Shooting community’s mixed response:

Natural England (NE) unveiled its long-awaited draft General Licences on 30 September, which have seen shooters welcome the addition of non-native parakeets, condemn the removal of two native gull species and castigate the proposed ban on selling for human consumption birds shot under licence.

The controversial news is the outcome of NE?s public consultation into the 30 General Licences. The licences authorise the control of pest birds under section 16 of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act and are reviewed periodically.

The addition of monk parakeets and ring-necked parakeets has been praised by shooters and conservationists, who are concerned about the impact that the foreign species have on native birds, such as woodpeckers, robins and owls, as they compete for food and nesting space.

By 2010, it is estimated that the birds, which have been living wild in the UK for four decades, could number as many as 50,000.

NE?s Dr Matthew Heydon, who was instrumental in revising the General Licences, has warned shooters that the addition of parakeets to the licences was not a ?call to arms?.

He said: ?Any indiscriminate killing would be unlawful. By adding the birds to the licences we are simply removing red tape to allow people, mostly expected to be fruit farmers, to take action in a timely fashion.?

Another source of contention is NE?s proposed removal of the great black-backed gull and the herring gull from the General Licences.

The Countryside Alliance?s chief executive, Simon Hart, said: ?Both of these gull species can pose a significant threat to some of our most rare and vulnerable ground-nesting birds, so it is vital that farmers and land managers are able to respond swiftly to such threats.?

Mr Hart added: ?NE has ignored the significant level of support that was in favour of maintaining the status quo, so I am at a loss to understand this decision, which has little basis in either conservation or common sense.?

According to NE, the two gull species have been removed ?due to conservation concerns about their population numbers.?

Dr Heydon defended the divisive move: ?If people are faced with a genuine problem caused by gulls then NE remains open to issuing licences to control them – that has not changed.?

However, the revision that has caused the most alarm is the proposal to ban the sale for human consumption of any birds shot under the terms of the General Licences.

?This would have massive implications for shooters, farmers, game dealers and game cookery,? explained BASC?s head of game and game keeping, Tom Blades.

He added that BASC brought the anomaly to NE?s attention, and the association claims shooters? concerns will be addressed: ?We are delighted we have been able to work with NE and DEFRA to overturn the ban on the sale of woodpigeon for human consumption. This is a great result for all shooters.?

NE?s Dr Heydon assured shooters it will still be possible to sell woodpigeon shot under one of the General Licences in 2010: ?This has been agreed with DEFRA after BASC highlighted concerns. It would be better if the woodpigeon was listed as a quarry species and, in the long-term, we hope this will happen. In the meantime, we will allow current practice of selling birds shot under licence to continue.?

He added: ?The reason we do not allow all species to be sold for food is that we want to avoid encouraging a trade that might result in people killing more birds than is strictly necessary to resolve the problems the licences are issued to deal with.?

general licences

The updated General Licences are due to be implemented on 1 January 2010.

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