If ever a wake-up call was given, it must be the one recently issued by Natural England with the publication of the new General Licences for the control of certain birds in England from 1 January 2010 (News, 7 October).
The initial proposals included a ban on the sale of birds, including woodpigeon, shot under the terms of the General Licences system, and this was only retracted after representations by BASC.
However, it is my opinion that this was the thin end of a wedge being inserted to separate the sporting shooting of woodpigeon from true, legitimate crop protection activities. It is widely recognised that an industry surrounding the sporting shooting of woodpigeon has developed in the UK under the guise of crop protection.
The reason given for proposing this piece of legislation in the first place was 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 (News, 7 October).
How can anyone justify shooting large bags of woodpigeon on set-aside, stubbles, failed crops and in areas where there are no arable crops after reading a statement like that?
While many good arguments can be made to keep woodpigeon control under the present system, a great many arguments can equally be made against many of the shooting methods currently used under the label of crop protection.
I have shot woodpigeon over the past five decades and, in that time, I have witnessed great advances in farming methods and machinery, as well as the development of many excellent bird-scaring devices. We should not be complacent and assume that we can carry on as we have since 1981, bearing in mind that the woodpigeon is, in fact, a protected bird.
In the light of the recent high-profile cases of pigeon shooters being arrested (News, 19 August and 30 September), I feel that it is only a matter of time before some knowledgeable officer or prosecutor questions the legality of what the shooters were doing if not actually shooting over crops. In the Shooting Times debate on 20 March 2008, I stated that woodpigeon should be added to the quarry list and I gave many valid reasons for my stance. The only change I would make to that statement now is that the woodpigeon must be added to the quarry list if we are to continue to enjoy the wonderful sport it provides.
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At that time, almost two-thirds of those who responded to the debate supported my proposal and I am certain that many more will now agree with me in the light of recent developments.
Let us take the lead on this issue and start a vigorous campaign to legitimise the sport of shooting woodpigeon by its inclusion on the quarry
list. As the saying goes, wake up and smell the coffee and heed what Natural England is saying.
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