Rural organisations have joined forces to demand Environment Secretary George Eustice bring the ‘chaotic’ wildlife licensing system, run by Natural England (NE), back into central Government to be reformed.
The call follows NE’s controversial decision to abruptly revoke three General Licences last year, which allowed farmers to shoot birds to protect lambs and crops, after a legal challenge from Wild Justice.
In a new paper, ’Wildlife Licensing in England: Chaos, Crisis and Cure’, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, the Moorland Association and the Countryside Alliance have branded the subsequent transition to a system of individual licensing as ‘unworkable’, due to a catalogue of errors and delays by NE.
Pointing to the essential role of farmers and land managers in conserving and enhancing important wildlife sites, which support bird species such as the lapwing, curlew, merlin and redshank, a spokesperson for the organisations said: “NE has a statutory duty to provide a wildlife licensing system designed both to protect livelihoods and some of our most precious wildlife.
“At the moment it is unworkable for those who use it and those charged with running it. It is broken and needs to be fixed. The Government needs to provide a system that works.”
The report detailed how flawed licences issued by NE, alongside 2020 individual licences arriving ‘woefully late’ to applicants, had resulted in ‘direct damage’ to England’s declining species.
“[This] explains why these problems result in chaos for land managers, making it impossible for them to manage wildlife practically and with the legal certainty they need,” the spokesperson said.
It was noted applicants received their licences at the end of April, long after predation had begun on the eggs and chicks of rare and declining species such as the curlew and redshank, which NE had a ‘responsibility’ to protect.
The organisations are now urging Defra to create a more efficient and cheaper licensing system and a roadmap for how changes will be implemented.
The spokesperson added: “Do not let wildlife licensing continue to fail conservation and become the next victim of maladministration by a Defra-funded body that creates insurmountable problems because they were not identified or acted upon early enough.”