Spanish vultures have bloody good eyesight. They can spot carrion from 10,000ft up, and then glide silently on nine-foot span wings down to feast. For generations they have lived symbiotically with Spanish hill farmers and rural populations; villagers used to take the carcasses of dead animals to Muladares, traditional places at which they were left for the vultures to dispose of, and hill farmers who practiced transhumant grazing were able to leave the carcasses of dead sheep on the high pastures for the vultures to clean up. All changed from 2002 onwards, when the EU passed a series of new laws in the wake of the BSE scare.
It was forbidden to feed the carcasses of ruminants, or indeed any animal by-products, to wild birds. The papers gleefully reported that giant flocks of hungry Spanish vultures were flying to Brussels and Germany to look for food. It was too good a story to miss. In vain did EU officials protest that special conditions existed for endangered species and birds of prey; Spanish vultures were not an endangered species - indeed, the population had been growing - and carrion-eaters are not strictly birds of prey. It seems the Spanish vulture is doomed by Euro bureaucracy for failing to comply with a legislative category.
And now for Bystander. The Magistrate blogged lately that he had been throwing meat scraps out in the garden for the Red Kites. Immediately I realised that this activity fell under the 2005 Animal By Products Regulations (SI 2005 No 2347). The meat scraps - trimmings from meat fit for human consumption - are Category 3 material under the regulations; they are classed as catering waste, even from a domestic kitchen, and are therefore subject to the Regs. On the face of it, there is a clear breach of s.9(1) of the Regulations, which prohibits the feeding of catering waste "to any other ruminant animal, pig or bird". The offence is regarded as fairly serious, with a penalty on summary conviction of a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or both(s.48(1)). Penalties on indictment are even worse.
However, all is not lost for Bystander. The derogation that failed to work for the Spanish vulture may work in the Chilterns. S.26(3) of the Regulations allows "The feeding of animal by-products to ..... reptiles and birds of prey other than zoo or circus animals" when authorised by the Secretary of State. Unlike vultures, Red Kites can be classed as birds of prey (they apparently eat worms and mice as well as meat scraps). I have no doubt that Bystander will now apply to the SoS for the appropriate licence, and regularise his kite feeding. And equally no doubt that if he does, he will cause immeasurable consternation and confusion in DEFRA, who I am sure pass these wretched laws without ever reading them.