PLANS to allow the destruction of buzzard nests and permit birds to be taken into captivity will set a ‘terrible precedent’, according to a leading bird charity.

Defra announced the £400,000 scheme following lobbying by people in the pheasant shooting industry, who say buzzards are eating young pheasants.

But a Defra spokesperson said no birds would be harmed by destroying nests, and the three-year plan was at an early research stage.

A spokesperson for the British Association for Shooting and Conservation backed Defra’s plans, saying that moving nests was one potential outcome of a wider plan looking at non-lethal ways of controlling buzzards.

Another way of protecting pheasants, which the project would look at, included management of cover.

Amanda Miller, the RSPB’s conservation manager for Northern England, said: “We are shocked by Defra’s plans to protect a non-native game bird released in its millions. Buzzards play a minor role in pheasant losses compared with other factors like collisions with vehicles.”

Although buzzards do take young pheasants from rear-ing pens if the opportunity presents itself, the RSPB believes the issue can be managed.

Ms Miller added: “I hope the Government will put a stop to this project.”

Hawk and Owl Trust Conservation Officer Nigel Middleton said: “We are totally against persecution of any birds of prey, and destroying buzzard nests is tantamount to this.

“The buzzard was eradicated from large swathes of Britain following decades of persecution."

Legal protection and a general warming of attitudes towards birds of prey on the part of many lowland land mangers, led to them recovering.

Around 40 million birds are released every year for shooting.

Tim Russell, director of conservation at BASC, said: "By commissioning this research Defra is showing its willingness to investigate how non-lethal methods might be used to solve serious problems with buzzards.

“In recent years there has been growing concern among gamekeepers that buzzards are causing serious damage.”

A Defra Spokesperson said: “The buzzard population in this country has been protected for more than 30 years, and as the RSPB says, has resulted in a fantastic conservation story.

“At the same time we have cases of buzzards preying on young pheasants.

“We are looking at funding research to find ways of protecting these young birds while making sure the buzz-ard population continues to thrive.”