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.