The NGO has responded to Defra’s consultation, launched on 23 February 2021, proposing restrictions on the release of pheasants and red-legged partridges in England’s Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs)

The NGO has responded to Defra’s three-week consultation, launched today (23 February 2021) which proposes restrictions on the release of pheasants and red-legged partridges in England’s Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs).

Defra is proposing an ‘interim licensing scheme’ whereby the release of these gamebirds will be banned on such sites unless it is carried out under the terms of a new licence. This will limit release densities and impose other conditions for perhaps three years.

The Government says the scheme is necessary because Natural England (NE) cannot currently give assurance that gamebird releasing does not harm the protected sites. This is because NE is way behind with its work. In effect, the proposed new bureaucracy means the shooting community paying the price – at least for a time – for NE’s failures. A court challenge mounted by Wild Justice last year drew the matter to Defra’s attention.

The proposal is that releasing pheasants and redlegs in the protected sites and within 500m of them will be banned via a change to the Wildlife and Countryside Act which will last for the next three years. During that time, release in these areas will only be possible under licence and conditions will apply to limit release densities below the threshold at which there is any possible risk of damage.

Defra’s consultation, launched today [view consultation here], will run for three weeks until March 15th.  The NGO is urging all gamekeepers and others involved with shoots that might be affected to read the consultation and respond via the questionnaire it contains.

Liam Bell, the NGO Chairman, said:

“We do not accept that this proposed scheme is necessary, nor do we like it, but it is essential that affected shoots now have their say.

“The NGO has been lobbying Defra hard for many weeks on this. Together with other shooting and land management organisations, we have fought to limit the problems that the scheme could cause our members. We managed to get all estuarine SPAs and SACs excluded and also to ensure that General Licensing by Defra is the main vehicle proposed, rather than Individual Licensing by NE.

“We will be making further comments on the scheme. In particular, we think three years is more time than NE should be allowed to do a job that it should have finished long ago. It is also grossly unfair that the scheme is planned to come into effect within months, giving gamekeepers yet more headaches on top of all they have had to cope with during the Covid pandemic.”

The NGO will have more to say on this once it has assessed the consultation in detail.


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