Confusion and blame continue to dog Defra and Natural England following the decision to revoke three licences for controlling certain wild birds in April 2019 and introduce new general licences, writes Derek Walsh.
This week Michael Gove accused Natural England of “failing to deliver” in a number of areas. Speaking at the House of Commons EFRA Committee he said their actions “fell short” of what he expected.
Despite continuing frustration and the ongoing lack of clarity, some aspects have become clearer this week.
Gove has confirmed that the new general licences are temporary whilst a full consultation is held.
The new temporary general licences almost (but not quite) replicate the old licences that were revoked.
Where the new general licences do not cover certain birds such as herring gulls then a farmer can still apply for an individual licence.
One tricky area that remains unresolved is that the new general licences do not cover EU protected sites and surrounding land within a 300-metre buffer zone.
Individual licences do permit some of the activities on these sites that are not covered by the new general licences, so these individual licences may be the right option for some people.
Individual licences that have been issued are valid during this period of uncertainty, but whether relying on those or the new general licences, it is important to comply with the conditions specified in the licences.
And anyone with an application for an individual licence which is currently being processed will be contacted by Natural England who will advise if they need to continue with the application.
Farmers should take note that under the new general licences killing birds should be seen as a last resort and it is recommended to record the reasonable steps taken before killing birds.
Even though at this stage it is only a recommendation and not an absolute requirement, I would suggest that farmers do keep those records now to show the problem they were addressing and what steps they took to address it.
There is a chance record keeping could become compulsory after the next round of consultation and will be good evidence during the next consultation process in any case.
We may see a further challenge from Wild Justice who started the action that led to the revocation of the general licences in the first place.
And Gove confirmed this week that another challenge couldn’t be ruled out.
One matter which does not appear to have been satisfied from their perspective is that the licences still leave it to the individual to decide if there are no alternatives to shooting.
However this is a function for Natural Englandsay Wild Justice.
So good(ish) news for farmers and landowners for now but this is by no means the end of the road.