Concerns about the 29th February deadline have been allayed

Defra has reissued six general licences on a temporary basis for the control of wild birds.

The temporary general licences in question  (GL26, GL28, GL31, GL34, GL35 and GL36) will be reissued from 1 March to 31 July 2020.  Licence users do not need to take further action, other than ensuring that their actions meet the conditions required by the licences. New licences will then come into force on 1 August 2020.

Which are the temporary general licences concerned?

  • Carrion crows: licence to kill or take them to prevent serious damage to livestock (GL26)
  • Canada geese: licence to kill or take them for public health and safety (GL28)
  • Woodpigeons: licence to kill or take them to prevent serious damage to crops (GL31)
  • Licence to kill or take wild birds to conserve wild birds and to conserve flora and fauna (GL34)
  • Licence to kill or take wild birds to preserve public health or public safety (GL35)
  • Licence to kill or take wild birds to prevent serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, fisheries or inland waters (GL36)

“They have listened”

A spokesman for the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) said, “We told Defra yet again that it was unacceptable that we were entering the key time for controlling predators of nesting birds and young livestock with the current licences due to run out on 29th February.    It seems that at last they have listened and we welcome this five-month extension.

“The re-issued temporary general licences will, however, still have the same failings as those they replace, most notably that they do not permit pest bird control in ‘European Protected Sites’ (SACs, SPAs and RAMSAR sites), or within 300m of them. Defra have advised us that, ‘people wishing to act in those areas need to apply for an individual licence from Natural England.’

“We have been promised further meetings with Defra as part of their work towards issuing new General Licences in August. We will continue to point out the need for licences that are practical and fit for purpose and valid throughout England.”

Liam Bell, Chairman of the NGO said: “Although we welcome this five-month extension, it is regrettable that they still have the same failings.  We will be meeting up with Defra as part of their work to issue new general licences, but our main objective is to point out that we need licences that are practical and fit for purpose and valid throughout England.”

“A window of certainty”

The British Association for Shooting & Conservation (BASC) has said that the licence extension: “gives a window of certainty to the rural community.”

Caroline Bedell, BASC’s executive director of conservation, said: “There is still much work to be done and BASC will not let up on this issue after previously stating our intention to be an ‘interested party’ in any legal challenge.

“But this decision by Defra is welcome news for BASC members and the wider general licence user community.

“It is a relief that as the clock neared midnight, Defra did not bow to the legal pressures and have allowed themselves additional time to make the right decision. It allows people to at least plan ahead for the next six months, at a crucial time of the year for our habitats and wildlife.

“Defra appreciates the importance of a light-touch regulatory licence and it is vital that the resources are available to ensure a fit for purpose and future-proofed system can be launched on 1 August 2020.”

Government reassurance

Environment Secretary, Theresa Villiers said: “We are working intensively on delivering a robust licensing system for the future which balances the different interests at stake in a fair way. To do that, we need to ensure that we have carefully considered all of the relevant evidence, including the detailed responses to our online survey.

“This extensive consultation and review process will be completed in the coming months, with the new licences coming into force on 1 August.

“The general licences allow users to kill or take certain species of wild birds for a range of purposes such as the protection of livestock and crops, conservation, or public health and safety.”

Background

In April 2019 a legal challenge by pressure group Wild Justice led to Natural England (NE) revoking three general licences. Subsequently three licences (GL26, GL28 and GL31) were issued to cover some of the species and purposes covered by the original licences that were revoked. Defra subsequently issued three interim licences (GL34, 35 and 36) while the longer term licensing requirements were reviewed. These interim licences  were to expire on 29 February 2020 but have now been extended until 31 July 2020.