Some of the nation’s favourite songbirds such as blackbirds, blue tits and robins will receive poorer protection due to a change in policy recently announced by the Government’s nature watchdog, Natural England.
In a recent letter issued to some of its stakeholders, Natural England states that it will refuse requests to issue licences that give individuals permission to control common predatory birds such as crows and magpies.
Crow and magpies feed on the eggs and chicks of other wild birds. But, as many of England’s songbirds are on the ‘green’ list of species, they will no longer be offered protection through the Individual Licence process.
Gamekeepers in particular have long relied on these ‘conservation licences’, which help wild gamebirds to breed, but the benefits of this predator control have been proven to help other species thrive by reducing the numbers of natural predators.
Liam Bell, Chairman of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO), said:
“The number of farmland birds in England has fallen by 57% since 1970 in a biodiversity crisis that threatens many species with extinction.
“Natural England is in danger of throwing what remains out with the bathwater by making it so difficult – impossible in the case of wild pheasants and red-legged partridges – to get predator control licences which until now have been widely available. It’s a catastrophic mistake that will harm many other vulnerable species. No justification has been given for Natural England’s sudden change of policy.”
The law surrounding bird control licences has not altered, nor has there been any court precedent requiring a new approach. Licences are available under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 but Natural England appears to have run scared of what it calls ‘scrutiny’ by Wild Justice, the anti-shooting organisation run by TV presenter Chris Packham.
Mr Bell said that despite Natural England’s latest announcement, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation is encouraging its members to continue to apply for Individual Licences to help wildlife by controlling crows, magpies, rooks and jackdaws, just as gamekeepers have always done. He believes that if their applications are refused without lawful reason, Natural England could well find itself subject to Judicial Review by the High Court.
Notes to Editors:
General Licences to control predatory birds to prevent harm to other species are still available but only to protect bird species on the ‘red’ and ‘amber’ lists.
On the 1 January, Defra published new General Licences for the control of pest and predatory birds in England to be used from the 1 January 2021. Please see the latest NGO member update issued earlier this year: https://www.nationalgamekeepers.org.uk/articles/new-general-licences-for-england-2021
The change in the way Natural England manages Individual Licences is outlined on a new blog: https://naturalengland.blog.gov.uk/2021/01/21/individual-licences-for-the-control-of-wild-birds-an-update-on-this-years-application-process/