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Delays and concessions on gamebird release licensing

With a critical timeframe as shoots prepare for the next season, there is frustration with more delays, but at least some good news on SPAs.

Defra’s latest licensing update failed to provide critical final details on pheasant and red-legged partridge releases. It had been expected that Defra Secretary of State Steve Barclay would share the details on the general licensing by the end of February but, at the time of writing, he had indicated that mid-March is the new deadline. 

While many in the shooting industry will be frustrated that this year’s licensing approach has not yet been published, it is still an improvement on last year’s fiasco. It is hoped when the update is given, there will be no surprise announcements, such as 2023’s removal of all Special Protection Areas (SPAs) from GL43, which left them subject to individual licensing. 

BASC’s executive director of conservation Caroline Bedell said: “Although we appreciate the efforts undertaken by Defra to try to complete its assessments, we’ve repeatedly highlighted the importance that such decisions are taken and communicated ahead of the crucial planning stages in the shooting calendar, not only to provide certainty to shoots, but also to avoid potential animal welfare issues for gamebirds. 

“The announced delay of the decision to mid-March is concerning as the sector is moving into the time-critical stages in the breeding cycle of gamebirds.” 

A small part of the licensing debate that has been resolved is the reporting process for feeders and watering stations for gamebirds on or near an SPA. Defra was drawing up proposals that required feeding and water stations to be reported, using an eight-figure grid reference on a mandatory reporting form, by those releasing gamebirds under individual licences on or near SPAs. This requirement has been dropped thanks to campaigning by BASC. Defra has now accepted that shoots can simply mark the feeding and watering areas on a map. 

Defra commented: “It has been brought to our attention that, for some, the level of detail requested for feeding and watering stations… is proving challenging, perhaps because watering stations are frequently repositioned to manage released gamebird behaviour.” 

BASC’s head of evidence and environmental law, Dr Marnie Lovejoy, said: “The concession, secured as part of ongoing dialogue between BASC and Defra on gamebird releasing, is a huge improvement, which will save shoots considerable time and effort.”