Jays, jackdaws and collared doves could be removed from the General Licences and shooters be forced to scare pigeons before resorting to shooting them, if proposals in a wide-ranging consultation on wildlife management in England are adopted.
Shooting and conservation organisations have greeted the launch of Natural England’s (NE) consultation on the General and Class Licences with mixed feelings and have urged shooters to respond.
Dr. Conor O’Gorman, policy development manager at BASC, said: “With proposals in the consultation ranging from the sensible to the ridiculous it is vital that the decision-making process is informed by people who shoot providing evidence-based arguments.

“BASC has provided a briefing on its website on the key issues raised in this consultation. BASC members and Shooting Times’ readers’ views are important and BASC will update the briefing to help people respond to the consultation. It is important that people do respond, especially with disproportionate proposals on the table that, for instance, might make it a requirement to try to scare pigeons away before shooting them and to submit an annual bag return of all birds shot and trapped.

A spokesman for the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) said that the proposals could have a far-reaching effect on those involved in shooting and pest-control and highlighted a number of specific areas of concern: “There are some sensible ideas in NE’s suggestions, such as the inclusion of greylag geese on the General Licence for controlling agricultural pests, but there are some really bad proposals too. They include a revival of the ludicrous idea that pigeon shooters should have to scare their birds before attempting to shoot them – something Labour Ministers introduced in 2005 and on which they had to exercise a rapid U-turn. The NGO will support NE where its proposals make sense. But we will oppose such impractical suggestions and excessive regulation tooth and nail.

“Nearly all the shooting and trapping of pest birds in the UK is carried out under General Licences, issued annually on behalf of the Government. In England, the licences are issued by Natural England and they allow farmers, gamekeepers and others to trap and shoot birds such as pigeons, crows and rooks that can cause significant problems for agriculture and the conservation of rare species. This current shake-up of the licensing system could see jackdaws, jays and hooded crows all being removed from the General Licences.

He added: “The NGO is pleased that Natural England has consulted the public, and on this occasion, unlike others, has allowed sufficient time to take account of peoples’ views. But the NGO has several serious concerns about aspects of the Natural England review, including the suggestion that a new Code of Bird Trapping Practice should have the force of law and become a legal condition of the licences. This could mean, for example, that just having dirt in the water provided for a live decoy bird could result in prosecution. Anyone who has ever operated a decoy trap knows how difficult it is to stop a captive bird fouling its own water, to say nothing of the risk of gamekeepers being maliciously set up by opponents of shooting.

“A further suggested change is that breach of any one licensing condition would disqualify the individual from operating under General Licences at all. For example, if a decoy magpie was said to have insufficient shade that one thing could be the end of an individual’s entire gamekeeping career or indeed their pigeon shooting. It smacks of draconian rules introduced by the back door and is certainly at odds with Natural England’s pledge to ‘reduce unnecessary burdens on those we regulate’.”

The NGO has pledged that it will work with other organisations from within the sectors potentially affected by the proposals to produce a co-ordinated response to the consultation, which closes on 19 May 2014.

On Sunday (2 March), a spokesperson for the RSPB dragged the question of shooting for the pot into the debate, telling the Mail on Sunday that, while general licences give landowners the right to remove
individual birds that are causing a problem, “we’ve always questioned the validity of those who appear to just go out and shoot birds for the pot, which is not allowed.” The RSPB’s charter states: “The Society shall take no part in the question of the killing of gamebirds and legitimate sport of that character except when such practices have an impact on the Objects of the Society.”

For a copy of the consultation and to respond, visit Natural England’s website.
NE proposes to:
* Add greylag geese and mallard to General Licences
* Transfer lesser black-backed gulls from the General Licence to a new Class Licence, along with herring gulls
* Make it clear that General Licences only cover carrion crows and not hooded crows
* Append a code of practice for trapping to licences.include a duty to take precautions to avoid the unnecessary suffering of birds and to pursue and humanely despatch wounded birds
* Add a statement that users have read and understood the licence’s conditions before acting under it
* Include in General Licences a statement that a person may lose his right to use the licence if he breaches a condition of a wildlife licence
* Introduce a requirement for a user to consider non-lethal, legal measures and to take “reasonable steps and appropriate steps, such as scaring and proofing” before he can rely on the General Licence to shoot woodpigeon, feral pigeon, rook, magpie, jay, crow, jackdaw, lesser black-backed gull and collared dove

NE seeks reasons and evidence for:
* The continued inclusion of collared doves, jackdaws and jays on General Licences.

NE seeks views on:
* The inclusion of Larsen-mate traps for use under the General Licence
* Time limits for keeping trapped birds for decoying and on the length of time such birds may be kept within a trap.the merits of a referenced tagging system for traps such as that currently in place in Scotland