Natural England ‘backs down’ over bird kill licences to avoid legal action

Natural England has ended the discretionary practice of killing birds under a general licence, following legal action taken by Chris Packham’s legal outfit Wild Justice.

From tomorrow it will be illegal to kill any of the 16 bird species, such as jackdaws and magpies, without applying to the regulator for an individual licence.

Campaigner and Wild Justice founder Mark Avery told ENDS the regulator had “given in” and “backed down in full” before it was taken to court where it knew it would lose, he said.

All wild birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in the UK.

However, the decades-old practice of using three different general licences has allowed landowners and tenants to kill certain bird species that are “seriously damaging” livestock, crops, growing timber or fisheries and inland waters, without needing to justify why the killing is necessary,  or whether alternative non-lethal measures could be applied.

Avery said he had sympathy for some farmers whose crops could be seriously damaged by birds such as wood pigeons because of the timing of Natural England’s decision, but disagreed with claims  that songbirds would be impacted by the arrival of corvids (birds in the crow family) or that ground nesting birds such as curlews would be adversely impacted.

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Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (c.69)

In force/
Current
Legislation
England, Scotland, Wales
Published
08 May 2018

Commentary

06/02/2013 The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (Variation of Schedules A1 and 1A) (Scotland) Order 2013 (SI 2013/31) published, adding species to Schedules 1A and A1., 23/04/2015 Amending Regulations (SI 2015/1180) published.
07/07/2015 Amending Act (Planning (Wales) Act 2015) published.
09/02/2016 Amending Regulations (SI 2016/127) published.
01/05/2018 Amending Act ( Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Act 2018) published., 19/03/2019 Amending Regulations ( SI 2019/579) published.

Characteristics

Subject

Land and development Wildlife and conservation

Source

OPSI (Office of Public Sector Information)

Affected Sectors

Cross-sector Agriculture Animal Boarding and Pest Control Fishing and aquaculture Forestry Construction Conservation Land Management and Landscaping
ECM

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (c.69)

Document Status: In force/Current

Scope: England, Scotland, Wales

Commentary:

06/02/2013 The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (Variation of Schedules A1 and 1A) (Scotland) Order 2013 (SI 2013/31) published, adding species to Schedules 1A and A1., 23/04/2015 Amending Regulations (SI 2015/1180) published.
07/07/2015 Amending Act (Planning (Wales) Act 2015) published.
09/02/2016 Amending Regulations (SI 2016/127) published.
01/05/2018 Amending Act ( Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Act 2018) published., 19/03/2019 Amending Regulations ( SI 2019/579) published.

Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association whose members manage over a million acres of moorlands in England and Wales, said she was “dismayed” by Natural England’s action and described it as a “grave error of judgement”.

Natural England’s newly elected chair, Tony Juniper, took to social media to defend the regulator’s action, arguing it “was not a choice of Natural England, but the result of a legal challenge to us.”

He went on to explain that ending the use of the three general licenses so suddenly was not an initiative of Natural England’s, or his own, but was “driven by external forces.”

In a press statement Natural England said it was “working at pace” to put alternative measures in place in the next few weeks to allow the “lawful control” of these birds where necessary.

A planned review of Natural England’s licensing scheme, including the use of general licences for other wildlife, is due to take place later this year with details to be “shared shortly,” the regulator said.

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