I’m Not a Pheasant Plucker . . .

SO I’m sitting at work doing my job – which consists of creating and editing the national news pages of The Northern Echo and one or two other things – when my eyes alight on a story from the Press Association about buzzards being wiped out by a government department to further the interests of the pheasant-shooting fraternity . . . 

scan it twice because, basically, I can’t believe what I’m reading. But it’s there in black and white: the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has drawn up proposals to control the number of buzzards (a protected species) which include destroying nests, capturing adult birds and imprisoning them in falconries. 

The reason is, ostensibly, to protect rural jobs and boost local economies with the buzzards paying the price. But really it’s for one reason and one reason only: so wealthy fat oafs of the type who impose austerity measures on people like you and me can kill even more pheasants than they would have killed previously. This is avian cleansing.

I walk into the afternoon editorial conference with this story at the top of my list and deliver a speech that has more than one or two F words in it. Everyone is outraged by these Defra proposals – “stunned” would not be an inappropriate word.

That was yesterday. And that is why if you live north of York and south of Newcastle and you pick up a copy of The Northern Echo this morning, you’ll find an entire page dedicated to the RSPB and other conservationist groups attacking these outrageous proposals – and a leader written by the editor slagging off the pheasant-plucking pillocks who drew them up.

But buzzards apart, this insidious plan has wider ramifications. If a government department as powerful and as influential as Defra can propose the destruction of a protected species to further the interests of the wealthy and the landed, where does that leave our hard-won access rights? How long before Defra proposes we are turfed off the grouse moors to “boost the local economy” and “protect rural jobs” in these “times of hardship” (not forgetting that these times of hardship were dumped on us by the type of people who think nothing of forking out £600 for a day bagging pheasants).

The Tories opposed the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 tooth and nail (the best legislation, besides the minimum wage, that Blair introduced). They didn’t want people like you and me traipsing across their open acres, burning their heather with our fag ends and disturbing their birds with our transistor radios and raucous voices. We were a threat to their way of life – and now we are an intrusion that’s tolerated to a point.

Keep an eye on this buzzard stuff. Keep another eye on the way our employment rights are being undermined. And, if you can, keep a third eye on your right to walk in your own country – because these cherry-cheeked toffs are on a high, and if they can consider wiping out birds of prey to increase the profits of their supporters, they are capable of considering anything.

A stoat in a gamekeeper’s trap on Bowes Moor

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About McEff

Alen McFadzean. Journalist. Recently made redundant from The Northern Echo when my job was transferred to Wales to be done by people on lower wages. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climb mountains and run long distances to make life harder. Gravitate to the left in politics just to make life harder still.
This entry was posted in Climbing, Environment, Feet First 2012, Hiking, Hunting, Mountains, Northern Echo, Politics, Ranting, Walking and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to I’m Not a Pheasant Plucker . . .

  1. Diane Pinkers says:

    A good rant on a serious topic. It looks like America’s not the only place where the little guy is getting squeezed. On a more humorous note, your comment about pheasant pluckers reminded me of a tongue-twister I learned from a theater major for proper enuciation: I am a pheasant plucker. I pluck mother pheasants. I am the most pleasant mother pheasant plucker to ever pluck a mother pheasant. Go on, say it fast, I dare ya!

    • McEff says:

      Ha ha. It’s too early in the day to attempt that, Diane. There’s a British version that goes: I’m not a pheasant-plucker I’m a pheasant-plucker’s son, I’m only plucking pheasants till the pheasant-plucking’s done. I think yours has the edge because it’s got the added “mother” element.
      Cheers, Alen

  2. jcmurray1 says:

    Says it all Alen – made me feel like shouting “hear, hear”. Must be the politician in me trying to get out. Where can I get a copy of the Northern Echo in Aberdeen?!!…………

  3. Greg. says:

    Half asleep and heard the news on Radio Cumbria (alarm radio) couldn’t believe what i was hearing. When I was a boy buzzards were rare around Tebay but now I see them everywhere.
    They are a beautiful sight soaring on thermals, often being attacked by crows, and I always stop and watch the drama.
    As I get older it saddens me to realise just how easily people are duped by propaganda ….half truths and ridicule fed daily to people does seem to work. I listen to ordinary workers every day twining about health and safety (elf an safety) when presumably these laws are what is stopping them losing bits of body parts on moving machinery. I heard something the other day about the working time directive. apparently we dont need it as it stops people working long hours. No kidding, and having to work long hours is a good thing? And dont get me on about the shite they have spread about global warming….bent bananas……human rights legislation…..

