Pest birds are once again covered under a set of new general licences supplied by Defra; but how does the trade view the new legislation? 

It appears progress has been made since Defra released three new general licenCes on 14 June. The new licences cover most of the activity which is undertaken in the English countryside for pest control, crop protection and to protect public health. However, there still appear to be gaps in the new legislation that could require additional licences to be issued. 

Shooters were left frustrated as the lack of licences wreaked havoc on the trade with no clear legislation between 25 April and 14 June – some 50 days. The original revocation of the General Licences has therefore ultimately achieved nothing other than to remove protection from livestock, nesting birds and other wildlife during the most vulnerable period of the year.

As trade was affected for almost two months, over 4,000 responses were submitted to Defra, who have consequently introduced three new licences based on the information gathered.

Natural England provided statutory advice having also recently issued three general licences GL26, GL28 and GL31 to cover some of the species and purposes covered by the original licences that were revoked.

These remain in place, since they allow for specified activity on European protected sites which are not covered by Defra’s new licences. ‘Wild Justice’ have since launched a new judicial review into one of Natural England’s replacement licences, leading to those in the industry to describe the group as ‘nothing more than a single issue anti-shooting organisation with a malicious agenda.’

The licences will be valid until 29 February 2020. In the meantime, Defra will lead a review of the longer-term general licensing arrangements and intend to launch an initial public consultation by the end of the summer, with further details to follow.

Airgun Shooter’s Mat Manning was among the shooters left frustrated by revocation of the General Licences in April

BASC chief executive Ian Bell said: “The organisations have worked extensively in the background with Defra and we are content that the new, additional general licences issued will be fit for purpose in many areas but significant concerns remain around protected sites.

“We appreciate that it’s not a perfect situation and there may still be some confusion; the organisations will continue to be on hand to steer our members through. The organisations have told Defra that we expect any gaps to picked up by the consultation in the summer.”

Countryside Alliance chief executive Tim Bonner commented: “Whilst we remain very concerned about the initial decision by Natural England to revoke the general licences, we are grateful for the secretary of state’s intervention.

“Since Defra has taken back control of the licences we have seen significant progress and for most people managing most species the situation is now back as it was. The discussion does not, however, stop here and we will seek to resolve the outstanding issues as part of the planned consultation later this year.

“We still have concerns about Defra’s approach to ‘protected sites’, which are home to much of our most important wildlife, where there will be additional licence requirements. There will be a further full consultation on the licences this summer where we will be looking to resolve this and any other outstanding issues. However, for most people, managing most species the situation is now back as it was before the licences were revoked.

Liam Bell, NGO chairman, remarked: “Two cheers to Defra for sorting out most of the mess left after NE’s licence revocations in April. We reserve our third cheer until they have also addressed the remaining issues in protected sites.

“The team-working between the shooting organisations has been great on this and a big reason for the turnarounds gained so far. We look forward to playing our part in finishing the job.”

Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, reacted: “European designated sites will not be covered by these new general licences. If owners or occupiers have not yet applied for an individual licence to carry out vital work to protect chicks, they should.

“We have made the point forcefully to Defra that it is almost beyond belief that precious areas that support incredible bird life are being left out, areas that have been designated for their important birds and habitats. Pest bird control, certainly in the uplands, has been a contributing factor to their success.

“Making conservation in these areas harder to achieve is a disaster for our wildlife. Defra’s precautionary approach and EU rules could preside over the extinction of our best loved moorland birds like the curlew, lapwing, golden plover, if a way forward cannot be found.”

Country Land and Business Association (CLA) president, Tim Breitmeyer, said: “We are pleased that progress has been made and that the concerns of rural groups have been taken on board. 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.”

Game Farmers’ Association chairman Dominic Boulton reported: “This is good news. Our members will now be able to get back to business and control problem birds as before. Livelihoods had been threatened by NE’s revocations but the situation is now much improved.”

Sir Jim Paice, GWCT chairman, remarked: “We must congratulate Defra for producing these new licences so quickly under difficult circumstances. They may not be perfect, but it is clear they carefully considered all 4,000 consultation responses which provided them with the information they needed to reach this stage.

The GWCT will continue to work closely with Defra to share our science to ensure those that manage our countryside have the right tools to do the job.”

James Somervillle-Makiele, PR Manager for the Countryside Alliance, commented: “We are getting a better picture of the decision to revoke three General Licences in April, which caused chaos and confusion across the countryside, but there is still plenty of questions that need to be answered. 

“The confirmation that the new licences issued by Defra are only temporary creates the possibility for further disruption in the new year unless lessons are learned from the last few months.

“It could also mean that farmers and other land managers in England will have to work with three different licensing arrangements within the space of 12 months, which is not good for anyone. 

“We will continue to work with Defra and National England to ensure practical solutions are found and information is properly communicated to those who have the task of managing our countryside.” 

Natural England’s chair, Tony Juniper CBE, commented: “I welcome the Environment Secretary’s announcement today, which follows a great deal of work between Defra and Natural England to tackle an exceptionally complex situation.

“I am immensely grateful for the efforts of my colleagues at Natural England in putting in place alternatives for users affected by the recent changes to general licences.

“Our aim has always been to ensure that there is a robust licensing system in place which takes into account the needs of people and wildlife. We look forward to working closely with Defra on a review of general licences later this year to help achieve this.

“Natural England revoked three general licences (GL04, 05 and 06) in April following a legal challenge and subsequent legal advice which concluded that the three licences were unlawful. For many users, Defra’s new licences will be the appropriate option.” 

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