Buzzards and Badgers and Bigots

This Blog was late being posted.

The explanation is simple; I intended my Red Poll cattle to have some fresh grazing but I wanted to make sure that the electric fence was still firing properly so that the cows were secure in their Brook Meadows. Brambles, nettles and thistles had been growing too quickly and so I had to do what was required. It was hot, sweaty work in the humid weather; others may have preferred the use of spray, but I enjoyed hacking away. It was pleasant too, with an occasional background mewing of buzzards, a sound that we never heard until a few years ago. They were a quarter of a mile downstream, circling over grass meadows –hunting? And if so for what?Shortly afterwards I received a double shock – one from the fence line – I apologised to the birds, bees and cabbage white butterflies – my language was appalling, but at least it proved that a strong current was pulsating through; how I hate electric shocks and to think that my father always used to test the strength of the current by simply grabbing the wire – no thanks, not for me.The second shock came seconds afterwards when I noticed another five buzzards to the north wheeling in the thermals of warm air. Seven buzzards in the air at the same time when ten years ago there may have been one, and fifteen years ago there would have been none. There is a myth in fundamentalist animal rights, designer conservationist and pseudo scientific circles (the bigots) that the main diet of buzzards is a mixture of worms and rabbits, a diet that the same dreamers and self-delusionists give to badgers. They are wrong of course; the diet of both buzzards and badgers is seasonal and varies month by month.But just as a majority of people in over-crowded Britain seem to be urbanised and detached from nature, so this detachment also applies to some of the bigots. A few simply do not understand the natural world about them; they are trapped in a Disney type fantasy of good, bad and natural harmony – activating the cuddly bunny syndrome. Others however, clearly set out to mislead for social, political and financial reasons. The deception is clear to see at the moment; badgers and buzzards eating worms? Sorry it is the wrong time of year. The ground is so hard that there have been few or no worms near the surface for days – and if buzzards and badgers are eating rabbits they are not making a very good job of it.
In fact neither I, Lulu (Mrs Page), nor Tim the tenant of the CRT’s nearby Lark Rise Farm have ever seen a buzzard attack a living rabbit, but Tim has seen one swoop down and take a half grown live leveret ( a young hare). Our theory is that rabbits are alert and mobile. Whereas the sometimes misplaced safety strategy of a leveret is to crouch down and remain still – just right for a buzzard. So what are the buzzards and badgers eating at the moment? For badgers the answer could be provided by the cull if post mortems were carried out on the victims – but apparently, and bizarrely, this is not happening.
What has to be remembered is that both buzzards and badgers are apex predators with no major competitors in Britain except Man. Buzzard numbers have increase by 439% since 1970 and badgers by at least 2000%. When I first started writing about badgers and TB it was estimated that the population was approximately 50,000. An unofficial figure given to me by a civil servant working within Defra about two years ago was put at over a million. Yes, badgers and Bovine TB is a serious problem – but with such a population increase badgers are causing a serious conservation crisis at the same time with our major conservation bodies choosing to remain silent.
When the enormous rise in the badger population is added to the booming populations of other predators – foxes, magpies, crows, sparrowhawks , jays, grey squirrels, mink and even red kites , then it is quite clear that the combined impact on some or our declining species is significant. Significant is a word that is far too mild when contemplating the decline of lapwing, curlew, skylark, snipe, black-tailed godwit, grey partridge and redshank – and not forgetting the fate of hedgehogs and dormice courtesy of the badger.
The irritating aspect of all this is that with nest cameras – “nest cams” – and night vision equipment it is now widely known what impact predation is having on many species – but some organisations and individuals are in a state of denial – they are actually denying science, yet some of them claim to be scientists. If I have understood him correctly then one obvious example is Chris Packham. If I have misunderstood him – then why doesn’t he let me interview him?
