Changes to Licences for shooting pest bird species
A storm of controversy has arisen over Natural England’s recent decision to revoke the general licence for shooting pest bird species. The move came as a big surprise and was announced 23 April 2019. Farmers were shocked to find that the three licences sanctioning such activity would expire just 36 hours later.
Wild Justice Conservation Group
The system of licensing has been in operation since the 1990s but was challenged by the Wild Justice conservation group which is led by TV presenter Chris Packham. The group argued that the licences were illegal as Natural England was failing to ensure that non-lethal methods of control had been tried prior to the issuing of the licences per the requirements of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Natural England issue new licences
Two days after Natural England revoked General Licences GL04, GL05 and GL06, it introduced new individual licences allowing the control of certain birds to protect livestock and flora or to prevent the spread of disease. The next day it introduced a new General Licence for killing carrion crows. Other licences will follow including those for shooting certain species in order to conserve wild birds.
The new general licences clearly spell out that those who intend to shoot birds must be able to demonstrate that they have taken reasonable steps to prevent the issues caused by the birds. These steps include keeping livestock indoors, removing sources of food that might attract corvids and using scaring devices, including active human scaring.
Applicants must keep records
Those who apply for licences are being advised to keep a record of the problems they are experiencing and how they have attempted to tackle them. In other words, those who wish to shoot birds must demonstrate that such action is the last resort. Failure to comply with these requirements may still be an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
The new general licences are much more specific regarding bird species and the prevailing circumstances. The system is more complicated as a result, but this should mean that fewer birds are shot unnecessarily. The more detailed approach should also eliminate grey areas, making it easier to prove or disprove an illegal action.
Targeting Chris Packham
The changes to the licensing system have inevitably caused both upset and delight. Farmers are concerned for their livestock and livelihoods while conservationists are jumping for joy. Chris Packham has proved to the focus of many people’s ire. Dead animals have been left outside his property and excrement posted through his letterbox. In addition, a petition calling for him to be fired by the BBC has attracted over 100,000 signatures.
Sometimes the needs of farmers are in direct conflict with those of the natural world. While it must be annoying to find that it is harder to gain the licence you need to control pests, it must be right that farmers try non-lethal methods of pest control before resorting to a gun. It certainly isn’t acceptable to target Chris Packham who surely has the right to his own opinion, even if he works for the BBC.