Last-minute changes to the General Licences which were introduced in Scotland last week are being challenged by BASC. The changes give Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) staff the power to exclude the use of General Licences from individuals or on any area of land where SNH staff ?have reason to believe? that wild birds have been illegally taken or killed. BASC is challenging the changes on the basis that they disproportionately grant civil servants the legal authority to impact on livelihoods and businesses in the absence of a criminal offence.

In its response to a short Scottish Government consultation process on General Licensing ? which the BASC argued breached the Government?s own Code of Practice on consultations since it only allowed six weeks for responses rather than the recommended 12 ? BASC stated that collective punishment of the kind the new enabling clauses allow could have serious conservation impacts.

BASC?s consultation response highlighted that General Licences are in place for a reason: ?They are essential for protecting biodiversity and vulnerable species. Should the use of the licences be prohibited on large swathes of ground the Government is potentially exposing wildlife in that area to unnecessary predation. Crops and public safety could also be put at risk in those areas affected and neighbouring areas.?

The wording of new Scottish General Licences which came into effect on 1 January makes clear that the burden of proof required to exclude an individual or an area from the licensing system need not be as a result of a criminal prosecution: ?SNH reserves the right to exclude the use of this General Licence by certain persons and/or on certain areas of land where we have reason to believe that wild birds have been taken or killed by such persons and/or on such land other than in accordance with this General Licence.?

In a letter to consultees on the subject, sent last month, Robbie Kernahan, SNH?s head of wildlife operations, admitted that the changes were not warmly welcomed by all: ?There were mixed views about how we should take forward the Ministerial direction to restrict the use of General Licences to trap and shoot wild birds on land where we have good reason to believe that crimes against wild birds have taken place. Some respondents were supportive of this proposal but many expressed strong concerns. Given the need to move forward on this issue, we have inserted an enabling paragraph in to General Licences 1, 2 and 3.?

The new clause affects those licences which allow certain wild birds to be killed for conservation purposes, crop protection and the preservation of public health.