Conservation fears have been raised for a second time at a rural estate in Aberdeenshire as more dramatic footage emerged showing an osprey chick being attacked by a buzzard. Lochter Estate owner Euan Webster was shocked as one of only two chicks hatched this year on the estate’s osprey nest, which is filmed for tourism purposes, was targeted and snatched by a swooping buzzard before falling, injured, to the ground. Last year a chick from the same nest was grabbed by a buzzard and carried off before being dropped to its death.
Mr Webster commented:
“This footage is clear evidence that last year’s buzzard attack was far from being an isolated incident. It is a sign that working to conserve one iconic bird of prey while more common species which predate it breed unchecked is just not working.
“There were two healthy chicks until ten days ago when one chick “mysteriously” fell out of the nest – we have no video of its fall. Then on Sunday the remaining chick was attacked as can be seen in the video. One chick is with the SSPCA with a broken part of its wing while the other has been safely returned to the nest and is doing fine albeit the parent birds are constantly fighting off the pair of buzzards.
“This cannot be passed off as simply nature taking its course as humans have managed all types of bird for hundreds of years, we must now surely have a responsibility to continue this management in a way that is logical. Throughout the year we see buzzards prey on other birds, many of which are in steep decline. Lapwings, oystercatchers, curlews and grey partridges, are now frequently absent from our farms here in the north east of Scotland.
“Any farmer or shepherd will tell you about the threat from buzzards and this incident should sound alarm bells among those who care about the conservation of our rarer wild birds such as ospreys in Scotland.”
The osprey chick is still alive and being cared for by the SSPCA; meanwhile Euan Webster has written to the Minister for Environment Paul Wheelhouse to express his concerns in full.
Buzzards numbers have been growing steadily since the 1980s and are now at record levels in Scotland. The latest official BTO Bird Atlas Survey demonstrates a more than healthy population which is no longer of conservation concern. In a survey by the Scottish Farmer magazine in June, 100% of respondents believed that fewer buzzards would result in other wildlife benefits*.
As buzzard numbers have grown, clearly there is a need for increasing amounts of prey for them to eat. Whilst smaller populations may at one time have been able to survive mostly on carrion, rabbits and small game, there are growing numbers of reports of buzzards preying on other wildlife such as red squirrels and wild birds, some of them being rare species of conservation concern such as osprey. The competition from buzzards is thought to have an impact on smaller raptor species also.
Even conservation organisations such as RSPB recognise that predation is a problem when trying to look after rare or declining species and they control predators in and around their reserves**.
Douglas McAdam, Chief Executive of Scottish Land & Estates, reiterated his concerns after last year’s incident:
“While previous reports of such predation have been brushed off by those who do not like the reality of what is happening in the countryside, this second video provides the sad but clear and conclusive evidence of the serious impacts of the growing population of buzzards. There are gaps in scientific knowledge about these impacts and some conservation groups have tried to discourage the licensed research which would inform a pragmatic approach.
“At the same time, the conservation status of the buzzard itself must also be protected. A rational debate is urgently needed in which evidence from land and wildlife managers, such as Euan Webster, can be taken into account. They are the people who see what is actually happening on the ground rather than simply what is documented in the press and policy papers.
“We believe it is the duty of Government to promote a factual consultation as this is a serious issue for Scotland’s wildlife.”
Look out for coverage on Reporting Scotland on Friday night.