I was once told that a mistake is not a mistake unless you repeat it. It would appear that some in Natural England (NE) haven?t heard of this concept. They?ve done exactly the same thing they did in 2009: they have altered some of the standing open general licence conditions without any consultation with the stakeholder groups, and to compound matters, they have done it at such short notice that it will not be easy to change things around in time. Then, we had alterations to gull species; this time it is a member of the crow family, namely the hooded crow. For many years there was a debate as to whether this particular branch of the corvid group was in fact a separate species or a subspecies of the carrion crow. That is quite important in this debate, because if the ?hoodie?, as it is commonly known north of the border, was a subspecies we could have carried on knocking them on the head if caught in a cage, or if we were lucky enough, shoot one. As it turns out, it has been decreed that the ?hoodie? is indeed a separate species and requires being named on the general licence in order that it may be culled. There are reported cases of the two species cross-breeding; quite what you would do if you caught a cross, I?m not sure. These licences are only relevant in the south: Scotland has its own list, as does Wales and Northern Ireland.

It would appear that the hooded crow is easing its way south as there are more reports of them being seen, and in turn caught; so despite the fact that almost every wading bird is in decline, as well as many other species ? and it is known that crows do predate eggs and chicks, as well as attacking livestock at times ? unless there is a change of mind we will be breaking the law if we kill one in England. As it happens, there have already been some instances of those involved in predator control being warned about the fact that they had caught one in a cage, with the consequences if it were to be killed pointed out to them. It would appear to be complete madness in the UK?s devolved countries not to have equality in the licensing system, especially on these species. Will the ewe whose eyes are pecked out, or the lapwing whose clutch is predated, know the difference between the species, or indeed know which side of the border it is living on? Not one bit of it, and for the organisations who are pursuing those trying to protect those animals and birds it smacks of pure hypocrisy when they try and tell us they believe in predator control. The last debacle ended in a costly waste of NE staff time sorting out individual licences for gulls. Quite what will happen in this case only time will tell, but I would urge those responsible to take the same line as others and allow the hoodie to be controlled before they establish a foothold in England. Not to mention that they have once more failed to speak to their customers, for that is what we are, but we are also, as taxpayers, their employers. It may be we will have to resort to complaining to our MPs about their behaviour.

Flourishing wildlife

The forthcoming look at wildlife legislation may well be an opportunity for us to get some semblance of sense into our wildlife management because at the moment, once we give anything protection, and at times some species do require it, we seem very bad at revisiting the case and reviewing the status of the species once numbers have recovered. We need to look at the whole picture, not species in isolation for a few may have a great impact on many others.

The winter snap is already having an effect on our birdlife up here, with the wild pheasants really pulling into the feeds. The blackgrouse, which have done so well this year, are down into the hawthorn bushes feeding hard on berries and buds. The rate at which they are consumed means the berries won?t last that long as they are shared out between fieldfares, redwings and just about every other thrush and blackbird as well. The hill partridge, pushed to the edge a lot of the time anyway, are under real pressure as the snow froze quite hard, making the meagre meal of sweet grass all the harder to get to. I watched a covey hammering away at the ice the other evening and it looked hard-going. I gave them a slice or two from a bale of straw and some wheat, I just hope they find it before it gets covered with fresh snow.

The grouse themselves are faring not too badly as the snow has blown a lot, baring quite a few edges and opening up the heather for them. Compared with the poor partridge they are made for this anyway, sadly the partridge are not. Our population of kestrels and owls are feeling the pinch with quite a few sitting around looking really miserable. A lot of the youngsters die every year and a spell like this adds to the tally. Not a happy New Year for some.