Natural England (NE) has told Shooting Times that it is not trying to introduce a “shoo before you shoot” condition
amid proposed changes to the General Licence in England and that “there is no expectation that scaring measures must be taken each time or immediately before any shooting.”

When NE launched its consultation on English General and Class Licences last month, many members of the shooting community were alarmed by proposal 31 – dubbed a “shoo before you shoot” condition – the wording of which gave rise to fears that anyone relying on the General Licence to shoot species such as woodpigeon would have to attempt to scare the birds away before bringing a gun into play.

The current condition of the licence is that anyone using it must be “satisfied that appropriate legal methods of resolving the problem such as scaring or proofing are either ineffective or impracticable”. The proposed change would require the user to have “taken reasonable and appropriate steps to resolve the problem, such as scaring and proofing”. Viewed as a significant and unwelcome change in the eyes of the shooting community, NE’s own assessment rates its likely impact as “none” on
the grounds that it is a “clarification rather than a change in requirements”.

When Shooting Times spoke to NE about the proposal, a spokeswoman said the intention was not to place any additional requirements on shooters, rather to re-word the existing requirements of the condition to make them less subjective and more enforceable. She explained: “We have proposed this amendment because we have received a number of queries regarding the obligation required by this wording, including from the Police, suggesting
that the current condition is insufficiently precise to enforce.”

She further explained that: “We are not introducing a new condition. Proposal 31 on the General and Class Licence Consultation is to amend the wording of the existing condition, which requires licence users to have considered legal, non-lethal measures before they rely on a General Licence to kill one of the protected species listed under the licence. The new wording has a similar expectation that the licensee will have considered ‘reasonable and appropriate steps to resolve the problem, such as
scaring and proofing’.

“That wording does not require farmers and landowners to try to scare off pest and other species before resorting to shooting. It is reasonable to conclude that, in most cases, scaring can only be part of a control strategy to deal with issues like crop damage. Accordingly, we don’t expect users to trial non-lethal methods first if experience or best practice suggests that these methods would be ineffective in tackling the problems caused by species such as wood pigeons. In the same way, licensees are not required to wait until damage has occurred before taking action.

“In most instances where there is the potential for damage – and the potential for wood pigeons to cause damage is well known – it is reasonable and appropriate for farmers and land managers to use licensed measures to reduce the risk of serious damage occurring.”its website.

Shooting and countryside organisations have
responded by reiterating their condemnation of the proposed wording,
highlighting the potential problems it poses for shooters and landowners and
how important it is for people to respond to the consultation and register
their objections.

Simon Clarke of BASC said: “Whatever NE
might have intended, the proposed change to the wording is very clear. The
amendment would require pigeon shooters to have ‘taken reasonable and
appropriate steps to resolve the problem, such as scaring and proofing’ before
shooting. There is no definition of what ‘reasonable and appropriate steps’
are, nor how this might be enforced. This would significantly change the
current requirement for someone to be ‘satisfied’ that scaring would not work
before shooting to a position where they could be required to prove that such
action had been taken. This could severely hinder crop protection.”

Director of campaigns for the Countryside
Alliance (CA) Tim Bonner said: “Frankly, Natural England is talking nonsense.
Whatever NE says it ‘expects’ the proposed new wording is clear. It says ‘this
licence can only be relied on in circumstances where the authorised person has
taken reasonable and appropriate steps to resolve the problem, such as scaring
and proofing.’ No court of law in the country would, or could, interpret this
in any other way than if steps such as scaring have not been taken then the
licence cannot be relied upon. The new wording does not have ‘a similar
expectation’; it has a wholly different meaning and on any logical
interpretation it clearly does require that the user “has taken” the suggested
steps.

“What NE is wrongly suggesting is that the
new wording means what the old wording says. It would therefore seem sensible
to drop this proposal and stick with the wording which has worked perfectly
well in the past, and is anyway far closer to the EU birds directive which
simply says countries may allow lethal control of birds that are causing crop
and other damage ‘where there is no other satisfactory solution.'”