New individual licences have been issued to shooters in England

Staff at Natural England have been working through more than 1000 applications from farmers gamekeepers and pest shooters since the previous system of general licences was scrapped a week ago. The individual licences have been welcomed as clearer and much less restrictive than the new general licence for carrion crows which was issued last week.

Recipients delighted

Among the first individual licences issued were licences to protect flora and fauna. Licence recipients were delighted to be able to get back on with the vital task of controlling pest and predators to protect fragile bird populations.

A Berkshire-based keeper told ShootingUK that he had “applied for the licence to conserve flora and fauna to protect the eggs and chicks of the diverse range of species we have on the shoot. This includes four pairs of English partridges, a very strong head of brown hares, a few lapwings and wild mallards”

In East Yorkshire, part-time keeper Clare Tucker spoke to ShootingUK as she went out to restart crow control after receiving her licence. Clare told us she had “applied for protection of fauna and flora and for crop protection. We have been controlling corvids for four years now on this shoot, and in that time, the number of song birds and ground nesting birds has increased. We now have four pairs of lapwings nesting around the farm and a covey of 10 English partridge.”

In West Yorkshire Bruce Hall has received his licence to control corvids to protect flora and fauna. Bruce told ShootingUk that the new licence “seems fair and not really limiting. It really only asks that you do what you really should have been doing anyway “

Some surprises with new licences

However the terms and conditions of the new licences have come as a surprise to some applicants.

  • Under the new restrictions under 18s are not allowed to shoot under the licence without the written authority of Natural England, effectively banning young people from taking part in pest shooting.
  • There is now an obligation to return the rings of any ringed birds shot to the BTO and all licences will now be suspended if there is a cold weather suspension of wildfowling.
  • A set of technical regulations also limit shooting on and around some protected sites and use of lethal measures is restricted during the breeding season to situations where “use of other licensed methods (e.g. egg destruction) would not provide a satisfactory solution”.
  • Anyone using a licence must now agree to be monitored by Natural England and to provide evidence of their attempts to use non-lethal methods to the Police or Natural England as required.
  • Most surprising however is the apparent lack of a limit on where the licences can be used. While the application forms demanded precise details of where problems were occurring, complete with grid references, the new licences appear to authorise the applicant to control birds “in any county of England”.

Large numbers of licences are still outstanding. In a position paper Natural England said it planned to issue 10 general licences covering eight different species this week. However, by Friday morning only one of the general licences has been released. Many applicants reported that they had not received their individual licences yet. Others were struggling to complete the licences. Clare Tucker explained that “I have friends that are really struggling to get the form filled out. I’ve been going to their houses to help them do it.”

While most people have decided to wait for the licences to be issued, some shooters told ShootingUK that they intended to continue with control activities and to rely on so called Section 4 defences. Professional pest controllers who are called on to deal with birds at short notice faced a particularly difficult dilemma as the situations they face often cannot wait for a licence to be granted before action can be taken.

Will Defra take over licences?

The situation with regard to further licences being issued remains unclear. Reports in the Telegraph, which have yet to be substantiated, claim that The Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) intends to take over the licensing process from Natural England. It is unclear how this will effect the process of issuing licenses. However Defra has a much larger staff and greater resources that Natural England and may be intending to use these to speed up the process of issuing the licences.