Defra has launched a call for evidence on the decision to revoke three general licences and has taken over responsibility for them from Natural England 'for a time'.

All shooters, keepers, farmers and landmanagers are encouraged to take part in submitting evidence to Defra to state how the sudden Natural England ruling on general licences  has affected them.

Evidence must be submitted by Monday 13 May and can be given here.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has said in a published letter to Tony Juniper, chair of Natural England: “I have asked officials within my department to initiate a swift but formal evidence gathering exercise in order to capture information from all concerned parties about the recent withdrawal of the three general licences (GL04, GL05 & GL06). In particular I want to gain a clear understanding of the implications for the protection of wild birds, and the impacts on crops, livestock, wildlife, disease, human health and safety and wider nature conservation efforts.”

The Secretary of State has also taken over decision-making on the three general licences in question for the time being.

BASC chief executive Ian Bell commented: “This shambles of the last week or so was created by Natural England’s ill-advised decision to withdraw all licences without consultation or notice and, in effect, remove pest control at a critical time of year.

“We hope that this intervention by the environment secretary, Michael Gove, represents that he is getting a grip of this problem and BASC will join the other leading organisations in providing evidence into the review to ensure we end up with a system of general licences that are fit for purpose.”

Pigeon shooting gun

The new woodpigeon licence has provoked strong criticism

New licences for pigeon and Canada geese

In a week of change, on Friday 3 May, Natural England published new licences allowing people to “kill or take Canada geese to preserve public health and safety” and “preventing serious damage to crops,” as part of the programme to replace the previous general licences.  

Inadequate for woodpigeon

The new woodpigeon licence has provoked a storm of criticism and does not facilitate roost shooting or shooting over stubbles.

Commenting on the lack of woodpigeon control, the NGO said: “The new licence (numbered GL31) can only be used by people growing crops or by those acting on their behalf. It requires licence users to be able to show the police or Natural England if asked what type of crop they are protecting, what alternative non-lethal methods of preventing pigeon damage have been used and continue to be used (or why they have not been used), and also what measures have been and are being taken to minimise losses due to other species and causes.”

“A licence user must also be able to show why the threat of damage is sufficiently serious to merit action, saying:’Relevant evidence will include examples of actual losses during the present year or in recent years.’ Licence users are asked, in an ‘advice’ section, to exercise restraint in severe weather and the licence ends with a threat that if it is misused for recreational or commercial purposes, NE may review it.”

NGO Chairman, Liam Bell, said: “This new licence is appalling. In terms of restrictions and conditions it goes way beyond anything seen before. It will make pigeon control as we know it wholly impractical. Farmers and those who help them to control pests will be in uproar. The NGO will do everything it can to get this hopeless licence withdrawn and replaced.”

Shooting Times will be publishing a full report on the general licence situation in this week’s issue, out on 8 May.