Wild Justice kicks off legal challenge to DEFRA

The charity Wild Justice has sent two formal legal letters to DEFRA this week, ahead of potential “full-blown legal actions” in relation to gamebird releases and the burning of peatland.

The first letter revisits the group’s previous challenge to the legality of large-scale gamebird releases on or near sites of high conservation importance.

The second is a new legal challenge asking the government to take urgent steps to amend the Burning Regulations, claiming amongst other faults that they contain breaches of the Habitats Regulations 2017. 

The Heather and Grass etc. Burning (England) Regulations 2021, which enter force in October, prohibit burning on certain conservation areas that are also sites of special scientific interest where peat is more than 40cm deep.

This follows on from campaigning the group undertook where Wild Justice asked for regulation of burning of vegetation on peatlands. 

The legal letters are pre-action protocol (PAP) letters. These explain the conduct and set out the steps a court would normally expect parties to take before proceedings are started. 

The charity said: “They are the beginning, potentially, of full-blown legal actions where we would seek judicial reviews of two government decisions”.

Wild Justice, formed by campaigners Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay and Mark Avery, hailed “an historic environmental victory” last October after DEFRA announced that the release of certain gamebirds would be brought under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. 

DEFRA committed to a number of actions, including creating a buffer zone around protected sites in which no gamebirds will be released.

In a newsletter sent to its subscribers Wild Justice said: “We are revisiting it because we do not consider that DEFRA has done what it told the court it would do when we agreed to end our case on this matter last October, and it certainly has not done enough to protect the environment from damage by released non-native gamebirds.”

This follows a delayed DEFRA consultation on gamebird releases in March in which Wild Justice submitted a response claiming that the proposals in the consultations fell “far short of what DEFRA promised to the court in October 2020” and warning it would seek legal advice if the suggested proposals were implemented.

On the second PAP letter concerning burning regulations, Wild Justice has said it has four grounds in its case. 

The first relates to “unlawfulness arising from the Burning Regulations frustrating their own purpose”; while the second relates to a ”demonstrable flaw in the reasoning or serious logical error in the reasoning leading to the making of the Burning Regulations”. 

The third ground is in relation to alleged breaches of the Habitats Regulations 2017, and a final ground relates to “failure to take into account Material Considerations, in particular the requirements to act swiftly to limit the emission of greenhouse gases”. 

Earlier this year it emerged that there is no map describing the location of deep peat in England, posing the question of how the limited ban on peat burning set in law by the regulations can be enforced.

In April DEFRA said that a mapping project is currently “in commencement” and once complete will be published.

When asked about Wild Justice’s new legal letters a DEFRA spokesperson said: “We do not comment on ongoing legal matters”.

This article has been updated after publication to include a statement from DEFRA

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