On Tuesday this week Natural England made a shock announcement. Here's what has happened since.
Farmers, gamekeepers and recreational shooters have reacted with a mixture of anger and confusion to the decision by Natural England to withdraw the general licences for England with just two days notice at the height of the lambing and nesting seasons.
The decision follows a legal challenge by the campaign group Wild Justice, led by TV presenter Chris Packham, who claimed that a technicality meant that the licences were not being issued properly.
The news came as a shock to both farmers and shooters. With many taking to social media to express their dismay with the way Natural England had acted.
I find it incredible and completely unacceptable that the decades old general licence is withdrawn at 36 hours notice and before a new licence is put in place. This is chaotic and incompetent government which serves no one. @BBCr4today https://t.co/gkGt8GUILt
— David Exwood (@DavidatWestons) April 25, 2019
Lack of consultation
It was not just shooting and farming organisations who were not consulted. Police forces, who will be required to enforce the changed laws were also not told about the changes in advance.
To further add to the confusion Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, the Environment and Rural Affairs and Natural Resources Wales allowed their licences to stand. With SNH pledging that no change would be introduced in Scotland without consultation.
The National Gamekeeper’s Organisation highlighted a lack of clarity in the announcement from Natural England, which failed to say when exactly the licences went out of use and did not explain important details such as the status of call birds in Larsen traps. Details which were later filled in by Natural England’s staff.
Wild Justice surprised
Even Wild Justice conceded that they had not expected the licences to be withdrawn so suddenly and in a series of tweets, blogs and press releases they tried to place the blame for the chaos on Natural England. As criticism of the move spiralled Wild Justice frantically tried to shift the blame for the chaos and insisted they had not asked for this year’s licences to be revoked.
Criticism of BASC and the Countryside Alliance
The shooting organisations were also the target of shooters’ frustrations. BASC and the Countryside Alliance were strongly criticised by members for their failure to see the revocation coming and to head it off. With members pointing out that they have known of Wild Justice’s challenge since February and asking what action they have taken.
Hi @DuncanBASC, can you explain to me what BASC have been doing since Feb to fight this? a tiny anti organisation has beaten every shooting org and succeeded in this revocation of the licence. A complete failure of all the shooting orgs, have let down members and rural community
— Fergus (@Fergmac1) April 24, 2019
Garry Doolan of BASC responded to the criticism. In a statement he said “Clearly, like all other rural organisations and anybody with an interest in rural affairs, we were alive to the legal challenge by Wild Justice. Like everybody else, we had a right to expect that the due process of a subsequent consultation would take place and we were ready to officially feed into that. It could not have been foreseen by BASC or anybody else that Natural England would pull the general licences in the way they did without consultation or warning. Natural England’s handling of this has been appalling and has let down the entire rural community. We understand the strength and depth of feeling in this and are representing the shooting and rural community at every turn”
Chris Packham and his fellow Wild Justice directors were the main focus of the anger of farmers and field sports enthusiasts. Pictures of lambs with their eyes pecked out by crows were widely circulated. Arable farmers explained via national media that damage caused by pigeons can cost hundreds of pounds per hectare and gamekeepers highlighted the harm corvids do to ground-nesters.
BBC petitioned to sack Chris Packham
A petition started by pigeon shooter and ferreter Andrew Hayes to have the BBC sack Chris Packham rapidly collected signatures. (Sign it here.)
At the time of writing over 82,000 people had signed the call for Packham to be dismissed in just two days. Andrew told Shooting UK he was “Very happy with momentum it’s gained” He went on to explain “it just shows the power of social media. I made the petition purely out of frustration and never expected it to do anything. I shared it on a few social media groups and was amazed by the reaction it got and by the number of people who felt the same way that I did.”
Let’s get this lunatic stopped… https://t.co/osUpFDMp32
— Scott Rea (@ScottReaProject) 25 April 2019
A phone-in discussion about the decision to revoke the licences on the Jeremy Vine show was dominated by criticism of Wild Justice with calls and emails from farmers and pigeon shooters criticising the campaign group for the harm caused by revoking the licences.
This was my gate this morning (it was vandalised) @HantsPolice & lawyers have been informed . So @BASCnews @NFUtweets @CAupdates @FarmersWeekly @Gameandwildlife @NaturalEngland can I ask you to comment on whether you condone this . Serious request – replies expected . Please RT pic.twitter.com/8sVDyn4bSW
— Chris Packham (@ChrisGPackham) 25 April 2019
Two dead crows were also hung on the Gate of Chris Packham’s home in rural Hampshire. The move was widely condemned by shooters who described it as “Unacceptable behaviour”. BASC joined in the condemnation and asked Chris Packham to reciprocate by condemning criminals who illegally release pheasants from game farms.
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Shooting UK will be providing a series of updates as the situation continues to develop.