Natural England gave notification on 23rd April that three general licences would be revoked at 11:59pm on 25th April. These licences cover 16 species of birds, including several members of the crow family, Canada geese, some gulls, feral and wood pigeons.
I appreciate that this has caused concern and inconvenience for licence holders and I too am incredibly disappointed that this decision has been taken. However, following the legal challenge by Wild Justice, Natural England concluded that the licences were not issued in accordance with the requirements of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This was based on legal advice and led to the revocation of the licences.
Natural England estimates that there may be at least 50,000 people who rely on these licences. This includes farmers, pest controllers, local authorities and conservation organisations. These licences were in place to prevent serious damage and disease, to conserve wild birds, wild flora and fauna and to protect public health and safety.
Without wanting to comment on the motives of Wild Justice, I believe their legal challenge has been counterproductive for the preservation of wild birds. Particularly, as their legal challenge has not resulted in the banning of shooting the 16 species of birds covered by the licence. What it has caused is a great deal of inconvenience and bureaucracy for licence holders.
I have not met a single farmer in my constituency who does not recognise that they are a custodian of our natural environment, or who does not seek a balance between running a commercial farming operation and preserving habitat for wildlife. Indeed, once we have left the CAP and replaced this with our own policy of ‘public money for public goods’, environmental protection will be one such public good. Indeed, thanks to the efforts of local farmers we are once again seeing wild birds, such as the yellowhammer increasing in numbers.
As I have previously stated, these licences were introduced to protect bird species that are threatened by other birds. Carrion crows in particular are responsible for attacking and disembowelling lambs, pecking the eyes out of sheep and feeding on songbird chicks.
There can be always be unintended consequences of actions. This is why decisions must be based on evidence. On this occasion, far from protecting songbirds Wild Justice’s actions have actually led to them being placed in danger. There has always been a need for pest control in the countryside. That is why the countryside is able to put food on our plates, as well as being home to diverse wildlife.
I have raised my concerns with the Secretary of State and pressed the need for a resolution to be found with the upmost priority. I have also raised my disappointment that there appears to have been little, if any, consultation or communication by Natural England with licence holders or those organisations that represent them.
Further information can be found at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/wildlife-licences.