As of Friday 10 May, Natural England told ENDS it had issued more than 850 individual licences since its decision to revoke three general bird kill licenced late last month following legal action by TV wildlife presenter Chris Packham’s legal outfit, Wild Justice, which claimed the licences were unlawful.
Natural England has so far redeployed staff internally from other Natural England teams and has received help from the Environment Agency in dealing with customer enquiries, according to the regulator’s interim chief executive, Marian Spain. But DEFRA told ENDS that it is also discussing bringing in staff from across the DEFRA group to work on processing licence applications.
Natural England announced on Tuesday 23 April that it would revoke three general bird kill licences on Thursday 25 April. The licences permitted the killing of 16 species of birds, including crows, jays, magpies, jackdaws, rooks, parakeets, Canada geese, some gulls, feral pigeons and wood pigeons.
To replace the old regime, the wildlife regulator issued three new general licences covering carrion crows to prevent serious damage to vulnerable livestock, wood pigeons to prevent serious damage to crops and the Canada goose to preserve public health and safety.
But where farmers, gamekeepers and landowners want to use lethal control for other species or in other circumstances, they currently need to apply for an individual licence, which has a much more rigorous assessment process.
DEFRA officials have been “urgently investigating” options to replace the scrapped general licences scheme and as an interim measure, Michael Gove stripped Natural England of its powers, taking on the function himself.
The department issued a week-long call for evidence on the decision to revoke the three general licences, which has angered many in the landowning, farming and shooting communities, who say they need the licences to protect crops, animals and protected birds.
The National Farmers Union deputy president, Guy Smith, said today: “With the growing season and lambing underway, the sudden revocation of these general licences could not have occurred at a worse time in the farming calendar.
“It has left members without the necessary legal certainty as to how they can protect their livestock and crops from being attacked.”
According to a British Association for Shooting and Conservation survey drawn up in response to the general licence ban, 79% of the 29,600 respondents reported damage or loss of wild birds like songbirds or waders since the ban due to the predations of eggs or chicks by birds in the crow family.
But in its consultation response to DEFRA, a spokesperson for Wild Justice said there was no scientific justification for general licences to be issued to kill jackdaws, rooks, jays or magpies, all in the crow family, for the purpose of conserving wild birds, arguing the science did not show that these species had an important impact on native bird populations.