A few years ago a farmer in the West Country believed that the toads on his farm had been wiped out by badgers. His local wildlife trust informed him that badgers don’t eat toads: oh dear, does that mean Professor Timothy Roper has got it wrong in his excellent New Naturalist book “Badger” ? Sorry fund raisers, publicity seekers and misleaders the evidence is available, clear and simple – yes Mr.Packham, it is called “science” – but as we know there are good scientists and bad scientists.
The RSPB has undertaken some little publicised work at its Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire – that for a variety of reasons I regard as Hopeless Farm – showing that badgers are serious predators of skylark nests, as they are of other ground nesting birds. A few years ago a wildlife warden on Salisbury Plain told me of the problems that badgers were causing over a huge area there, eating eggs and chicks, as efforts were being made to increase the stone curlew population – but his employers would not speak publicly about it – it is quite disgraceful.
Recently a reader of this blog criticised me for not naming my sources. What? People inside conservation talk to me because they trust me – many of them have families and mortgages – would the RSPB, English Nature or whoever thank whistle-blowers for telling the truth – stating facts completely at variance from some of the PR nonsense flowing from their “media centres”? Of course not – any whistle-blower would be quickly and quietly sacked. At the age of twenty-six I blew the whistle on lying politicians and senior civil servants in the Department of Social Security where I worked as a Special Investigator. I was sacked, threatened with prosecution and lost all my pension rights. At the time, being young and innocent, it was quite disturbing, but with hindsight it is the best thing that ever happened to me – no Lulu, on instant reflection it was the second best thing that ever happened to me. In fact several wildlife wardens have since told me “You are lucky being self employed – you can say what you like, when you like and how you like”.
With “nest cams” it is easy to see what buzzards are eating – anything from skylark chicks to half grown ospreys – fresh out of the nest – see “Osprey chick taken by buzzard” on “You Tube”. In season the Buzzard is clearly one of the best nest robbers in nature and of course don’t forget hen harrier chicks – they are rather partial to them, as well as adult barn owls.
Two or three years ago I became concerned about the decline of the ring ouzel so I phoned the Press Office at RSPB headquarters. The almost instant response was “climate change”. I suggest that the RSPB and the other self-delusionists read a properly peer reviewed scientific paper “Postfledging Survival, Movements, and Dispersal of Ring Ouzels” – oh, so buzzards like fledged ring ouzel chicks just out the nest too, do they? I have never heard that called “climate change” before.
Another worrying aspect of the current high level of badger and buzzard numbers is that their full protection – including nest and sett – is preventing some government sponsored recovery programmes from making any impact. Farmer George Fenemore is involved with a Wader Breeding Project in the Cherwell Valley. He can control foxes and crows but badgers and buzzards have more protection than India’s sacred cows. This year he had five curlew nests on his wet grassland – every one was predated by badgers – with the RSPB monitoring the nests. Strange to say I have not received one press release about this loss from the RSPB’s usually effervescent media centre – funny that!
Similarly a friend farming in the foothills of the Chilterns has a lapwing recovery programme as part of his Higher Level Scheme. Each year lapwings arrive and breed, and each year the young are taken by buzzards – currently beating the kites to the feast by a short wing beat. So there we have two schemes (two of many) where money is being paid to feed buzzards and badgers – what a farce.
This takes me to jackdaws. I like a few jackdaws; my liking takes me back to the pet jackdaws I had as a boy. This year we simply had too many trying to nest in our two chimneys and a covering of wire and regular bombardments with whatever was at hand saw them off – job done. I didn’t want them and last year they were major suspects for predating a song thrush’s nest in the garden.
Question – if I have too many jackdaws and can move them on, hopefully disrupting their breeding cycle, why can’t the same be done with badgers and buzzards? This would lower the levels of predation and also to bring down the population levels which are seriously impacting on a wide range of wildlife? I would like to do it with sparrowhawks and designer conservationists too.

