The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) has slammed Natural England (NE) over its latest decision on wildlife licensing.
Responding to a plan announced today by NE which will cut by 70% the number of gulls controlled by gamekeepers, the NGO branded the English conservation quango “incompetent.”
“Gulls have always been controlled by gamekeepers under licence, especially in moorland areas,” explained Liam Bell, the NGO’s chairman. “The practice is essential to protect the eggs and chicks of breeding birds. Wild red-grouse cannot thrive where gull predation is excessive and nor can precious and declining species such as curlew, redshank and dotterel.
“Slashing the number of gulls we can control will be a disaster for the very wildlife that NE is supposed to protect. Announcing its plan today via the Gov.UK website without any prior public consultation shows an arrogance and incompetence reminiscent of NE’s disastrous decision last year to withdraw the General Licences for managing common species such as crows and magpies.”
NE is limiting the number of Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-Backed Gulls for which it will issue licences in rural areas this year to just 5% of the annual natural mortality. NE has told the NGO that this amounts to 900 Lesser Black-Backed Gulls and just 600 Herring Gulls to be culled across all rural England. Priority will be given, however, to licence applications for air safety and public health purposes, so the number of birds able to be culled for conservation reasons will be lower still, perhaps just a couple of hundred birds altogether. Six thousands of these two gull species were killed for conservation purposes in England last year.
Statistics on gull populations, on which NE says it had to act, are notoriously uncertain and scientists differ as to what they show. Many gamekeepers, however, see increasing numbers of gulls, particularly in moorland areas. On one estate in the north of England, the number of Lesser Black-Backed Gulls breeding each spring has doubled and the moor now hosts a peak of 20,000 gulls.
NE’s decision to cap the gull cull has been made without an impact assessment being completed. Its licensing department admitted to the NGO this morning that work on an assessment is still ‘in draft’. Yet for many upland areas (the ‘European Protected Sites’), demonstrating in advance that no harm will be done by introducing a new management plan is a clear legal requirement.
The NGO’s concern about the way NE is making its decisions on licensing is heightened because other licence announcements are known to be in the pipeline.
A new NE General Licence to allow the trapping of stoats to continue is due out before 1 April but no drafts have so far been seen – not even by Defra, the Government department responsible. And a full review of all General Licences is now overdue, with the existing licences due to run out on 29 February and no announcement made as yet on what will happen thereafter.
Liam Bell continued, “You simply cannot run the essential wildlife licensing system for England in this slipshod and cavalier way. Not only does our precious national wildlife depend on workable licences, the livelihoods and jobs of people like gamekeepers and farmers depend on them too.
“Since NE took over licensing from Defra some years ago there has been one crisis after another – and each one has damaged the English countryside that NE is supposed to protect. New Ministers rapidly need to get a grip of the quango and sort this nonsense out.”
A link to the information provided by Natural England can be found here