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from The Telegraph UK


Calls to cull birds of prey

By Auslan Cramb, Scotland Correspondent

(Filed: 26/02/2003)

Gamekeepers called yesterday for a licensing system to allow them to kill or relocate birds of prey.

They claimed that buzzards, sparrowhawks and peregrine falcons were killing large numbers of grouse and pheasants on sporting estates, and also damaging populations of waders and songbirds.

Members of the Scottish Gamekeepers' Association told MSPs that the viability of some estates was being threatened by the continuing legal protection given to raptors that were "neither rare nor endangered".

The organisation, representing about 800 gamekeepers, wants permission to kill common species such as buzzards, and to move peregrine falcons or remove their eggs to prevent their numbers increasing in problem areas.

Bert Burnett, a gamekeeper in the Angus glens, told the Scottish Parliament's rural affairs committee that when hen harriers were left untouched on a grouse moor in the Scottish Borders their numbers rose from two to 28 in five years.

As a result, grouse were almost wiped out and five gamekeepers lost their jobs and homes. Mr Burnett said: "The gamekeepers' association is not calling for a widespread or blanket removal of these predators but for licensed controls to allow individuals the right to protect their stock.

"Things have been getting progressively worse and we are losing a hell of a lot of waders and songbirds, as well as grouse, partridge and pheasants.

"What we are asking for is the right to be able to protect our stock and to control these species. We are not calling for mass extermination."

He said estates all over the country were having problems with buzzards, sparrowhawks and peregrine falcons.

"How we deal with this is open to debate, but we need action before our livelihoods, and many species of birds, disappear."

Mr Burnett compared the present situation to the warnings given 17 years ago by gamekeepers on the Uists in the Western Isles who said hedgehogs were having a drastic effect on ground nesting birds.

"But nothing was done about it and some bird populations have been reduced by 60 per cent. We are now telling politicians that the same thing is going to happen on the mainland unless action is taken against raptors."

The association accused Scottish Natural Heritage, the environment agency, of failing to recognise the problems facing Scotland's wildlife.

Scottish Natural Heritage dismissed the claims as a "vestige of Victorian values".

Prof Colin Galbraith, director of scientific services, said: "If we were to go down the culling route it would be biologically meaningless and it would be difficult to manage who would do it, and how. "But above all it would be a PR disaster for the countryside and the gamekeepers in particular." Prof Galbraith insisted other options were available, including habitat management and supplementary feeding, whereby food is left out for birds of prey.

The committee asked Allan Wilson, the deputy environment minister, to commission research into the matter.

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