54 thoughts on “Buzzards and Badgers and Bigots

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  2. The food pyramid is a complex structure but also remarkably simple. The most vulnerable species are those at the very top. A buzzard, for example, can only eat protein – it cannot digest or take value from any other food source. This means it is completely dependent upon each of the levels below it in the pyramid. One step out of place will domino upwards.

    Yet because it is a species that has increased in number over the last fifty years, so the buzzard is pillorized for the demise of other species.

    In truth, the buzzard is recovering to a level that it can and should exist at. As a species at the top of the food pyramid, it is self regulating. It cannot exist beyond the availability of food beneath it. And though it may have local impact upon other species, these are typical fluctuations that occur across the natural world. Nothing will be driven to extinction by the beak of a buzzard because it, as a species, cannot afford to do so. It would die trying. If it found an easy food source then as soon as that supply dwindled so it would have to look elsewhere or starve. It is, in truth, very simple ecology.

    The problem is that as a race we are inherently prone to anthropomorphisation. We attribute human traits to the natural world. Foxes do not get blood lust in a chicken coop, they have simply found a food source that they want to exploit and cache. A buzzard does not sit beside a pheasant pen waiting for poults to be released, it will be picking off the rodents that are helping themselves to the pheasant food. And while it may well pick a few off when they do leave the pens, it would be dead within days if that was the sole source it was waiting for.

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    1. Buzzards do sit beside pheasant pens waiting for poults and partridge and duck. Not heresay I have seen it many many times.

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  3. This is, on the surface at least, a good and interesting read, but it is flawed and conveniently ignores the salient premise that nature coped perfectly well before man came along and tried to control it. Urbanisation and farming are the main causes of the unbalance of species. Individual species, mammals, birds, reptiles and insects have always had spikes and troughs of populations – it’s the very nature of things. Over decades of time, they have always evened themselves out. Now man feels it needs to manage every aspect of the natural environment. Nature can manage perfectly well on its own thank you very much, but with man’s devastating impact on the environment, this has become virtually impossible, hence we have this constant battle between all of the opposing parties mentioned in the article. They’re all right and they’re all wrong.

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  4. Robin – Sorry to hear that the Telegraph has dispensed with your services. My co-editor calls it ‘group conformity’ You obviously didn’t sing the correct tune!

    We experienced this, in all its shameful glory last week, when a brave, almost-ninety year old (really!) filmed the effect TB had had on her pedigree Longhorn herd. This lady and our website have supported the use of a non-invasive screening test for infectious badgers, believing (somewhat naively it seems) that disease should be the driver for any cull. Especially when that disease is a Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen.

    Sadly the person who has developed the most promising of this amplified DNA screen, and who has received at least £1m to do so, has thrown her teddies out of the pram and declared that she does not want the test used to cull such badgers. Her email is on the video. One may enquire just what she expects Defra and the farmers who have paid for her services, are to do with the positive results? More bio-garbage?

    A link to the film is on this posting.

    http://bovinetb.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/bovine-tuberculosis-political-disease.html

    With best wishes from the coal face!

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  5. 100% agree with all in your blog.
    Such a shame that you cannot now reach as many people .
    Keep up the good work and try to get back on DT.
    Good luck.
    Cheers

    Martin Walker, Paignton.

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  6. Dear Robin. Glad to have found your blog. Only discovered that the Telegraph had dispensed with your services this morning. Needless to say they have now lost me as a reader. Keep up the good work.

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  7. What a brilliant article I so agree with all that has been said more should be said and done to stop this media and celebrity culture of over protection of a few species at the detriment of others, we should have laws to stop the feeding of predators such as foxes badgers Kites and Buzzards,in our area you can see as many as 20 Kites working the area and our Hare numbers are very low .

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  8. I was against the cull. This has changed my mind. If what you say is true, then I thank you for it. I never did like CP anyway 👍

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  9. Well that was in interesting article and well written from the “countryman’s” perspective and not from some remote lab or office…not too sure I agree with the conclusions 100% but that is because our natural environment is so diverse with different predators and prey available, never the less broadly correct from what I have witnessed over the years…!

