Farmers angered by ban on shooting birds including crows, pigeons and Canada geese
PUBLISHED: 11:12 24 April 2019 | UPDATED: 09:55 25 April 2019
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Farmers have reacted angrily to an abrupt ban on shooting birds including crows, pigeons and Canada geese - controls which they claim are "absolutely necessary" to protect crops and livestock.
Natural England is revoking three general licences for controlling certain wild birds from Thursday April 25, following a legal challenge from environmentalists including TV presenter Chris Packham.
The licences cover 16 species including crows, magpies, rooks, jackdaws and jays, feral and wood pigeons, and some “invasive non-native species” such as Canada geese.
Natural England is working on alternative measures to allow lawful control of these bird species to continue in defined situations – such as to prevent serious damage to livestock from carrion crows or health issues from feral pigeons – and it expects to issue new licences from April 29.
But north Norfolk farmer Kit Papworth said: “This administrative blunder by Natural England could not have come at a worse time for farmers, conservationists, and ultimately nature.
“As a result of it, many more nests of song birds and Red List species of birds will be plundered for their eggs by corvids.
“Recently-sown crops such as peas and linseed which are just emerging are under pressure from the wood pigeon population which cannot now be controlled as a result of this change. I hope that Natural England are able to work alongside all parties to resolve the issue with the licensing very quickly.”
Guy Smith, deputy president of the National Farmers' Union (NFU), said there were “significant concerns” about the abrupt withdrawal of the general licenses.
“They are absolutely necessary at this time of year when crops are particularly vulnerable to pests,” he said. “For example, a flock of pigeons could decimate a farmer's field of crops.
“It is incredibly disappointing that farmers and growers find themselves in this position, particularly at this time of year.”
Cambridgeshire farmer Tim Breitmeyer, who is president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) added: “It is hugely disappointing that Natural England is being diverted into reviewing these licences for no practical benefit. This will place additional strain on their limited resources, further breeding an ever growing sense of frustration at a time when farmers are proactively engaging with the environmental agenda.
“These licenses have worked successfully for many years, enabling farms and rural businesses to produce a secure supply of food alongside protection for young livestock, farmland birds and other wildlife from a range of predatory wild birds. This decision means farmers and land managers are now plunged into uncertainty at a critical season for both wildlife and farming.”
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General licences were introduced in the 1990s to allow the legal control of bird species of low conservation concern to protect public health and safety, prevent serious damage and disease, and protect plants and wildlife.
The legal challenge which forced the changes was made by Chris Packham's Wild Justice group, which argued that because landowners did not previously need to apply for a licence before killing these birds, there was no way of telling if there was a humane alternative to shooting or if it was done for good reason, which meant the licensing was unlawful.
After the three licences under review have been revoked – and until new licences are issued – anyone needing to control one of the 16 bird species where there is “no reasonable non-lethal alternative” will need to apply for an individual licence, otherwise they could be committing an offence.
Natural England's interim chief executive Marian Spain said: “We recognise this change will cause disruption for some people, but we are working hard to ensure it is kept to a minimum.
“We will bring forward interim measures as quickly as possible as the first stage of our planned review of the licences. We want to make sure our licensing system is robust and proportionate, taking into account the needs of wildlife and people.”