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Defra publishes ‘facts’ on gamebird release

There is some confusion as Defra publishes a ‘fact sheet’ regarding GL43, which covers release of gamebirds, but it’s better than nothing.

After the chaos caused by the delayed renewal of GL43 in 2023, Defra has published a fact sheet that lays out the process for gamebird release licensing for the next season in Special Protection Areas (SPAs) or within 500m of them. The fact sheet relates to pheasants and red-legged partridges, whose release is controlled by this general licence. 

Shoots usually order their birds as the last season ends and thus long-term certainty about legislation is essential for planning purposes. This certainty has yet to be given by Defra, which states its final approach to 2024 gamebird release licensing in relation to SPAs will be confirmed before the end of February. 

Defra says it is using the most up-to-date evidence available to make this final decision; evidence which is being provided by its chief scientific adviser, Professor Gideon Henderson. Defra advises that the avian influenza risk level will remain a key consideration for gamebird licensing on SPAs in 2024 and has emphasised certain points on the fact sheet that seem to fuel uncertainty for the coming season rather than ease it. 

It highlights that “no shoot, whether a licence was granted or refused in the 2023 season, should assume that they will have the same outcome in the 2024 season”. 

Defra says shoots that wish to release gamebirds on or in the buffer of European SACs [Special Areas of Conservation] and SPAs in 2024 will “be subject to the maximum thresholds of 700 birds/ha in the site and 1,000 birds/ha in the buffer zone. Shoots should consider this when placing their orders to game farms if they choose to do so before a finalised policy decision is announced.”

The Countryside Alliance and affiliate organisations have been actively engaged with Defra in stakeholder meetings regarding gamebird release licensing, and they suggest that some progress has been made. 

Former chairman of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, Lindsay Waddell told ST: “At long last the Secretary of State has gone at least some of the way to removing what was always an unnecessary burden on shoots. Giving the end of February as a date for the full details shows there is still no real understanding of how the game sector works. However, going part of the way is better than what we had before.”