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Defra responds to outrage over limits imposed on releasing birds this year

Defra is defending its position over game bird releases near conservation areas, which will threaten jobs and businesses in the coming season.

Releasing gamebird

The release of gamebirds on European protected sites is now subject to the new general licence

Defra’s failure to clarify the situation regarding release of game birds in and alongside conservation sites sparked outrage last week. BASC says Defra’s actions have threatened jobs and business at a critical point in the rural calendar and has started court proceedings. Wild Justice also weighed into the argument, starting a new legal challenge over Defra’s lack of monitoring of compliance with regulations on gamebird releases General Licence 43 (GL43).

Shooting Times contacted Defra for comment on its position and received the following statement.

“We are currently experiencing the worst global outbreak of avian influenza on record and are taking all necessary steps to mitigate the impact and spread of the disease. Following a robust scientific assessment, we are having to limit the release of gamebirds in areas of conservation concern in an effort to reduce the impact of this insidious disease. We will review this change, alongside all available evidence, and modify the licence should the risk change.”

“The Government has announced that the General Licence for gamebird releases (known as GL43) will continue as it has in previous years for SACs, whilst SPAs will undergo individual site assessments. Over 99% of Gamebird releases in England, are unaffected.

“The Gamebird General Licence (GL43) will now not authorise the release of common pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) and red-legged partridge (Alectoris rufa) onto sites designated as Special Protection Areas (SPAs), or within 500m of their boundaries from the 2023 gamebird release season. A review of this using most up to date available evidence, will be conducted in time for the 2024 release season. Those wishing to release on SPAs and their buffer zones from 2023 may still apply for a bespoke individual licence via Natural England, instead of operating under the general licence. A decision will then be made on a case-by-case basis following a location specific assessment of the risk of avian influenza.”

Defra was supposed to have introduced a variation of GL43 by 30 May, in line with European statutes barring the release of any near game birds near conservation areas. However the previous licence expired without a new licence being introduced.

A spokesperson for BASC commented: “While the current global outbreak of avian influenza is undeniably the worst on record, Defra’s decision to restrict gamebird release in England is ineffective, unnecessary, and not based on the best available evidence.

“The scientific assessment utilised by Defra was largely based on a series of assumptions rather than real-life data. Furthermore, the assessment was a snapshot of the situation in autumn 2022 and explicitly excludes from its scope any previous or future HPAI seasons.”