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  10. Last Spring I saw buzzards take three leverets within the space of ten minutes whilst I was driving a tractor, fertilising a patch of wheat on the borders of Herefordshire and Worcestershire. I saved one, but it was so traumatized that it died. Unsurprisingly hares are now very scarce here.
    Badgers have previously destroyed the nests of lapwing where I farmed in Whitbourne. An area of Herefordshire that had been visited by lapwing every year for all my farming life of over fifty years. There are now no lapwing here at all.

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  11. Well said Robin. All countrymen know that your assertions are well based. It is depressing to see the carnage caused by an excess of top predators.

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  12. I was the boatman for the May Isle in the early eighties , We used to take the sea mammal research unit to the island at breeding time for the grey seals in the autumn , In discussions with some of the experts , they were insistent that they mainly eat sand eels . I tried to tell them we saw evidence every day they eat all species of commercial fish . Iwas poo pood as iff i knew nothing as they were the experts . At time we still had a small cod net fishery , of which we had to give up as the majority of the codlings soft flesh had been damaged and unmarketable caused by grey seals trying to pull them out the nets . These experts are building empires and dont want people to know the truth .

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    1. Iain,

      And you took me out to the island, several times, from Anstruther, before SNH turned it into another paying enterprise and limited access for responsible naturalists, photographers etc Good to hear that you are still on the go. Still fishing out of Ansthruther?

      Best wishes

      Keith Cowieson

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  13. What an eye opener your article was. Why don’t the organisers who protect certain species find their information from those who live and dwell in the country. It’s a very hard balance to protect species but I would like to see the Hedgehog increase as this is a long standing British animal. I do hope your comments are taken seriously and that it will make people more aware of the facts.

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  14. Those who love the countryside know what is happening, but unfortunately until the natural balance can be returned nothing is going to change. Shame people like yourself are unable to educate the uninitiated and that would stop the bullshit coming out of Mr Packhams mouth being believed.

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  15. ‘Great to hear realistic appraisal of the current, farcical situation. We all have an opinion they are however rarely as honestly expressed as this. Thank you.

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  16. Robin is the only man or woman I know who speaks so much sense & truth!! Money drives all others to cover the truth for their own ends!!!!!

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  17. Refreshing to read an educated and correctly researched blog and view point re the conservation of our wildlife .
    The likes of Chris Packham & the RSPB need to wake up to the realities of what is going on in our countryside.

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  18. Absolutely spot on. I moved to Cornwall in 1975 to practice as a Veterinary Surgeon. That year there were two cases of TB in the whole county, and we have been able to predict the spread of the disease by following the badger trails. And, no, it is not spread by cattle movement; we test far too often for the cows to become infectious, even though they may be incubating TB in their lymph nodes. The interference in country management by the urban enthusiast is woefully wrong,and as long as it is allowed to continue we will see the decline of all ground nesting species. But it is political; after all, farmers are all wealthy bastards, and the badger is oppressed and needs protecting from the capitalist pigs who simply exploit the land and all that is therein. It will get worse.

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  19. I totally agree,we have more buzzards and other predators than we have ever had, badger’s aplenty but I can’t remember the last time I saw a skylark. When I mentioned this to a guy who spends all his spare time twitching I was told, that old chestnut. I have spent all my life watching nature and my farm is not in the slightest intensive but songbirds are definitely in decline.

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  20. Excellent blog with which I wholly agree. I would like to move the Goshawks on (cull to reduce the population) round here too in the Western Brecon Beacons where so much abandoned land and secondary woodland makes an idyll for them emerging out of the Forestry commission plantation. There are no pheasants here for the Goshawk to kill and Goshawks have spread over the area since I came here so that now my valley has no sparrow hawks, no owls, very few wood pigeons (rarely see the peregrines that used to nest in a quarry), few young of any of the predator birds traditional here such as kites or buzzards. No one can keep chickens unless they protect them from the Goshawk. There are just too many Goshawks. There are still plenty of grey squirrels, and rabbits, which must be their staple when they cannot find a bird to predate.

