A legal campaign by Wild Justice was reported by the national press over the weekend to have resulted in a ban on pheasant and red-legged partridge releases on Britain's  special protection areas (SPA), except when licensed by Defra.

Wild Justice commented:  ‘Thanks to our legal challenge, the shooting industry faces its largest dose of regulation since a ban on the use of lead ammunition in wildfowling in England in 1999.”

However figures from the shooting community were quick to refute Wild Justice’s claims.

NGO chairman Liam Bell commented: “There is still a long way to go on this particular issue and all to play for.”

Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, was also reassuring, saying: “In reality it is very likely that little will change in practical terms for shoots on or near SPA’s that are operating to best practice, and there is little evidence any are not. The Government has suggested that there will be a general licence with release densities based on GWCT guidance.”

Commenting on the DEFRA review into the release of gamebirds to Shooting Times, Dr Joah Madden (JM), Associate Professor at the University of Exeter said: “I would take this set of measures as a shot across the bow from the Ministry. DEFRA has proposed a series of measures they consider balance costs and benefits, which appear to be straightforward to comply with.”

Dr Roger Draycott (RD), Head of Advisory for the GWCT, added: “As yet it is difficult to know exactly what shoots will need to do to comply with the licensing requirements as the conditions have not been worked up yet by DEFRA. We hope that it will be a simple open general licence that shoots do not need to apply for. DEFRA will be consulting with the sector in the coming weeks to define the conditions that shoots in or within 500m of EU designated sites will need to operate under. We expect that one of the key conditions will be adherence to GWCT’s sustainable gamebird releasing guidelines.”

A spokesperson for BASC said: “Wild Justice instigated this Judicial Review into releasing and newspaper headlines have widely proclaimed Defra’s response as a victory for their group.

“BASC does not believe this to be the case. Nor do we believe the interim system of licensing proposed by Defra is proportionate or required. Pro-shooting parliamentarians and BASC question the need for a new licence and, if introduced, will be ensuring that Defra issues a workable, evidence-based licence that benefits shooting.”

Fact versus fiction

On Twitter Shooting Times contributor Matt Cross wrote:

“There is NO reason to think that the number of birds released will be reduced. Even WJ only claim that this will affect 25% of shoots which I suspect is a huge overestimate and most shoots affected will have no need to reduce release numbers. The government has also categorially NOT banned releases with 500 metres of SPAs (or SACS/ SSIs). That is not true and there are no plans that ‘all other game birds will only be allowed to be released subject to licence.’  What has happened is that the government has said that if you want to release birds on or within 500 metres of an SAC, SPA or SSSI you will have to abide by a general licence or you CAN if you wish apply for licence with bespoke conditions.  The fact is that almost nothing will change for the vast majority of shoots. Some MAY need to SLIGHTLY reduce the numbers of birds released into specific pens. That’s all.”