This is the park’s buzzard. It has come to the park for some years and hunts regularly here and across Southwick Court’s old parkland. Buzzards breed when they are three years old but this bird is always seen alone.
The first set of photographs were taken early yesterday morning by DKG. The second set were taken almost exactly three years ago, also by DKG. Click on any of the pictures to enlarge it.
Buzzards (Buteo buteo) are now widespread, with over 65,000 pairs breeding in the UK. Including non-breeding birds, it is possible that the total population is as much as 300,000 individuals.
In the early part of the 20th Century, gamekeepers culled buzzards and other raptors to protect their game birds. In the 1950s, myxomatosis killed more than 99% of the country’s rabbits, which were the buzzards’ major food source, and the use of organochlorine pesticides in the 1950s and 1960s affected their reproductive capacity. By 1967, when legislation protecting the species was re-written, the breeding population was down to 1,000 pairs. Their recovery from this near extinction was one of the conservation success stories of the last century.
In 2016 Natural England was forced by a High Court ruling to issue a licence, to kill ten buzzards, to a gamekeeper whose applications it had been refusing for several years. Natural England was established in 2006 as a watchdog organisation, responsible for our natural environment including its wildlife. The organisation can issue a licence to cull or hunt certain species to protect livestock or environment; in 2016 it issued four licences to kill buzzards in order to protect game birds.
Game shooting has become big business making big profits for international organisations with political clout, money and influence enough to chase a licence application all the way into the High Court. Conservationists were outraged and if Natural England has issued any such licences since, we were unable to find public records of them.
In the past two years, large birds of prey have been killed legally in the pursuit of profit, just as they were a hundred years ago, and illegal killing is on the rise. For the sake of our single buzzard, we need to be vigilant.