The photograph was taken on 1 May in the midst of the General licences controversy

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Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, met Chris Packham in Westminster yesterday and a photograph was taken of him with Mr Packham brandishing a copy of the People’s Manifesto for Wildlife, which is anti-shooting and hunting.

Mr Packham is a member of the group Wild Justice, who launched a challenge to the legality of the 2019 General licences, which resulted in Natural England revoking them in a shock move last week.

Given the current situation it is surprising that Mr Gove allowed himself to be photographed with Mr Packham flourishing the Manifesto, as Gove is an impartial public servant currently investigating the controversy.

After heavy pressure from countryside groups and furious criticism directed against Natural England, Michael Gove has stated that he will be launching an investigation into the General licence furore and “is seeking answers on what happened, and when and why with the licensing” according to a Defra spokesperson.

BASC, the Countryside Alliance, CLA, GWCT, Moorland Association, National Gamekeeper’s Organisation, the NFU and the Game Farmers Association wrote to Mr Gove on 27 April pointing out the problems that have been caused and that the withdrawal of the General licences has come at the worst possible time of year when lambs, young crops and nesting birds all need protection from pest birds.
Owen Paterson, Environment Secretary until 2014, has said that Natural England should be “held accountable for its ignorant decision and the damage it has caused.”

A spokesperson for the British Association of Shooting and Conservation pointed out: “The last week has been extremely damaging for Natural England’s reputation and saying they will review the General licences in the summer does not help solve the mess on their hands at the moment.

“We have said all along that BASC, like other rural organisations, would expect to be part of any review or consultation.”

 

Those who need to protect their land and livelihood from ‘pest’ birds have had to wait over a week for the new, legally complaint general licences to be rolled out.

They argue that this is the most important time of year, as it is when they have newborn livestock and rare birds on their land vulnerable to attack from crows and magpies, and freshly-sown crops are at risk from pigeons.

The Telegraph understands that the review will look at why the group Wild Justice was able to bring the legal challenge in the first place.

A Defra source said: “The Secretary of State’s priority is to fix the problem as soon as possible. He has asked officials to investigate what went wrong, why, and how similar errors can be prevented in future.”

Mr Packham, who has argued for tighter regulation on shooting of birds, said he had a “helpful exchange of ideas” with the environment secretary, and that the pair discussed the “need for more regulation in environmental care .”

Mr Gove has also met Tim Bonner, from the Countryside Alliance, to hear his concerns about the fiasco. He spoke to Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, on Tuesday.

Mr Gove’s department is also planning to launch a broader review of general licences later this summer.

It could be weeks until the new licences are released, as Natural England works to make sure the new pieces of legislation are not susceptible to a similar legal challenge.

Marian Spain, the Interim Chief Executive of Natural England, said: “We plan to issue further licences this week and over the coming weeks, subject to assessment. We are prioritising those species and circumstances most likely to require urgent control at this time of year, so that users can continue to operate within the law.”