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High Court overrules Natural England in gamekeeper buzzard licence battle

After battling for four years, a Northumberland gamekeeper has gained support from the High Court


Today, Friday 13th November 2015, has been a lucky day for gamekeeper Ricky McMorn.

The Judicial Review at the High Court has quashed Natural England’s refusal to grant him a licence to control buzzards, a battle that has been going on for four long years.

Giving his judgement today Mr Justice Ousley said Natural England and Defra had exceeded their powers and must in future make decisions fairly and on the facts.

Natural England had unlawfully adopted a policy that made it more difficult to get a licence to shoot raptors that were preying on gamebirds than it was for other birds covered by the same law, he concluded.

Congratulations to National Gamekeepers’ Organisation

The Countryside Alliance has welcomed the judgement of the High Court to overturn Natural England’s decision and congratulates the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) for bringing this issue to the court’s notice.

Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance said: “The NGO’s support for Mr McMorn has been instrumental in bringing this double standard to light.

“There is no justification for the illegal killing of birds of prey or any other species, but a series of licences have been in place since 1981 which allow for the legal control of species such as buzzards and Natural England should deal with applications for licences under these derogations entirely even-handedly.

“There are now more than 300,000 buzzards in the UK. Natural England had acknowledged that the birds of prey were causing serious damage and that Mr McMorn had exhausted all other methods of protecting them however they still refused to grant him a licence. Natural England should make licensing decisions based on the law and scientific evidence and not bow to external criticisms. This does not change the law – buzzards are still protected – but this ruling gives clarity on how licences should be granted.”

Lindsay Waddell, the Chairman of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, said: “This is an historic day for gamekeepers. Natural England grants about 10,000 licences each year to control protected species, but it has never permitted a gamekeeper to control even one buzzard where serious damage was taking place. I sincerely hope the outcome of Mr McMorn’s case has changed that and I salute his courage and perseverance in seeing this through. I trust that wildlife licensing decisions will, in future, be made by Natural England fairly and on the facts, without fear or favour, whatever the job title of the person making the application or the species being applied for. The NGO remains willing to work with Natural England and Defra to ensure that outcome.”

Mr Waddell added: “This Judicial Review was never about changing the law – buzzards, although now very common, remain fully protected birds and the wildlife licensing system quite rightly has safeguards to ensure that there cannot be a ‘free-for-all’ against them. Rather, the case was about seeking the court’s view on whether the existing licensing system, available for the control of wild birds since 1981, was being fairly administered by Natural England. The court found that it was not. It is the right result, for individual justice and for the countryside.”

Joe Dimbleby of Shooting Times & Country Magazine added: “This landmark ruling should set a precedent for a more sensible approach to licencing. No doubt there will be outcry from the normal quarters, but the case has revealed the law of the land not being followed because of special interest pressure.

“Granting a licence for a gamekeeper whose livelihood is threatened and who has tried every non-lethal measure to stop buzzards killing his gamebirds is no different to a farmer being granted a licence to stop ravens killing his lambs in the uplands. The species in question the buzzard is not in decline in fact it has undergone an explosion in numbers in recent years. It is right that wild birds should enjoy protection and illegal killing be condemned, but in extremis the flexibility in the law designed to maintain a balance should be observed.”