Farmers demand urgent government action to end ‘confusion’ over bird shooting licences

PUBLISHED: 18:31 14 May 2019 | UPDATED: 18:31 14 May 2019

Crows, jackdaws and pigeons in a barley field. Picture: Anne Marks / IWITNESS24

Crows, jackdaws and pigeons in a barley field. Picture: Anne Marks / IWITNESS24

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Farming leaders have demanded urgent action from environment secretary Michael Gove to resolve the “significant confusion and legal uncertainty” caused by changes to licences for shooting pest birds.

The call forms part of the National Farmers' Union's evidence to Defra about the impact of Natural England's decision last month to revoke general licences allowing farmers to control birds including woodpigeons and crows, following a legal challenge from environmental group Wild Justice.

The NFU said the evidence is compiled from hundreds of union members' responses, who said the revocation meant they struggled to protect lambs from being attacked and crops from being devastated.

Although Natural England has issued replacement licences during the last week for birds including woodpigeons and carrion crows, the NFU says farmers need "urgent access to general licences which are practical and fully fit for purpose".

Its evidence also highlights:

- The lack of warning, which caused "significant confusion and legal uncertainty for farmers".

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- Continued legal uncertainty due to the "rushed and unclear temporary mitigation processes" which included problems with applying for, and the issuing of, individual licences.

- Inconsistencies in replacement licences resulting in a "lack of clarity between what is a legal requirement and what is simply guidance".

- The "substantial economic impact" on farmers costing businesses thousands of pounds, as well as unacceptable distress to livestock.

READ MORE: Farmers angered by ban on shooting birds including crows, pigeons and Canada geese

NFU deputy president Guy Smith said: "With the growing season and lambing underway, the sudden revocation of these general licences could not have occurred at a worse time in the farming calendar. It has left members without the necessary legal certainty as to how they can protect their livestock and crops from being attacked.

"The NFU has received hundreds of responses in the past few days to its own call for evidence which illustrates the strength of feeling across the breadth of our membership.

"We have heard directly from our members how the revocation has not only increased worry for the farmer, but is causing unnecessary stress to farm animals and has caused mortality in lambs.

"It is also clear from our members' responses that lethal control methods are not used lightly. Yet, they remain absolutely necessary in increasing lamb survival, reducing crop damage and protecting food hygiene when other methods either need reinforcement or have failed completely.

"Defra must take immediate action to ensure that the replacement licences not only give clear legal direction for farmers, but meet the very real needs of farming businesses and allow farmers to effectively protect their livelihoods."

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