    • McEff says:

      Greg, if you were half asleep when you heard the buzzard news then you’d certainly woken up by the time your comment landed at 6:43am.
      Elf and safety? I get the impression that if Richard Littlejohn’s car broke down outside your house you wouldn’t invite him in for a cup of tea. Neither would I. Obnoxious man. People in the press who bang on about elf and safety are usually the types who have never done anything more dangerous than be punted down the Cam or eaten a green apple. We should reopen a few collieries purely to force the sods down there for a shift at the face.
      And you’re right about the drip-drip of half-truths. There are millions of people in this country who think human rights are something extravagant and Continental. Presumably they are quite happy to live in servitude and have their lives dictated by governments and big corporations. Because that’s what’s going to happen if we’re not careful, and the buzzard thing is an example of that controlling attitude at work.
      Hope you have a more peaceful breakfast tomorrow. Cheers, Alen

  4. rthepotter says:

    I’m speechless … so it’s a good thing for the buzzards (and us) that you aren’t.

    • McEff says:

      Hello Mrs Potter. Thank you for that. I haven’t had a good rant for a long time, but the buzzard story really caught a nerve. I’ve been thinking about it all morning, and it’s not just that the buzzards are being threatened, or that the big shooting interests are trying to get one over on us, it’s the fact that a government department – a department that is supposed to represent us and protect the environment – has the audacity to come up with such outrageous proposals. Anyway, time for a cup of tea.
      Cheers, Alen

  5. David says:

    I have just got back from few hours photography in Upper Teesdale Alen. I was up there at 5.00am and watched the sun come up and at times simply sat there soaking up the atmosphere of our wonderful countryside. I saw a single Buzzard as well as Rabbit, Lapwing, Redshank, Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Kingfisher, Dipper etc, along with all kinds of rare flowers. In such surroundings it was easy to feel the troubles of the world slip away. Who could not be moved by the countryside waking up on a summer morning. I then come back to hear about this and it really gets my back up.

    These fools always roll out the same old argument about rural jobs, but one thing the foot and mouth epidemic taught us was that tourism in all its forms (walking, wildlife watching etc) brings in a far greater income. It also spreads this income across a broader cross section of our society as well.

    Of course there needs to be a balance for everyone to lead the lifestyle of their choice, even if it seems abhorrent to some of us, but destroying avian predators because they pose a threat to one small group of well of individuals in our society is wrong. I would agree that in some areas populations of avian predators are abnormally high because of feeding to attract tourists. This perhaps needs addressing so that birds are forced to disperse to keep a more natural balance.

    To be blunt our natural heritage is not safe in the hands of the corrupt and self-serving individuals that pass for politicians nowadays and it is certainly not safe in the hands of those that lobby, fund and enjoy a tipple or two down at the old pals club with them. Yes we do need a cull but we are looking at the wrong species.

    • McEff says:

      Hi David. You’ve touched on something that I’ve considered looking into but feel I don’t have the necessary skills – the value to the rural economy of these multi-million-pound businesses that run our grouse moors and pheasant shoots. I’ve seen numerous quotes over the years for certain moors generating so many millions for the local economy, and blood sports (their proper name before the PR people got in) in general being worth billions to the national economy – but how much of that cash actually gets into general circulation?
      Is it all pumped back into the countryside and wage packets, or by the “rural economy” do they mean the coffers of the various companies and their subsidiaries that manage the upland areas for game shooting?
      Defra’s proposals were based on a poll of gamekeepers in which 76 per cent said that buzzards should be killed. How many gamekeepers does an estate employ? There aren’t settlements full of gamekeepers like there are towns full of factory workers who recycle their wages back into the economy. So other than paying a few gamekeepers, a handful of beaters employed periodically on the minimum wage, a scattering of estate workers, and generating custom for a few hotels, where are all these millions of pounds going? It’s not being invested in affordable housing to keep the young in the countryside – but I wouldn’t mind betting that the lion’s share is channelled into accounts where the taxman’s torch doesn’t shine very often.
      Anyway, glad to hear you had a fine walk. The sun’s still shining so things aren’t all that bad.
      Cheers now, Alen

  6. qdant says:

    The vested interests of Richard Benyon MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Natural Environment and Fisheries, have already been under scrutiny recently. Benyon, a shooter himself who owns a £125 million 20,000 acre estate on the Berkshire/Hampshire border, was publicly exposed over his department’s attempts to cover up £2 million his estate received in EU subsidies. Now it seems that he is prepared to rubber stamp public funds in support of private shooting estates, and threaten the country’s natural heritage in favour of non-native species and a minority interest which many find distasteful.

    http://www.birdwatch.co.uk/channel/newsitem.asp?c=11&cate=__12163

    • McEff says:

      Thanks for that, Danny. That’s interesting reading. What is also interesting is the way the statistics have been inflated to give a false impression of the numbers of pheasant chicks being taken – which is something I’ve suspected for a long time. These people couldn’t lie straight in bed.
      Cheers, Alen.

  7. beatingthebounds says:

    Whilst dismantling the NHS, the welfare state and the education system. Welcome to the nineteenth century!

    • McEff says:

      Mark, it’s like standing in deep water, fighting against a current that’s taking us out into oblivion. What I can’t get my head round is the fact it happens every couple of decades. Don’t people learn the lessons of the past?
      Cheers, Alen.

