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Chaos caused by general licence debacle continues

Hundreds of shoots are facing an uncertain future as a number of licences are being turned down due to threats of avian influenza

The general licence change is set to have a major impact on businesses, livelihoods and conservation

As ST reported last week, shoots across the country have been struggling to deal with the implications of the Government’s 11th-hour changes to general licence 43, covering the release of gamebirds in or around Special Protection Areas (SPAs). 

The licence was suddenly withdrawn and in its place there was a requirement for shoots within 500m of a European-designated SPA to apply for a new, individual licence before releasing. ST now understands that those licence applications are often being declined on the grounds that avian influenza is a risk in these areas.

One of reportedly hundreds of shoots affected is the Royal Artillery Shoot, one of whose members is Ian Bell, chief executive of BASC. Ian said: “We have to make a decision about whether the Royal Artillery will fold after running for almost 100 years. This change is affecting businesses, livelihoods and is impacting people’s wellbeing. 

“Many shoots will have to close by the end of the week if they cannot get a licence. There is a simple solution — Defra should reverse the change that was made without consultation and reinstate the licences from last year.”

Shoots expecting the delivery of poults are trapped in a catch-22. Most cannot house thousands of birds safely, they cannot release them, but they are also not allowed to cull them.

Nigel Neame, secretary of the Bulford and Tidworth Garrison Shoot, was among those told that it was being denied a licence to release birds on the protected area on Salisbury Plain, according to a story in The Telegraph.

It came as a surprise to the shoot, which even last year at the peak of avian influenza had been given permission to put down extra birds there.

“There was no consultation, and we had no expectation that the rules would change this year,” Mr Neame told the paper. “If the shoot doesn’t go ahead, we will have to make our keeper redundant. This will have a hugely damaging impact on conservation and the threatened bird species. When the news came, I had my keeper on the phone in tears, he has worked so hard for this season.” 

BASC has started legal action against Defra to overturn its decision, but that will take months to progress through the courts, and even a positive outcome would be too late for many shoots.