Members should be assured that the NGO is continuing to do all it can to fight for a workable outcome to the mess caused by the revoking of the General Licences.

At 3.30pm today, Tuesday 30 April, it will be one week exactly since Natural England (NE) announced it was going to revoke - at just two days notice - the three main General Licences for the control of ‘pest’ birds in England, thereby plunging the countryside into an unprecedented crisis.

The licences in question, which NE had been advised were not lawfully sound, not least because NE had failed to do the necessary background assessments to keep them lawful, were duly revoked last Thursday. NE said it would start re-issuing amended, lawful General Licences ‘over the coming days and weeks’ and in the meantime would introduce a ‘soft touch’ Individual Licensing scheme designed to bridge the gap.

That interim scheme was launched just three hours before the old General Licences were revoked. On-line application forms for it did not work and eventually the system crashed, so as to be unavailable for about 36 hours. Last night, NE admitted it had received 1100 applications for emergency control under these interim Individual Licences, none of which they had so far granted.

One new General Licence has emerged, however, namely ‘GL26’ for the control of crows to prevent serious damage to livestock. It was issued once on Friday and then again, with a significant change on Saturday, so that in effect NE had by then changed the law on crow control three times in three days. Communication of all this by NE to front line licence users was almost non-existent and what little information there was, highly confusing. It was left to organisations like the NGO to do their best to tell people what on earth was going on. We will continue to do that, keeping this website up to date as the situation changes.

NE had announced that its new General Licences would allow control to carry on much as before but the new crow licence, on which they did not consult at all, has turned out to include many additional restrictions and conditions. These include, that non-lethal control methods must have been taken beforehand and be continued whilst the licence is in use, and that control in the breeding season is only allowed if you can show control at other times of year would not solve the problem.

The new crow licence also reduces the types of cage trap that can be used, and it does not allow the shooting of crows in or around SSSIs without a further licence from NE which, it appears, is not so far available. Yet this new crow licence, wholly unfit for purpose and condemned publically as such by the NGO when it was announced, is expected to be the blue-print for no less than sixteen more General Licences NE plans to issue ‘in the coming days and weeks’ for all the other species and control reasons that used to be covered by the old General Licences.

As you know from our previous updates, the NGO has been working flat out to try to sort out this appalling mess, of which we were given no prior warning whatsoever. (Indeed, NE’s last communication to us before announcing revocation of the licences a week ago had implied that the old licences were lawful and would remain in place).

We have been in daily contact with NE at Director level. We have been speaking to MP’s and through them to Ministers. We have been analysing the new licences and background documents that NE has produced, exposing their flaws and demanding workable alternatives. We have also issued our regular website and email updates for members and dealt with innumerable enquiries. It has been the busiest week by far in the history of the NGO.

There has also been excellent joint working between the countryside organisations throughout and this continues. On Monday we, together with BASC, the CA, GWCT, CLA, NFU, Moorland Association and the Game Farmers’ Association, sent a powerful joint letter to the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, urging him to investigate what had gone wrong and to use his influence to put it right. This letter has received widespread publicity in the national press.

Members should be assured that the NGO is continuing to do all it can to fight for a workable outcome from all this.

To end by summarising where we are today, one week in:

  • The old General Licences have gone.
  • The only replacement issued so far is for crow control to protect livestock but it is very hard if not impossible to comply with its conditions and we cannot recommend relying on it.
  • Individual Licences applied for have not yet been issued but some may be soon. We believe they can be relied upon for carrying out the control that they specify but you must read the small print and make sure you are comply with it all.
  • If NE say you can rely on the ‘Section 4 defence’ for emergency control in circumstances where you have applied for a licence but not been granted one, be very careful. Previous NGO legal advice is that this defence cannot be relied upon and even NE has only gone so far as to say that if you follow that route you “may not be prosecuted” (Our emphasis).
  • More General Licences are expected soon and the NGO will analyse each of them and provide further advice via this website.

END

Notes to Editors:

The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation: The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) represents the gamekeepers of England and Wales. The NGO defends and promotes gamekeeping and gamekeepers and works to ensure high standards throughout the profession. The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation was founded in 1997 by a group of gamekeepers who felt that keepering was threatened by public misunderstanding and poor representation. Today, there are 13,000 members of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation.  www.nationalgamekeepers.org.uk

 

 

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