  8. Pingback: eBothy Blog » Damn their Tory eyes

  9. McEff says:

    For another take on the buzzard story “the tory disease and is to allow gamekeepers to smash Buzzard nests and imprison the birds for the rest of their lives in order to allow the chinless freaks who arguably caused this entire economic mess to run riot”, follow Alistair at eBothy Blog on the above pingback.

  10. qdant says:

    Richard Benyon, the Wildlife minister, was under pressure last night to explain what influence he had on a decision to drop landmark legal proceedings against a grouse-shooting estate that was burning peatland in a conservation area.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/wildlife-minister-richard-benyon-under-fire-in-another-gameshooting-case-7801027.html

    • McEff says:

      It’s quite clear from this, Danny, that when some people break the law so brazenly, provided they possess wealth and influence they can come to a cosy agreement with the forces of law and order and legal proceedings will be brushed aside. If you or I did something harmful to the environment, say chopped a tree down that had a preservation order on it so we could have a barbecue after watching England play in Euro 2012, would the same arrangement apply? I think not.
      Thanks for that, Alen

      • Diane Pinkers says:

        I read the story from the link above, and I was wondering: when you say “buzzard”, is that what we call hawks in the US? There was a picture linked to the story, and it sure looked like a hawk to me, not a vulture, which is what we call buzzards hereabouts.
        Also, is the Minister of the Department of the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs allowed to have affairs with women in rural areas? Or is he just in charge of monitoring affairs that occur in the countryside? ;-)

        • McEff says:

          You’ve raised several points there, Diane, which I do not feel qualified to answer with any authority. But I’ll have a bash. In Britain, a buzzard is a large bird of prey, or raptor, smaller than an eagle though bigger than a hawk. We don’t have vultures here, so I can’t compare them. But according to Wikipedia (which seems to contradict itself), buzzards are sometimes referred to as hawks in North America, but they can also be American black vultures or turkey vultures. That’s confused me no end.
          On the other point, the Minister for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is certainly not allowed to have illicit affairs with anyone in the countryside – of either gender. That’s not to say it has not happened in the past. And taking into consideration the fact that a former environment minister has just served a prison term for fiddling his expenses, I suppose anything goes. It’s a bit cold over here for affairs in the countryside, though. It’s much more comfortable indoors.
          Keep on plucking, Alen.

          • Diane Pinkers says:

            Wikipedia makes reference to the genus Buteo, which are definitely referred to as hawks in the US, as distinct from eagles or falcons–the Red-tailed Hawk probably the most common (Buteo jamaicensis). Buzzard in the US is specifically Cathartes aura, the turkey vulture. I just hadn’t encountered that particular difference between US English and UK English. I’m less confused, now, as I was wondering what the heck a carrion eater had to do with diminishing pheasant population. Just when you think you know what someone’s talking about….

            • McEff says:

              Well that’s cleared that up, Diane. Apparently, no study has been done into how many young pheasants the UK buzzards kill. The numbers are thought to be relatively few. But that’s how things work in nature anyway. If you breed baby chicks and let them out into the wild, you can expect to lose a percentage to predators.
              Cheers, Alen

  11. colingriffiths says:

    I was similarly angry when I read about this too whilst sitting in the car at Kyle of Lochalsh. I found two magpies in a trap the other week (and released them); and the trap wasn’t there to protect song birds, the shooting in the nearby wood gave that game away. I was chatting to a shepherd at Achneschellach last Friday who had lost some lambs to a fox. He was having difficulty controlling the fox population (around 50 in the glen) which he did by shooting at night in torch light. I had a lot of sympathy for him. Compare that to Leicestershire where woods, thickets and copses were maintained solely for the purposes of providing cover for foxes dens, flushing them out and chasing them for miles on horseback. Now that’s wrong. There’s a big difference between the needs of the shepherd and the artificially created needs of some rich folk who just want to blast their money away in a puff of gunpowder smoke and a bang. I was pleased to see the about-turn by the government!

    • McEff says:

      Hi Colin. That’s a valid point. There are people who shoot foxes because there is a need to control them, and people who kill them for the fun. It’s the same with game. My father had a 12-bore shotgun and used to shoot rabbits and pigeons. But everything went into the pot. At the other end of the scale, you have people who pay hundreds of pounds for a day shooting grouse above Arkengarthdale and Bowes, and it’s purely for sport and commercial gain.
      I, too, have a lot of sympathy for your shepherd. Where I grew up, in the south of Cumbria, there were no fox hunts as such. The foxes were controlled by the local vermin club – ordinary working blokes with dogs and guns who didn’t mess about. They flushed a fox and shot it. They didn’t fill themselves full of sherry and chase it for miles on horseback.
      Don’t get me going. Hope you had a great time in Scotland. I’m long overdue a journey up there.
      Cheers, Alen

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