A joint letter to the environment secretary seeking an inquiry into Natural England’s handling of the general licensing “disaster” has been signed by the heads of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the National Farmers Union, the Countryside Alliance, CLA, the Game and Wildlife Countryside Trust, the Moorland Association, the National Gamekeepers Organisation and the Game Farmers Association.
The upset has been caused by Natural England’s decision last week to end the discretionary practice of killing certain bird species including crows, jays, magpies, jackdaws, rooks, parakeets, Canada geese, some gulls, feral pigeons and wood pigeons under the decades-old general licence regime.
Critics of the new licensing regime argue that lambs, young crops and nesting birds including curlew and lapwing, are all in need of protection from “pest” birds such as the crow.
The wildlife regulator for England made its decision following legal action taken by Chris Packham’s legal outfit, Wild Justice, which argued the general licence regime was unlawful. A police investigation has also been launched after two dead crows were hung from Packham’s gate following Natural England’s move.
Under the new licence, carrion crows can only be killed “as a last resort” and some types of cage traps are now prohibited. A crow’s nest can also no longer be destroyed when it is not in use – similar to the same protections afforded to certain birds of prey under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
18 Mar 2021
The licence is invalid in protected areas such as sites of specific scientific interest with a further licence needed from Natural England to carry out bird controls.
Liam Bell, the National Gamekeepers Organisation chairman, said: “Natural England’s new crow licence is hurried, botched and completely unfit for purpose.
“In the meantime, therefore, [we have asked] asked Natural England for the immediate re-introduction of the old general licences that were revoked last Thursday, with additional legal safeguards to ensure that gamekeepers and others who control crows and other problem birds can do so without risk of prosecution.”
A DEFRA spokesperson told ENDS: “As the government’s independent adviser, Natural England has made clear it took the difficult but unavoidable decision to change the bird control licencing system as a result of the legal challenge by Wild Justice.
“They’re working as quickly as possible to issue new licences. There’s no ban and people who need to control birds before all the new licences are available can obtain an individual licence.”