Following Natural England’s snap announcement to revoke three general licences for controlling certain wild birds at the end of April, which followed a legal challenge by the Wild Justice Group, DEFRA has now issued three new general licences. These represent a significant improvement on those urgently issued by Natural England in the immediate aftermath of the previous ban.
In simple terms, the original general licences allowed people to shoot 16 species of common birds, which are regarded as pests for one reason or another, without needing to apply for an individual licence to do so. These species include crows, magpies, rooks, jackdaws and jays, feral and wood pigeons, and some “invasive non-native species” such as Canada geese.
Many farmers, landowners and gamekeepers will welcome the issuing of three new general licences, although it will be important for those that wish to rely on them ensure the licence covers the particular situation where it is envisaged shooting will take place and that they comply with the licence conditions and restrictions.
The three new licences cover the following circumstances:
General licence 34 – To kill or take certain species of wild birds to conserve wild birds and to conserve flora and fauna
General licence 35 – To kill or take certain species of wild birds to preserve public health or public safety
General licence 36 – To kill or take certain species of wild birds to prevent serious damage
Defra has released additional guidance on these general licences, which includes an extensive FAQ for licence users and a decision tree to help people understand which licence is suitable for their needs.
Whilst not a legal obligation, the licences recommend that those relying on them keep records of their actions. Therefore, to ensure anyone is in a strong position if ever called upon to defend their actions it is recommended that up to date records are kept of what has been shot, where, when and why.
The list of species covered is not exactly the same as before but it covers most of the same species including those already listed above. If anyone is in any doubt, they should check the species listed under the licences in detail.
One other significant point is that the general licences do not cover shooting over European Protected sites such as Special Protection Areas, Special Areas of Conservation or Ramsar Sites although Carrion Crows, Wood Pigeons and Canada Geese can be shot on these sites under the general licences Natural England issued in the immediate aftermath of the ban.
In all other circumstances, those wishing to shoot over European protected areas and on Sites of Special Scientific Interest will need to apply for individual licences from Natural England.
Therefore, it seems that what Wild Justice has achieved is significant disruption and additional paperwork for both government and the shooting community, but with limited practical impact on what bird species can be shot under general licences. However, the fact that Wild Justice is taking further legal action against DEFRA, in relation to their latest general licences, seems to demonstrate that their real aim is to ban game shooting, which takes us in to a whole new area of political debate.
For further information, contact James Stephen, Partner (email@example.com / 01823 428860), or your local Carter Jonas office.