Angry rural groups demand Michael Gove investigates ‘disastrous’ new rules for shooting birds

PUBLISHED: 09:21 29 April 2019 | UPDATED: 09:25 29 April 2019

Farmers are up in arms after their right to shoot 'pest' birds including crows was curtailed by a legal challenge. Picture: IWITNESS24

Farmers are up in arms after their right to shoot 'pest' birds including crows was curtailed by a legal challenge. Picture: IWITNESS24

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A coalition of rural organisations is calling on environment secretary Michael Gove to launch an investigation into Natural England’s decision to revoke licences allowing farmers to shoot 16 species of bird.

Bodies including the British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC), Countryside Alliance and the National Gamekeepers Organisation penned an open letter to the Defra minister.

Other signatories included the Moorland Association, the National Farmers' Union and Game Farmers' Association.

They complained that the decision to revoke the licences that previously allowed them to freely shoot birds such as carrion crows, wood pigeons, magpies and Canada geese had left them in chaos.

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

The decision was taken by Natural England, the body advising the government on managing the natural environment, after they were threatened with legal action by environmentalists.

Wild Justice – a group whose directors include BBC Springwatch presenter Chris Packham – sought a judicial review of the licences, which Natural England ultimately decided not to fight, believing it would lose.

As a result, three general licences for controlling wild birds were revoked on April 23 to be replaced by individual licences.

So far, only one new general licence has been issued, for controlling carrion crows to prevent damage to livestock including poultry and reared gamebirds.

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The letter says the new licensing rules are causing havoc at one of the busiest times of the farming calendar.

“This sudden legal change has caused enormous problems and concern for everyone reliant on general licences, and their withdrawal has come at the worst possible time of year, when lambs, young crops, and nesting birds including curlew and lapwing, are all in most need of protection from marauding 'pest' birds,” it says.

It says the decision had left people in rural industries “concerned and angry”, adding: “It has been a disastrous episode, appallingly mismanaged by Natural England.”

It concludes: “As secretary of state for the department to which Natural England is contracted as the current licensing authority, you are asked to undertake a full investigation as to who made what decisions, when, and why.

“Your department needs to determine what changes may be necessary going forward, to ensure this sort of disaster is never repeated.”

A spokesman for BACS said the 16 bird species covered by the general licence were not shot for sport but for pest control, and that even Wild Justice had been surprised by the speed of the decision.

READ MORE: Farmers' leader condemns 'dead crow' incident at Chris Packham's home

Naturalist Mark Avery, who is one of Wild Justice's directors, wrote on his blog that the group was campaigning for Natural England to ensure legal loopholes were closed when a new licensing system was introduced in January 2020.

“Our legal case for judicial review called for Natural England to admit the illegality of the (now former) licensing system and to undertake not to introduce a similarly unlawful system on 1 January 2020 when the current (now former) licensing ran out,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Defra said: “As the government's independent adviser, Natural England has made clear it took the difficult but unavoidable decision to change the bird control licensing system as a result of the legal challenge by Wild Justice.

“They're working as quickly as possible to issue new licences. There's no ban and people who need to control birds before all the new licences are available can obtain an individual licence.”

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