Battle over farmers’ right to shoot pigeons, crows and magpies prompts licensing U-turn

PUBLISHED: 08:58 14 June 2019 | UPDATED: 14:48 14 June 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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A farming industry outcry over the right to shoot “pest” bird species to protect crops and livestock has pressured the government into replacing licences revoked earlier this year.

Natural England revoked three general licences for controlling certain wild birds in April, following a legal challenge from environmentalists including TV presenter Chris Packham. Subsequent legal advice concluded that those licences were unlawful.

It provoked widespread anger among East Anglia's farming community, which raised concerns that birds such as pigeons, crows, jackdaws and magpies were free to devastate arable crops, attack spring lambs or predate eggs and fledglings of birds of conservation concern.

Following a consultation which generated 4,000 responses, environment secretary Michael Gove has now issued three replacement general licences, similar to the originals, but with a new stipulation that they do not apply in certain protection zones, where individual licences must be sought instead.

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The new licences will allow users to control certain species of wild birds in order to conserve wild birds and flora or fauna; preserve public health or public safety; or prevent serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber and fisheries.

Ben Underwood, East regional director for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), said: "It is encouraging to see that progress has been made on this issue and the concerns of rural groups have been taken on board, as it has caused significant disruption for many farmers and landowners. We will keep working collaboratively with Defra and others to help resolve any outstanding issues.

"This includes engaging with the future consultation this summer, ensuring the emergence of a robust and fit-for-purpose licensing system which protects the interests of farming and food production, as well as the conservation of wildlife."

The new licences will be valid until February 29, 2020. In the meantime, Defra will lead a review of the longer-term general licensing arrangements, with an initial public consultation due to be launched by the end of the summer.

Mr Gove said: "I recognise the scale of interest and concern that was generated by Natural England's decision to revoke three general licences and I am grateful to those thousands of individuals and groups who shared their experiences in responding to the call for evidence.

"The three new general licences seek to minimise some of the negative impacts that the withdrawal of the previous licences had. But this is a temporary way forward and does not cover European protected sites, where the law is more complicated and we continue to engage with stakeholders."

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