New General Licences for the control of birds in Wales have been slammed by the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO), which says its members will no longer be able to carry out important conservation work in the country.
The new licences are Natural Resources Wales’s (NRW) reaction to legal advice that its old general licences were “not lawful” although, unlike in England, no legal challenge has actually been made, nor has the legality of the old licences, which date back to the 1990s, ever been questioned in court.
Commenting on the new general licences in Wales, David Pooler, North Wales Chairman of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, said:
“This will be a disaster for rural Wales, making the jobs of gamekeepers, farmers and pest controllers more difficult at the very time when rapidly declining wildlife in the Welsh countryside needs all the help it can get.
“NRW has run scared of a non-existent legal threat, rushing through a set of ill-considered and over precautionary licences that will stop people doing what they need to do and harm the very biodiversity that NRW is supposed to look after.”
Four old general licences are to be replaced nonetheless on Monday 7 October with three new ones. There are significant reductions in what the new licences allow. These are the key differences:
GL001: This licence is for the revised purpose of preventing serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables or fruit, or to prevent the spread of disease to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables or fruit. The licence will no longer include rook, jay or collared dove.
Farmers and gamekeepers will be aghast that rook can no longer be controlled. They are common and serious pests, attacking seedling crops, damaging grassland and spreading disease, for example between livestock feeding stations. Up till now, the law has always allowed them to be controlled when and where necessary.
GL002: A licence for preserving public health and preventing the spread of disease. This licence will no longer include carrion crow, magpie, jackdaw, rook, jay, collared dove or wood pigeon. In fact, the only species left on it is feral pigeon. The huge restrictions on this licence are likely to be a serious problem for pest controllers and others trying to prevent disease spread, especially in much frequented places such as urban parks and communal gardens.
GL004: A crucial licence for the conservation of wild birds. But this new version is now limited only to helping red and amber listed bird species, rather than all wild birds, and unlike the licence it replaces, it is just for the protection of eggs and chicks. It cannot be used to help conserve adult birds, including Wales’s most threatened and iconic species. For gamekeepers, the change means they can no longer kill crows, magpies, jackdaws and jays in order to help pheasants and red-legged partridges to breed in the wild. Nor will this licence now include rook.
On the removal of rook from all three General Licences, NRW says, “Findings from the UK Breeding Bird Survey suggest that in Wales rook populations have significantly declined over both the long term (by 60% between 1994-2017) and in the short-term (by 50% between 2007-2017).” But ironically the rook currently remains green listed and is not, therefore, considered a bird of conservation concern.
The places where the new general licences can be used have been restricted too. They will not now apply in, or within 300 metres of, 203 of the Sites of Special Scientific Interest in Wales. A list of those sites will be published as an Annex at the end of each of the general licences. They specifically include the most important habitats and wildlife sanctuaries in Wales and it seems particularly perverse to restrict the control of common predators such as crows and magpies in these areas.
If you need to carry out pest bird control in Wales and it is not covered by NRW’s new general licences (eg on a listed SSSI or for a purpose or species not listed), you will need to apply to NRW for a specific licence. NRW will ask for evidence to support such applications, including what steps you have taken to deter the birds and evidence of the damage they are causing or are likely to cause.
NRW’s full statement about its new general licences can be read at: https://cyfoethnaturiolcymru.gov.uk/permits-and-permissions/protected-species-licensing/uk-protected-species-licensing/general-licences-2019-birds/?lang=en.
Unhelpfully, it contains links to the old general licences and not the replacement ones, but presumably this will change on the switchover date, Monday 7thOctober.
David Pooler, continued:
“NRW repeatedly ignored our concerns when we met with them multiple times during the summer to explain that their proposals would be counter-productive. Just two weeks ago we issued a joint press release along with all the other countryside and farming representative bodies in Wales urging NRW to think again. They ignored that too. All trust between NRW and what should be its valued rural partners is now shattered.
“There is no democratic control on NRW. They were given free reign by the Welsh Government to run wildlife licensing and can do with it what they like. The only recourse against unlawful changes to the licences is judicial review by the courts, which we and others will now have to consider.
“NRW said they wanted to hear our views but they didn’t listen. Instead of sensible licences that we could support, they have rushed ahead with these botched new versions which we have no choice but to condemn.”