups of people, driven by their respective vested interests, want to see birds of prey eradicated at any cost. I think that extensive research should be undertaken in every case, in order to examine every possible alternative course of action. But this is not always the case – so often, expert advice is discarded and a cull set in place regardless, as we are now seeing with the imminent badger cull. Also, I think it’s important that conservation groups need to work more closely with the likes of the farming community, to find compromise solutions so that both the habitats, and the respective bird populations may be safeguarded to the mutual benefit of all parties.
Arguably the biggest, and certainly the most recognised of the country’s conservation organisations is the RSPB, who work tirelessly on behalf of wildlife, were themselves recently openly criticised in a Guardian article, with the article’s author, MAGNUS LINKLATER, suggesting that they have made themselves unpopular by making birds of prey a kind of “flagship” species, and have fallen foul of farmers and landowners due to their criticism of farming practice and the like, instead of working more closely with them towards satisfactory solutions to the issues at hand. The organisation effectively stands accused of over protecting birds of prey at the expense of other, more threatened species, merely because they are our most glamorous and dramatic birds. It is however, a balanced article, and reinforces the point that both sides are guilty of pursuing their own interests, and need to find some common ground upon which to build, after all, they do need to keep farmers on side in their efforts to promote the management of wildlife friendly areas within their estates. A link to the article….. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/aug/12/why-claws-are-out-for-royal-society-for-protection-of-birds For my own part, I am firmly against the notion of the organised culling of animals and birds, and would sooner see more agreeable solutions found wherever possible. However, there are areas where I find myself at odds with my own conscience. The deer culling in Scotland is the main example of this. I became more aware of the culling when I was on Mull last year, and because of the lack of a natural predator, or predators, of the deer, their numbers are free to increase exponentially, so although I don’t like the thought of them being killed, I can see and understand the dilemma they have, especially within the confines of a small island.
Where the buzzard is concerned, I have to confess to being both amused, and bemused by the attitude of the landowners at the head of the queue calling for the buzzards’ heads. Consider both sides of the argument – when the thousands of pheasants are released, the buzzards show up for a free lunch. The pheasant is an introduced species, the buzzard a native species. The buzzard breeds in the wild, it’s natural state. The pheasant is purposely bred. The huge, and inescapable irony here, the stick in the spokes of the argument, is that the landowners complain vociferously when the buzzards feed on their pheasants, a bird they breed in great numbers…….specifically…….to be shot!!!! Is it just the fact that the buzzard doesn’t pay for the privilege that gets their backs up??!! A couple of article links……
WHITE TAILED EAGLE, MULL
The Dyfi Osprey Project and the Scottish wildlife Trust have kindly given their permission for us to post still and video images from their webcams. To visit their sites please click on the relevant link. Loch of the Lowes. Dyfi Osprey Project.
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