As this week draws to a close, there are no major legal changes to report on the bird licensing front but there is still a great deal going on nonetheless.

Update on General Licences

As this week draws to a close, there are no major legal changes to report on the bird licensing front but there is still a great deal going on nonetheless.

 

In England, the situation remains as we last reported. Defra and their Secretary of State, Michael Gove, are still working through the 4000 plus responses to their ‘call for evidence’ earlier in the month. They want to make sure that whatever decisions they take are legal and workable. It seems likely there will be some new General Licences issued by Defra but we think that will probably be within weeks now rather than days.

 

In the meantime, Natural England continues to issue Individual Licences to those who apply. They have been prioritising applications for the conservation of flora and fauna and these applications are now being turned around within days if not hours, provided the application forms have been correctly filled in. Individual Licences for the prevention of serious damage to crops and livestock have, however, been on the back burner with thousands of applicants told by NE to rely on the defence in Section 4 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act if they need to act urgently. But this is only a defence, not a licence; it has never been tested in court and the NGO’s advice (and that of all the other main countryside and farming bodies) is not to rely on it. We continue to pressurise NE to issue all individual licences applied for as a matter of the utmost urgency so as not to leave people in an uncertain legal situation.

Three new General Licences were of course issued by NE before Defra took back control. They are for controlling crows to prevent serious damage to crops and livestock; controlling woodpigeons to prevent serious damage to crops; and controlling Canada geese to preserve public health and safety. They all contain far more conditions and legal requirements than the licences they replaced and again, the NGO’s advice is that it is very risky to rely on them because we simply do not know how the courts would react were someone to be prosecuted. If you read these licences (numbered GL 26, 28 and 31) you will see just how many new conditions have to be fulfilled before they can be used.

 

In Scotland, the original General Licences remain in place and the licensing authority there, Scottish Natural Heritage, has said it will be gathering evidence for a review later in the year.

 

In Wales too, their original General Licences have not been revoked but Natural Resources Wales is carrying out work, including taking further legal advice, to assess what should happen next.

The NGO and the other countryside organisations have been involved in constant work, meetings and conference calls to try to ensure that sensible decisions are taken in Scotland and Wales and that Defra too make the right call when they eventually decide how General Licensing is to go forward in England.

We will continue to update this website and to email members as the situation changes. It is safe to assume that if there is no more news on this website, then there is nothing new to report. We appreciate your trying to keep calls to the office to a minimum at this very busy time but we will always try to help with enquiries to which you cannot find the answers here.

So, for now the crisis in managing pest birds continues. Our focus is on seeking workable General Licences as soon as possible for all necessary species and purposes. Our submission to Defra’s call for evidence explained clearly what we think the way forward should be.

There will then need to be a full investigation of what went wrong and who was responsible. Those who watched NE chiefs facing questioning from MPs in the EFRA Committee in Parliament earlier this week will have noticed how determined they were to put the blame on anyone other than themselves.

It has also become increasingly clear that serious mistakes and misinterpretations have been made by officials and in the aftermath we will be fighting as ever to ensure that nothing like this can ever happen again.

 

ENDS

 

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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