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  21. It’s interesting you mention ‘moving on’. I’ve for many years campaigned for the use of pet dogs to move deer out of woodland. Something that can be done without killing them and which when done regularly can reduce the deer density. Defra advise since the Hunting Act this can be done only if the deer are then shot dead ASAP.

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  22. really good article Robin ,when i go pigeon shooting within 5 minutes of taking a shot theres 2 buzzards hovering over me.at the same time when the buzzards arive there are no birds to be seen in the area ,oviously the birds know they’re a threat.i detest buzzards,they have ravaged and totally spoilt my rough shoots,top of the food chain without a threat from other species for what ,the rabbits used to appear out of their warrens an hour before dusk.3 yrs later they dont come out til 2 after dark due to the buzzards.cant believe so called experts saying they only eat carrion.how misguided they are as they eat anything and everything in the countryside and to me are no better than crows,magpies and jays.

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  23. The badgers which visit my place are currently eating low blackberries, and earthworms which they nose out from the soft soil around the water troughs. As for buzzards here, they sit in low branches in the hedges, because I don’t shave them to three feet high, and just drop onto the rabbits. Those with myxi have a merciful end, they can’t see them coming. I get belts from electric tapes, but I don’t make a meal of it. By the way we also have a long-standing couple of hedgehogs which the badgers haven’t touched.

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    1. Dear Jane
      Please get a grip ; given time your vegetarian badgers will eat your lovely hedgehogs and wouldn’t that be a shame
      sorry !

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  24. I’m glad I found you at last as I missed you from the pages of The Telegraph (I’ve now given it the sack) Keep telling it as it is. I’ve lived in the same place on the edge of suburbia all my life and have witnessed the changes over the years. First the thrushes and hedgehogs went, then the blue and great tits, now the blackbirds are going (I miss their song) In their place I have a garden full of magpies with the odd jackdaw and crow. I’ve got a good population of house sparrows, but that’s because I feed them all year round. Out and about I really miss the huge winter flocks of lapwing that used to be in the fields when I was a child, all gone now. But it’s not just the birds, the problem starts lower down the chain. Fewer earthworms over the years. I hardly see an earwig now and the crane files disappeared about 5 years ago. They all used to be abundant. Something is very, very, wrong.

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    1. Hi Carole
      The magpie and the pet cat are probably the back gardens worst nightmare for the song birds; as the buzzard and badger are for the hare ; lapwing and ground nesting birds
      in my eyes there is only 1 way forward

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  25. We live on farmland in East Suffolk,we often used to see barn owls. I have not seen one for over a year. I have seen many,many Buzzards and Red Kites.
    An old Readers Digest bird book ( 30 years old at least) informs me that Buzzards and Red kites are not to be found in this part of England.
    What can be done?

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    1. Hi Christopher for barn owls, put up a owl box if practical , many old barns and out buildings in east Suffolk (I live there too) have been converted, I do believe there is a scheme for owl boxes somewhere available, I often see them hunting over long meadow grass, I see a few buzzards too as well as harrier, we had a flock of 300 sparrow in the garden, I have watched weekly a sparrow hawk fly through for the last few years, we now have none, or black bird ,finch, or robin all that visits the bird feeder is wood pigeon and collar dove. and starlings, population rocketed by out door pig units, Locally the rspb has bought up land and created scrapes for ground nesting birds fenced in against ground ”Predation”. by fox ,mink, badger and otter.

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      1. We live in a converted barn with an owl box. Unfortunately it has only been used by squirrels and Jackdaws.
        We hear Tawneys at night, but of Barn owls nothing.

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