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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