Managing predators is a daily battle for farmers, gamekeepers and landowners. Now the government signals it will recognise this effort and pay shooters for the work. It doesn’t say when or how much, but it includes predator control in the latest round of proposed farm subsidies.
Foxshooter Mike Dickinson, who runs Calton Moor Range in the Peak District, says it is a sensible move. He says: “The National Gamekeepers Organisation has been pushing for something like this for a long time. It’ll be a big benefit.”
He says there is no point in spending millions creating habitats for red-listed species unless predator management is carried out too. Otherwise – he adds – foxes, magpies and crows will eat the redisted species.
BASC head of biodiversity Ian Danby says shooters have been doing this work for free for long enough. He says: “It all comes through the evidence. If you want to find large numbers of groundnesting birds, you go where it’s well keepered.”
He says it would be fantastic to have “some sort of compensation” coming back into farm businesses through the new agreements to help offset the costs of effective predator management done by gamekeepers.
The news comes in an update in the government’s Environmental Land Management Schemes or ELMs. This is DEFRA’s post-Brexit answer to the Common Agricultural Policy payments system.
The schemes, which are due to roll out next year, focus on paying farmers and landowners to enhance the natural environment. As part of ELMs, DEFRA minister Trudy Harrison reveals what the government is considering. Asked about curlew protection, she admits that the management of predators, such as crows and foxes, plays an important role, and she promises ‘actions’ in ELMS.
She says: “The management of predators, such as foxes and carrion crows, plays an important role in supporting the recovery of some of our most vulnerable species, particularly ground-nesting birds including the curlew. We have recently published an update on Environmental Land Management schemes which confirms that we are exploring how actions to do with managing predatory species – when those species are impacting threatened species recovery, will be made available.”
Ian says it will allow for a larger amount of predator management through a bigger landscape.
He says: “That is one of the things we really need to help species thrive. Because if you have a little isolated area where there is predator management, you just get animals coming in from outside it. So, building out these areas, we have effective predator management, which will be such good news for everybody.”
He says it will increase the chances of seeing red-listed species recovering quickly.
Mike says: “If you create the habitat, the red-listed birds will come in and breed. But then you’ve got to protect them when they’re breeding, after they’ve fledged, so that they get a chance of getting a population foothold again.”
Shooters can also take heart from positive news announced under the species recovery section of ELMs, promising ‘bespoke actions’ for anyone undertaking predator control.
It says: “Some species have requirements that will need more specific and tailored management, including managing predatory species when those species are impacting threatened species’ recovery, and we are considering how these bespoke actions will be made available.”
Ian says it provides the missing part of the jigsaw. He says: “The government has been very good at paying for good habitat management, but without this part of the jigsaw for some species, it just doesn’t work. It is very significant for government to address that piece that they’ve been reticent about addressing, which is species and wildlife management.”
He says the government has dedicated teams who understand it, but it requires political will to implement it. That now exists.
Mike says he hopes that this is a sign the government appreciates shooters and gamekeepers for the controbution they make to conservation.
He says: “Keepers have been doing this forever. It’s part of our job and everything needs to be kept in the balance. You can’t have just all top apex predators.”
With the focus on overturning the decline of species, particularly farmland and moorland birds, shooters look like they will at last get public money to fund predator control.