The campaign group Wild Justice has launched a fresh legal challenge on a new general licence issued by Natural England, which could affect farmers who need to control wild birds to protect livestock.
Although the new challenge, which was outlined in a pre-action protocol letter to Natural England’s legal team, is mainly focused on gamekeepers who want to protect pheasants, it is likely to have wider ramifications.
One of Wild Justice’s main complaints centres on the fact that under the terms of the new licence, the licence holder – not the issuer, Natural England – remains responsible for ensuring there is ‘no other satisfactory solution’ to lethal control.
If this aspect of the challenge is upheld, it could affect farmers wanting to protect livestock other than gamebirds, such as lambs, from attack.
Andrew Gilruth, director of communications at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), told Farmers Guardian the move showed there was confusion over the meaning of ‘no other satisfactory solution’ in the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
“As we explained in our written submission to Defra, we believe the word ‘solution’ applies to the policy itself, rather than the method of control,” he said.
“The words were copied across from the EU Birds Directive in 1995 and we feel it is illogical to now reinterpret their meaning.
“This small but significant point needs urgent clarification.”
Guy Smith, deputy president of the NFU, said he was pleased Defra had recognised the need for general licences to control crows and pigeons to protect livestock and crops.
“It would be ridiculous to expect farmers to apply for a licence in these situations and we are pleased there is currently no such requirement,” he added.