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25 Feb 2004 : Column 446W—continued


Andrew George: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of (a) the impact of the UK Raptor Working Group and (b) the health of the raptor population; and what plans she has to reconvene the working group. [155177]

Mr. Bradshaw: Ministers welcomed the final report of the Raptor Working Group, in 2000, as providing Government a consensus view from organisations representing statutory and non-governmental conservation, game-management and racing pigeon interests as to desirable actions to reduce conflicts with birds of prey. The statutory nature conservation agencies and others, co-ordinated through various fora, are taking the detailed recommendations of the Working Group forward. Monitoring of raptor populations provides feedback as to the status of different populations. To this end, the extent and scale of illegal persecution of birds of prey continues to give cause for concern, as does, in particular, the population status of the hen harrier in the UK.

There are no immediate plans to reconvene the Working Group.

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what means of control are available to a landowner where biodiversity on his land is endangered by an excess population of raptors. [154715]

Mr. Bradshaw: Birds of prey are an important part of the natural biodiversity of the UK and the health of their populations is widely recognised as a key measure of ecosystem health. While we recognise that some specific conflicts occasionally arise with human interests, notably on grouse moors, with racing pigeons, and with lowland gamebirds, we are not aware of any land in the UK where biodiversity more generally is endangered by raptors. The legal means of control for raptors are limited. Government established a Raptor Working Group in 1995, involving a wide range of stakeholder interests, to advise, inter alia "on statutory and other mechanism for the resolution of problems". The UK Raptor Working Group's report, published in 2000, recommends "enhanced enforcement of existing legislation to seek to eliminate illegal killing of birds of prey". A copy of their final report is in the House of Commons Library.

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the current estimated population is of (a) buzzards, (b) peregrine falcons, (c) hobbies, (d) merlins, (e) ospreys, (f) goshawks and (g) marsh harriers; and what the population of each was in each of the previous 10 years. [154716]

Mr. Bradshaw: Annual population statistics do not exist for buzzard, peregrine or merlin. The most recent UK population estimates are set out as follows. The

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estimate for buzzard is known to be a significant under-estimate, but there has been no formal survey of its current UK population size.

SpeciesYear of most recent UK surveyPopulation estimate
Buzzard1983 (Northern Ireland) and1988–91 (Great Britain)12,000–17,000 pairs
Peregrine2002 (UK and Isle of Man)1,402 pairs
Merlin1993 and 19941,300±200 pairs

Annual UK population estimates are available for the following species, based on the collation of best available information by the Rare Breeding Birds Panel. Collated national totals are not yet available for the 2002 or 2003 breeding seasons.

Hobby (confirmed and possible breeding pairs)Osprey (occupied territories)Goshawk (confirmed and possible breeding pairs)Marsh harrier (breeding females)

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what systems her Department has for monitoring the (a) numbers and (b) impact of raptors in the UK; [154717]

Mr. Bradshaw: Raptor populations in the UK are monitored through a number of schemes. Information on these schemes is comprehensively summarised in table 2.4 of the final report of the UK Raptor Working Group, a copy of which is in the House of Commons Library. There is no national provision for monitoring the impact of raptors in the UK.

There have been no studies conducted on the impacts of raptors on the brown hare population. But the impact of raptors on game birds was studied and reviewed in the report of the UK Raptor Study Group.

With regards to lambs the Scottish Executive and Scottish Natural Heritage, commissioned a study of the interaction between white-tailed eagles and lambs on Mull, in 1999 and 2000.

The results showed that the diet of 11 pairs of white-tailed eagles during the breeding season was species-diverse but included lambs. While most pairs took few lambs, one pair took twice as many lambs as any other pair under study. A lack of alternative prey (rabbits) and the proximity of the nest to a lambing area in 1999 may have been responsible for higher lamb predation then. There was no information as to whether lambs killed by eagles would otherwise have survived.

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The study found that the number of lambs was small compared with overall lamb mortality, but sufficient to be an important loss to an individual farmer if eagle predation of lambs was additive and concentrated on one farm. There is no information to suggest that raptors take significant numbers of lambs elsewhere in the UK. Further information on this study is available in: Birds of Prey in a Changing Environment, pp471–479, published in 2003 by The Stationery Office.

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the (a) cost and (b) efficacy of English Nature's raptor programmes. [154725]

Mr. Bradshaw: Raptor conservation projects form a small element of English Nature's conservation work. The two significant projects currently ongoing are the Red Kite Reintroduction Programme and the Hen Harrier Recovery Project, with costs to English Nature in 2003–04 of approximately £10,000 and £90, 000 respectively.

The Red Kite Reintroduction Programme is a partnership between English Nature, RSPB and a wide range of other organisations and funding bodies. The majority of funding for this programme comes from external sources, including the Heritage Lottery Fund and sponsorship from private companies. The Red Kite re-establishment programme in England, together with a similar programme in Scotland and effective conservation measures for the species in Wales, has increased Red Kite numbers to a level where they constitute a small but significant proportion of the European total. As was intended at the outset, the project has helped enhance the international status of Red Kite, a species whose global distribution is restricted to Europe.

English Nature's Hen Harrier Recovery Project is now entering its third year. It is staffed by a project coordinator and three seasonal fieldworkers. It has so far been successful in improving our understanding of the status of the hen harrier in England and of the factors affecting breeding numbers and success.

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the outcome of the red kite reintroduction programme in England. [154714]

Mr. Bradshaw: The on-going red kite reintroduction programme is widely recognised as one of the most successful projects of its kind. It has already resulted in the re-establishment of self-sustaining red kite populations in three areas of England, with estimates of about 200 breeding pairs in the Chilterns, 30 in the Midlands and 16 in Yorkshire in 2003. Despite the success of the programme, less than 5 per cent. of the bird's potential British range has been recolonised. Further releases are anticipated, and from spring 2004, birds will be released in north-east England in order to encourage recolonisation of this part of the bird's former range.

The red kite programme has also been instrumental in raising public awareness of conservation by focusing interest on a flagship species such as the red kite. It has

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also highlighted issues that still adversely affect birds of prey more generally in Britain. This includes the use of illegal poison baits in the open countryside and accidental secondary poisoning by modern, highly toxic rodenticides. The high profile of the red kite project has been utilised to help promote effective measures to tackle these issues, which will benefit a wide range of wildlife in addition to the red kite.

Single Farm Payments

Mr. Steen: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when she expects the first Single Farm Payments to be made. [155098]

Alun Michael: The Single Payment Scheme will be introduced in 2005; the earliest date provided for in the June 2003 CAP reform agreement. The payment window for 2005 payments will open at the start of December 2005 and run to the end of June 2006. We will endeavour to commence payments as soon as possible within that period.

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