The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association welcomes the new DEFRA research and I personally know how much it would mean for people to be able to deal properly with what is a major problem for many in the countryside.
Not too long ago, I went down the road of applying for a licence to control buzzards in the Scottish Borders. I had tried everything suggested, from hanging bags up to playing radios at full blast. I even had a blow-up figure that farmers use for crop protection. Everything you are told to do, I did. I tried buffer feeding, as was recommended, but it made the situation worse because the birds started to associate the Land Rover with feeding.
Every time the Government inspectors came to see the estate, there were buzzards above their heads or eating poults at each pen. None of the techniques that were recommended worked. It could turn into thousands of pheasants lost because, if there were buzzards on every post, the pheasants were reluctant to go out. They’d sit, often in the wet, their body weight dropping because they were not eating. That made them susceptible to disease. Then there was stress. Eventually they died.
If you calculate that, the financial loss is considerable. The buzzards were like seagulls trying to steal your chips at the seaside. They were totally and utterly fearless. I was careful to do everything right, but it did no good and I did not get a licence, either. As part of an industry bringing considerable economic and conservation benefit, I feel it is important that governments should try to help, as they do with other bulwark industries, whether it is in the form of research or by granting licences where there is a problem. The hysterical members of the conservation lobby will say this is about declaring an open season on buzzards. It is not. This is specific and targeted.
In Scotland, we are already ahead of where England is now with this. The trials have been done. We have had the problem in upland areas for a long, long time. What I hope is that this research is seen in parallel with everything else. I do not want, for example, to see the Scottish Government saying that licences cannot be granted because this is going on. Scotland should lead. If there is a good reason for someone to be granted a licence, they should be granted one, whether this research is going on or not.
I would also encourage everyone who is having a real problem to apply for licences rather than sitting and waiting, because this will be a long process. They should try to resolve their problem the right way because if they don’t take responsibility, nothing will happen.
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