Tories U-turn on plan to appear like eccentric aristocrats

Buzzards will no longer be captured and have their nests destroyed to protect pheasants, says DEFRA

Another U-turn from the government today, as DEFRA has announced that it is to stop funding research on catching buzzards to protect pheasant stocks.

The original plan had been for the department to spend £375,000 on capturing the birds of prey, which are a protected species in the UK, and destroying their nests. The aim was to see whether this reduces the amount of young pheasants they ate. Not only is there no evidence that buzzards eat that many anyway (an RSPB study concluded "losses to birds of prey were negligible"), but as George Monbiot, leading the charge against the plan, pointed out:

The government has no responsibility to protect pheasant shoots from our native wildlife, though it does have a responsibility to protect our native wildlife from pheasant shoots.

The fact that destroying the nests of a native protected species to protect the young of an imported species farmed to be shot for sport largely by the super-rich did not strike DEFRA or its minister, Richard Benyon ("inheritor of a vast stately home and a 20,000-acre walled estate in the south of England, as well as properties elsewhere" according to Monbiot), as a potential source of bad press is surprising. Once the policy was announced, however, the outcry was large and sustianed, so this morning the department announced:

We’ve listened to public concerns, so we are stopping current research and developing new research proposals on #buzzards.

On the one hand, the fact that the department is no longer officially acting like an eccentric arisocrat, railing against those damn birds eating their damn birds, is probably a good thing. On the other hand, it has revealed who the government's true constituents are:

The department's decision has itself been strongly criticised by the Countryside Alliance, which argues it shows the Government is "now willing to give in to whoever shouts the loudest".

A buzzard sits in a tree. It has yet to be captured. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood