In a victory for shooting and farming groups, a controversial consultation on the general licences in Northern Ireland has been dropped by the government ministry which was responsible for it.

The Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) abandoned the consultation process after it came under fire for bias. The consultation had looked at proposals to remove herring gulls, both species of black-backed gull and rooks from 2021/22 general licences for Northern Ireland. However, countryside groups pointed out fundamental flaws with the process including a lack of published evidence to support the steps proposed.

People completing the consultation found that they could simply agree with the proposed changes, but if they disagreed they had to explain why.

The consultation was withdrawn suddenly and without explanation from the web page and was replaced with a message saying, “Unfortunately there has been an error in the consultation process, resulting in it being withdrawn.” Ronan Gorman of Countrysports Ireland told Shooting Times: “Country Sports Ireland welcomes Northern Ireland Environment Agency’s announcement that it has withdrawn the consultation on changes to Wild Bird General Licences.

“In a robust response to this consultation, Country Sports Ireland strongly rejected proposals to remove rooks, herring gulls, lesser black-backed gulls and great black-backed gulls from the general licence regime; meaning they would have been protected at all times. We believe that these proposals were fatally flawed as they appeared to be based on a simplistic interpretation of population estimates and ignored the damage done to agriculture, conservation and game management by these species.”

Among those who have seen the impact of gull predation first hand is shooter and angler John McCarthy. John told Shooting Times: “We get a large number of gulls coming inland in May when they come to feed on the silage fields, they’re very opportunistic birds and they certainly have a significant effect. In the past five years there has been a big decline in mallard numbers. Typically now if I shoot 40 ducks, 35 of them will be teal, because mallard numbers have dropped so steeply.”

BASC and Countrysports Ireland both now anticipate that the licences which will come into force in September will be largely unchanged from the previous licence and will include the gull species and the rook.