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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The SNP retains power as Scottish Labour faces being beaten into third

Ruth Davidson’s Conservative Party looks on track to become the official opposition in Holyrood.

As expected, the SNP have performed well in the Scottish elections, with an increased vote share and some key gains – particularly from Labour in Glasgow, where Nicola Sturgeon’s party took all eight constituency seats. As it stands, they could be on course for a second successive majority in Holyrood, once the list members are fully counted.

The story of the night, though, is the demise of Scottish Labour, which put in its worst ever performance in Scotland (my stalwart liveblogging colleague Stephen Bush points out that it’s the party’s worst result since universal suffrage was introduced in 1928). The party’s vote share was done across Scotland, and the results are sufficiently poor that they could see them fall behind the Conservatives to become the third biggest party north of the border.

Losses for Labour include seat of Eastwood in Glasgow, where Scottish Conservatives deputy leader Jackson Carlaw defeated Ken Macintosh. Labour had held the seat for 17 years, though it had been Conservative beforehand.

Other key losses for Scottish Labour include Dumfriesshire, where they were beaten into third; Renfrewshire South (which went to the SNP); Cowdenbeath, where Gordon Brown's old constituency manager and protégé Alex Rowley also lost to the SNP; Glasgow Pollok, where former Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont lost to the SNP’s Humza Yousaf. There was a close call for Labour’s Jackie Baillie in Dumbarton, where she held on by just 109 votes.

Rare successes came in Edinburgh Southern, where Daniel Johnson took the seat from the SNP’s Jim Eadie (although since the seat is effectively a four-way marginal, it’s not a particularly indicative gain), and East Lothian, where former Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray managed to increase a previously slender majority.

Speaking to the BBC, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said:

“A very bad night for the Labour party… There’s no doubt that the constitution has dominated this election.”

She also confirmed that “no matter what, 100 per cent, I will remain leader of the Scottish Labour party”.

In a great night for her party, Ruth Davison won her seat in Edinburgh Central, making her the first Scottish Conservative leader not to need the list system to enter the Scottish Parliament  since 2005. The Tories also gained Aberdeen West from the SNP as well as their success in Dumfriesshire.

The Liberal Democrats also had a better-than-expected night. Their leader, Willie Rennie, took the Fife North East seat from the SNP, and his party also had comfortable holds in Orkney and Shetland.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.