Farmers looking to protect new-born lambs or crops are to be stopped from shooting crows and pigeons because of an abrupt, ‘knee-jerk’ decision by Natural England (NE).
Abi Kay and Ewan Pate report...
Yesterday (April 23), the body took the unprecedented move of revoking three general licences for controlling wild birds as of Thursday April 25 2019.
Birds posing a health risk, such as feral pigeons in farm buildings, and those threatening red-listed species, will also be unable to be culled.
The decision was taken as a result of a legal challenge by Wild Justice, a group championed by BBC wildlife presenter Chris Packham, campaigner Mark Avery and activist Ruth Tingay.
Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA) chief executive George Dunn hit out at Natural England for cutting farming groups out of the decision-making process and handling the situation ‘abominably’.
“What we thought was going to be a stab in the dark by Wild Justice has upset the apple cart in Natural England, and they have taken a very knee-jerk reaction,” he said.
In a statement, NE said it was working ‘at pace’ to put in place alternative measures, but in the meantime, farmers would need to apply for an individual licence to control wild birds.
At the moment, there is no information about what the new licences will look like, but Farmers Guardian understands they may be a hybrid between a general and specific licence, with farmers expected to log and retain information about the non-lethal measures they have used to control wild birds before culling.
As well as increasing bureaucracy for farmers, this could mean NE would require more resource to monitor the licence conditions.
CLA president Tim Breitmeyer said: “This [decision] will place additional strain on NE’s limited resources, further breeding an ever growing sense of frustration at a time when farmers are proactively engaging with the environmental agenda.”
The decision to revoke the general licences came as the new chair of NE, environmentalist Tony Juniper, took the helm.
Though Mr Juniper denied he had intervened, Mr Dunn suggested he should have been ‘mindful’ about how the move would appear to farmers.
“Certainly the perception will be this is a new phase in Natural England’s existence,” he said.
“He should maybe have asked to have a meeting with the stakeholder organisations to talk through the options, rather than just caving in on the pressure they are under from Wild Justice.”
Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, described the decision as ‘completely impractical and irresponsible’, and said it would result in thousands of people unknowingly breaking the law.
“To withdraw the historic ability to manage these species without individual licences at 36 hours’ notice is a recipe for disaster,” he added.
NE’s action is the first stage of a planned review of general and class licences, which will be completed ‘this year’.