Raptor Persecution Rage

A blog post by intern Eleanor spurred by the recent parliamentary debate around raptor persecution, written Friday 4th February 2022

Raptor persecution has once again been a topic of conversation in the House of Lords. As with most times it comes up the conversation has highlighted why it is essential for conservationists and habitat specialists such as ourselves to become involved in the political sphere. 

 

The UN has identified that the UK has a high level of raptor persecution; in a recent case a gamekeeper was prosecuted for bludgeoning two buzzards to death. It was claimed by Lord Benson that there was a high level of protection against wildlife prosecution in the UK, with unlimited fines and custodial sentences; and yet, the rate at which these sentences are actually carried out is another matter. The Wildlife and Countryside Link published a wildlife crime report from 2020 which reported that over the pandemic, records of wildlife crime increased by anywhere from 35-90% depending on species, while convictions fell by over 50%.

 

The conversation then moved on to the notoriously controversial conversation of wildlife control. Lady Bennet claims that there is an overpopulation of foxes caused by the release of pheasants, and this is resulting in the decline of many of our iconic wading birds, such as lapwing. 

 

As with so many debates in conservation, this viewpoint contains a grain of truth, but the end message is drastically misleading. The decline in breeding waders is a huge problem, one that is getting progressively worse and requires urgent action. Pheasant

 releases are a problem; the amount of resources they remove from local ecosystems by consuming invertebrates has a huge impact, not to mention the rampant poisoning and shooting of our native raptors to allow their vast overpopulation. And so, accusing foxes of being responsible for the reduction in our ground-nesting waders is another misnomer; while she is correct that overpopulation of foxes is indeed the fault of humans, this overpopulation usually is in urban landscapes, near rich sources of food, rather than the remote locations where ground-nesting waders usually nest. So shooting foxes will not solve this problem. 

 

The most reliable way that we can help these waders is to restore and protect their habitat. By creating more of the short, rich meadows and open wetlands that these birds once thrived upon, we can not only protect them, but also the whole ecosystem that they rely on and that relies on them- from plants, to insects, to mammals and songbirds and, yes, foxes and raptors. The cure to the unbalanced ecosystems that we are seeing is not to trim the predators off the top, but to stabilise their roots- to invest in the land to give this beloved wildlife space to live. 

 

And yes, maybe not releasing as many pheasants. 

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